Mountains in the Midwest

It's hard to find nature in a city like Chicago.

It's streets, rooftops, and alleys for the most part. The parks and beaches are crowded, and seeing stars is a long-lost dream. But then, about a year ago, I started seeing mountains.

Last June, I started seeing tile mosaics pop up on the streets around Wicker Park and Logan Square. Mountains - neatly placed on the side of a planter, or concrete ledge. So inconspicuous, that they make the area look better than it was before. No label or tag with it, so the name of the artist was a mystery.

Now, the street art in Chicago (and probably every city) is incredibly diluted with kids scribbling tags or slapping stickers over every street sign, newspaper stand, and CTA window they can find. At what point does street art become graffiti? In my opinion, most of what I see if just visual litter - empty advertisements.

 instagram @brianbrain

instagram @brianbrain

But even through all the garbage, these mountains stand tall. I appreciated each little icon, reminding me the simplicity of life, but also the complexities of people and art. Thanks to a tip from Hanksy, I was able to track down Brian Brain, to find out more about the man behind the mountains...

Entropy Threads - For starters.. Brian Brain.. where's the name come from?

Brian Brain - Well, there's no real rhyme or reason.  You switch two letters around and have two complete different words. I guess I just liked the way it sounded put together.

What inspired these mountains?

I come from an area well surrounded by farm land and when I turned 19 I moved to Atlanta where the Appalachian mountains aren't too far. I've always enjoyed graffiti then eventually street art, but it wasn't until I moved back home that I was influenced by one of my best buds. He goes by 1000beans and had been painting and tagging his pirate rabbit character all around and I was like, okay yeah I want to do this too. He kinda pushed me into just getting my ideas into motion. For a short amount of time I was doing stencils but that all changed when I was at work installing tile on a 45 degree angle pattern. The way I was laying it, all I could imagine was mountain ranges. That basically sparked the idea of, "goddamn, it'd be pretty sweet if there were mountains here in the Midwest.." So before I knew it, I'm re-imagining tiles and making them into mountain ranges. Placing them where I see fit.

I feel like a lot of people get into street art to get their names recognized, but your art is the exact opposite. I like how you don't attach a signature or name to what we see on the street. Is there any specific reasoning behind that?

Right, my intention was to never highlight me as a person. By placing my pieces around it was literally to spark the idea of how much  it'd rule to have mountains around Chicago and the midwest. I took a great opportunity to be here in Chicago so doing this is the closest thing I can get to real mountains right now.  I wasn't necessarily going to start a Flickr page or Instagram account but I did for a couple of reasons.  One was because after doing a lot of searches on tile art, I couldn't find anyone that was doing anything like me. There are people that do mosaics obviously, and I've seen people paint on tile,  but no one was taking what the tile had to offer and carving away at them like I was.  I just kinda wanted to put the idea out there and have a portfolio I guess. That and I didn't want to be dubbed "Mountain Man" or something generic like that. That's basically the extent of attention I wanted to shine on myself.  I don't heavily hashtag online, it's been a lot of word of mouth (or, pictures taken and someone tagging me). I didn't even tell a lot of my friends that I was doing this. They found out from the few that knew.

What are your main influences? Are you spiritual? Connected to nature?

Definitely not spiritual and I feel like everyone at some point can say they've connected with nature in some shape or form. Nature and mountains are an obvious influence to my work, but it's my friends that are the biggest influence to me. They either paint, are in a band, skateboard, brew beer, professional bmx, graphic design, or shoot photography... all creative fields. Just seeing all of their creativity is infectious.

Ceramic tile isn't the easiest material to work with when you gotta act fast. Ever run into any problems during an installation?

You're not doing it right unless you get caught. I do have a pretty funny story with a run in but for the sake of jinxing myself I won't broadcast it on the internet... yet.


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