Brendon Hawkins is a local artist, musician, dancer, and all around renaissance man who has been working with various artistic platforms for years to make him one of the most recognizable and standout artists in the city. Because he creates in many various avenues, it can be difficult to define the work he does, but the through line theme at the heart of it all seems to be Hawkins defining himself by his own terms and no one else's.
“It’s really hard to describe the work, I think its more important to talk about what the work is looking to explore. My work is looking to explore how we communicate with each other, the different languages that we use. My work is interested in breaking down and examining rules."
Recently he published a post on his blog entitled “The Future of Pittsburgh is Color!!!” and in the piece, while reviewing local art shows he recently attended, Hawkins makes several claims as to what he sees as the future for art in Pittsburgh.
“You have to talk about things to get things moving, and when I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2016 from New York, I could tell Pittsburgh was interested in expanding on what it was.”
Right now Pittsburgh is stuck in its path of tradition, moving slowly towards new color as seen in the various shows that Hawkins mentions in his post. But as Pittsburgh works towards redefining itself as an arts and culture city, Hawkins believes that the city should be looking in instead of out.
“Pittsburgh, I think like many small cities, is constantly looking to other cities for inspiration and talent. We have to look at ourselves, look at what has come out of this city, look at what we have to offer, and be about community. Pittsburgh just needs to say ‘I’ more, ‘we’, ‘us’”.
In defining the current state of Pittsburgh art, Hawkins likens the divide in attitudes to the difference between black & white and color.
“I think a lot of the city’s looking in black and white right now and so many of us are speaking in color…color is this thing that has this boundless spectrum of what it can be, and I think that’s what Pittsburgh is, I think that’s the type of work Pittsburgh should be embodying”.
One of the ways that color can be interpreted from the spectrum is as a break from tradition.
“I feel like this way that we’re moving in art right now is one that is just a continuation of one single idea of the way you can present something…I don’t like repetition.”
Hawkins’ main criticism of the work being made now is that artists are supposed to be the leading minds of culture, but right now they are stuck in the past.
“What are we talking about new?…As you get older, the languages that the younger people are using fade away from you, especially if you don’t try to learn them. So how are you going to keep up with what’s going on if we’re still having the conversations of the 70 year old men? I think we can have that conversation while also having multiple conversations that are breaking away from that. We need to be talking about all of it.”
Hawkins believes that art is meant to drive cities forward, and that can not be done if those cities hold onto old techniques and old ways of thinking.
“Technique has to die at some point because it has an initial function and then something new came out and the function wasn’t needed anymore… all these things we are holding onto in art, they had a function when we first started them, and now we’re just holding onto them because we like the idea of them.”
When tasked with how to move beyond these constructs of tradition and the way things have always been done, Hawkins looks to the institutions to build community with local artists.
“I just want everyone to do their part. If you decide you want to take on a role, you need to play your part and that’s every single institution here. Every single place here, everybody needs to step it up…This city boasts a lot about being one that’s centered around community, but I’ve never seen a community that’s so broken apart…Community is the only way we can do this.”
In the same vein with community, Hawkins also believes strongly in accessibility.
“Even if you’re making art for a community that you really care about, I think it should talk to everyone so we can connect. That’s why we do this, so you can understand my perception of the world…your art can be for a specific audience and still communicate to every audience. I think its very dangerous for an artist to make their work for a particular audience and it only be for that audience because then you’re limiting the way that you could be communicating.”
Hawkins is at the center of many circles of local art, which makes him the perfect person to ask for the up and coming movers and shakers that are going to pave the way for the city’s next great renaissance.
Brendon Hawkins’ List of Ones to Watch: