Skip Brea ’16 resists categorization, for himself or for his art.
“I’m an artist who prefers not to label himself,” he said. “Not only does it put me in a box, but it distracts me from breaking outside of traditional norms. If I had to get technical, I’m a digital artist, who works within graphics, photography, video and animation. However, I began as a painter, which is where I get a lot of my historical references from.”
His ethnic roots, he said, are Spanish and Dominican but “I identify myself as a person of color because it encompasses all of my identities together. My work, just like me, refuses to be categorized or defined as it challenges many labels – whether it’s the way it’s made, viewed or interpreted. In other words, it is complex and densely layered.”
“Seeing the positive more than the negative is what pushes me forward. We live in a time where social media and negativity seems to be getting more attention than reality and positivity. So, I’m a firm advocate for peace, love and equality for all.”
Brea came to DePauw as a Posse and Bonner scholar from the Bronx. “It was just like a gut feeling,” he said. “I did my research; I visited. It just felt right.” As a student, he participated in the New York Arts Program and, after graduation, he won an Efroymson Bridge Year Arts Fellowship, enabling him to stay in Greencastle to teach and work on his portfolio under professor John Berry.
“Skip is remarkably driven, smart and strategic.” Berry said. “He's always fantastic at figuring out the best use of any visual material, any opportunity. During his Efroymson Fellowship year, it was great to watch his work flourish and morph from exploration to confidence, and it is even better to see that other people are noticing how good his work is.”
Now a candidate for a master of fine arts degree at Florida State University, where he also teaches, Brea drew the attention of the art world last year when he was among 20 artists from around the world to win $5,000 Dean Collection 20 St(art)up grants that were made by musical artists Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Alicia Keys.
Using digital tools, he juxtaposes disparate images to create collages. “I examine the entanglements that make up our visual culture, language, and history. I pull ready-made subjects from historical European paintings and weave them together,” he said. “In many of the paintings I draw from, the figures of color are experiencing an unfortunate event or positioned as the undermined figure in the painting. I then begin picking out characters and subjects within the historical paintings and began creating scenarios and portraits of these subjects as the main focus of the compositions. The figures are symbols of a culture and a time period; they provide a foil to my retelling of their fiction.”
Brea said his artwork explores themes of slavery, colorism, colonialism and migration, as well as “the fundamental question of what it means to be human: what it means to be conscious; what it means to experience emotions because of a painting or a performance piece or a poem or a piece of literature; what it means to have the capability for empathy. The exploration is inherently of value, regardless of the outcome.”