Growing up in Olathe, Brett Crawford doesn’t really remember many places for local artists to put their work on display, he said.
But times have changed and the artist and musician, who moved back to the Kansas City area during the pandemic, will see his None More Lonesome collection of paintings on display at Mean Mule Distilling Company during most of the month of August. The show kicks off Aug. 5 during First Fridays in the Crossroads.
“I’m elated to be able to get to do this kind of stuff here,” Crawford said. “Because growing up, this kind of stuff didn’t happen as much or I wasn’t aware of it, really. And there definitely weren’t as many spaces to do shows or put some paintings up, have some friends come out, and have a drink kind of thing.”
Having rediscovered his artistic creativity during the pandemic, the Mean Mule event will be Crawford’s first show — his work displayed in the distillery’s newly renovated space.
“I’m really proud of all this and like to share it with everyone in a way that isn’t inviting strangers into my home,” he added. “And it was a really cool way to team up with Mean Mule and showcase this beautiful new room and they just put so much time and effort into.”
Crawford describes his None More Lonesome collection as “street art meets pop art meets tattoo flash.”
Click here to check out Crawford’s art and web store. A limited number of prints from None More Lonesome are expected to be available during the First Fridays event.
“I think that None More Lonesome idea was just something that I had based around the cowboy/cowgirl culture of the American West,” he added. “I love that kind of tragic hero motif. So it made sense to title the show as such and showcase all these tragic heroes.”
A perfect example, he explained, is his painting featuring a stencil of a tragic comic book girl that a reader might find in a teen romance comic, which mimics pop art iconography. Around her are images that are seen a lot in tattoo flash culture like a skull, a rose, a panther, and a dagger.
Plus the hand-written words, halo, dripping paint, and spatter reflect the graffiti of street art.
“I think that piece is really indicative of my style,” Crawford added.
The influence of street and pop art started when he was younger.
Crawford always loved to paint, draw, and doodle, but some of his first art was stencil work, he said. He would print images off the family computer and use them to make a stencil with cardboard and an X-Acto knife.
“I would have my buddies come over and we’d have decorate-your-deck parties, but like rock and roll,” he explained. “I realized later like, ‘Oh, that’s just an evolution of street art.’ I had no idea what that was growing up in Olathe. But I thought it was a totally original idea at the time. But it was kind of the genesis of all of this.”
As he got older, Crawford gained an appreciation for pop art.
“I was a huge Andy Warhol fan,” he added. “And (Robert) Rauschenberg and all those guys were really big inspirations to me.”
Click here to follow Crawford and his work on Instagram.
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Crawford’s creativity isn’t just confined to painting. Music was his first love. He played in a band in college and said he had dreams of joining a record label. Although not his full-time gig, he still finds time to play. He recently performed in a Pedro the Lion tribute show in Kansas City and Lawrence with various musicians he’s played with throughout the years.
“Art was always something that accompanied music to me,” he said.
In high school journalism, he learned how to use Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign and leveraged those skills to make zines for his friends about his favorite bands.
“I would print out zines on the school’s dime and pass it off to my buddies,” he said. “I’d be like, ‘Here’s what I’m listening to this month’ to try to start my own Maximum RocknRoll.”
Then in college at the University of Kansas, he considered double majoring in journalism and printmaking.
“I was really into doing merch for my band,” he continued. “I would do all the designs for our T-shirts. It was the style 10 years ago to do rip-off shirts. So instead of D.A.R.E., it was our band’s acronym.”
A friend of Crawford’s encouraged him to apply to art school and even helped him with the portfolio for his application, but music was still his goal.
“I never applied, because I was like, ‘Well, I gotta pay for all this stuff. And if I add on another year of school, I don’t even want to be in school, man. I want to be on the road.’ So I just didn’t do it. But I used all that experience to freelance for other people and I’d make T-shirt designs for other people and graphic design, all that kind of stuff.”
In a full circle moment, it’s music that again led him back to making his own art.
“I didn’t really paint or draw for a long time,” he explained. “I moved to Chicago in 2014 and worked in a marketing agency. And then (I) ended up working at an independent music venue for five and a half years and really fell back in love with the visual medium because I got to meet everyone that made the prints for the shows. So I got to make all of these cool friends that were screen printers and visual artists, and then go to their studios and hang out.”
Once the pandemic hit and he couldn’t go to shows all the time, he started to paint again.
“Very quickly, it was like, ‘I guess I’ll buy some paints online and buy some canvas,” he said. “Another very good friend of mine was telling me that he was stretching his own canvas and mixing his own paints and everything. … So we had a canvas-stretching party (outside) and I got like three canvases.”
Finding his voice again through painting — a departure from what he’s done before on stage — included building the courage to start sharing his art with his friends and on Instagram.
“My wife was really encouraging,” Crawford continued. “It was New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, she’s like, ‘You just have to share this stuff because it’s starting to build up in the house. And if you’re not going to share it, you’re gonna have to do something with it.’”
Crawford now works as a senior social manager for MMGY Global, but has still carved out time to share his art with his hometown.
“I’ve been welcomed home with wide-open arms,” he said. “I’m finding that the community of people that are interested in what I’m doing is really robust and really supportive. I’m starting to meet more people every day that are just great people to know. And there’s so much going on that I never really understood or I didn’t know where to look for it before.”