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The Benefit
February 5, 2014

Benefit v.14 Stand-Out Philadelphia Artist: Joe Brenman

About the Author
Katie Whittaker

See the exhibition here


Benefit v.14 brings together the best in creative Philadelphia, from emerging fashion designers to kickass catering crews, from pumped-up performances by Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque to hundreds of works by area artists.
Joe Brenman is an artist with wide-reaching experiences and a wealth of international influence. In 2009, Joe was working on a mural for Mural Arts when two artists from Vietnam arrived to see his work. They talked to him about Mural Arts, and as a Vietnam veteran, Joe was interested in speaking with them as well. He ended up being invited to go to the Second International Sculpture Symposium in Vietnam, and was one of 11 international artists invited. The artists had two weeks to create permanent pieces out of either marble or granite. Joe’s work in the Buddhist monastery is still there today. Joe had been in Vietnam as a soldier in 1968, and he told me it was rewarding to go back and do art. He met soldiers who had been on the other side, and was able to welcome them as brothers. After the symposium, he spent more time with the two artists he had met originally, and made a large mosaic mural in Hanoi.
Joe explained to me that the process for creating mosaic murals is always different. It depends heavily on the subject, materials, and location. He usually begins with a sketch or a collage piece, which are similar in composition to the mosaics. As an example, he cites three mosaics he completed for Bar Ferdinand, where he did lots of designs and made an outline on the wall before putting up the pieces. This allows him to keep the mural from looking too planned; spontaneity is important to his work.
When I first viewed his body of work, I found some strong international influences, especially in his mosaic work. When I asked him about it, he revealed that he had been to Barcelona in the past, and found Gaudi to be a great inspiration. He studied Gaudi’s work and fell in love with it, and that is clearly indicated in his work.
Joe uses a variety of media. He works in clay the most, but also has done pieces in paper, mosaics, and wood. He has found a relation between many of these art forms; for example, collage and mosaic tend to feel similar. He also related clay with glazes to the way he divides shapes for a collage. However, he enjoys all of these forms, and loves to discover new things.
One of the aspects of his work that I found the most fascinating was his mural work here in Philadelphia. Joe told me that some of his murals have more meaning than others. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, right near the Crane building, was built with the help of Artwell and Mural Arts. After 9/11, there was a lot of tension in the neighborhood, and the mosque was worried about its image. He worked with the community at the mosque, and people from all over the city supported what was going on, from churches to kids to synagogues. He had never been in a mosque before, but he continues to feel a connection with it, and is now considering creating a new mural for the other side.
Joe believes that the Benefit is a fun night, and it’s nice to be there. He has donated every year, and this year, his piece is a collage based on a drawing he found of his wife, who is a poet. It’s from a series of people and places he knows spanned across three or four years, and this is one of the newer ones. Be sure to check out Joe’s piece “Summer Dream” at the Benefit!
Bid on Joe Brenman’s work in advance on Bidpal, or join us at Benefit v.14 on Saturday, February 8
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