From One Ethos to the Next and the Box Fish Inspiration in Between: an Interview with Dark Surrealist Brad Gray

Posted by Stephanie Crumley on

Here We Go Round The Pentagram

English Artist Brad Gray creates a world of haunting and horrifying narratives dripping in satire and symbolism to provoke the audience to explore the deeper, darker themes of human existence. Found online operating under the moniker of Drabnail, his work has been exhibited internationally, most recently at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica as a part of the Dark Art Society Group show curated by Chet Zar, Wowxwow's Microvisions 2 show exhibiting online, and "Within the Garden of Earthly Delights" at Outre Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. His incredible techniques harken back to the masters of yesteryear, with compositional elements that one can't help but compare to the twisted lovechild of a contemporary Bosch, Carravagio and Bruegel mixed with something all his own. We had the exciting opportunity to ask Brad all sorts of questions about his process, traveling, and which of his paintings he wishes he would not come to life. 

Hi Brad! For the audience, can you tell us your name, where you live and what you do.

My name is Brad Gray. I live in Kildare, Ireland and I am a full time artist.

If you could describe your work in a sentence, what would it be?

A bit of light in the dark and dark in the light with a nod to the old masters and a twist of surrealism.

While you're Brad Gray, you go by Drabnail on social media. Can you tell us more about that moniker? 

Drabnail is an anagram of Brad and Lain(my wife) and I’ve used it over the years and it has somehow stuck. 

What sorts of subject matter informs your creative process?

Love, death, companionship, Hell, Box Fish, the Octopus (fascinating creatures),  life experiences and childhood memories. I rarely paint technology and it’s usually figurative with an organic Earthy feel. I sometimes play with words and their double meanings when placed in a different context and relate them to both historical and current events.

Your inspirations, list three of them in specific order.

Caravagio, Sargent, Bosch.

In the Field Behind Us

A special shout out to the under dogs, the over dogs and the regular dogs: what contemporary creators do you think every single person reading this article should be following or checking out on the regular.

Ah that’s a difficult one to answer as there are so many fantastic artists out there and my tastes will be different to the next chaps. I like a lot of Phil Hale's work as he strikes that nice balance of painterly brilliance and anatomical understanding combined with a vivid imagination. Ruprecht von Kaufman and Neo Rauch do some interesting work too.

Let's shift into a conversation about your process. On January 11th (on IG) you posted about H and the Flower Dog, and how it was a painting that evolved from a pen piece. Can you talk more about the different media that you use and how they inform your process?

I primarily use Oil paint and will sometimes use either an acrylic ground which I splatter, scrub and stress to create a random none uniform surface or enamel spray paints which I layer and splatter too.I then use a thin earth turps based oil paint to build the image which is influenced by the underlying random marks within the ground. A bit like tracing astrological signs in the stars. My roughs are crude and scratchy and form a very basic idea and layout. I then go straight in with the painting with very little planning.

I also love Ball point pen as a medium with it's soft gradations of tone and permanence. In the last year I have been working on a Series of pen drawings which are 'mind rambles’ contained in a Rectangle. In one of these I created a monster which was holding an elongated dog resembling a pointy greyhound made of flowers.I then took it further and brought it to life in an Oil painting. ‘H’ and the flower dog.You make a reference to your couch phase (specifically when you posted about your piece The Ascension of Bod).

You have described having a Couch Phase in some of your posts, which is officially now one of my favorite artistic phases I've ever heard. Can you tell us more about this couch phase and what other phases you see your work having? 

The ‘Couch phase’ began with the idea of attending a session with a psychologist ‘On the couch’ where any subject was open to explore. The figures gathered around the couch are sometimes figments of my imagination symbolizing something or sometimes characters referencing something pertinent to the past.The couch was a departure point for anything to evolve from and to go wandering in any direction. The piece 'The Ascension of Bod’ was based on a cartoon character from a show I used to watch as a child.I depicted him having grown up, having become enlightened with a fetish for leather trousers.The 'Couch phase’ is an ongoing subject that I have gone back to over the years and will continue to do so in years to come. I have just completed a new one with a darker leaning.

Another ongoing subject is my ‘Held’ phase which (I think) stems from being a dad and recalling the early years of my children’s development where I would be looking down at this small sleeping being held in my arms and feeling the pleasant warm weight and life force held in my hands .Outstretched palms feeling the expanding rib cage, soft breaths  in and out. My 'held phase' is always one of holding with love rather than holding on to something.

My piece ‘4 days of care’ is about a survival exercise I did with the military on the commando course. It was to simulate being trapped behind enemy lines, we were stripped of our uniform and given an old boiler suit and then had to survive on Dartmoor for a week with no food in the middle of November.On the 2nd day I was given a large white rabbit which I had to look after at all costs.I walked miles and miles with it, Map reading over the moorland usually through the cold night. I knew it’s fate but looked after it the best I could. On the penultimate day I had to butcher it and eat it. I was the monster.

Shit! All of your paintings have come to life! Which painting would you be the MOST terrified to come to life and why? Mind not only naming it but describing it?

Hahaha! What a question!I think that would be ‘Greed at Large’. An immense bellied monster with a huge gaping mouth spread across it’s mid riff, a tiny head and even tinier brain ripping, grabbing and devouring  everything in it’s path. Run Away! Run Away!

church goer dark art english artist

Churchgoer Brad Gray

If you could be shifted into any artistic movement throughout time, which would it be, where would you be (location wise in addition to time period/movement wise) and why?

I’d be a French Impressionist. They were always getting out into the beautiful French countryside and capturing whatever they saw with passion. They had that unified feeling of being bonded kindred spirits through their intrigue in the painting process. When they had finished a days work they’d sit around interesting Bohemian nooks of Paris chatting and drinking wine with a bit of debauchery and no care for the finer things in life. Sounds like a great life! (the reality may have been somewhat different).

You have traveled and resided in so many places! Can you talk more about some of your favorite places and how traveling/living different places has informed your creative process? Do you recommend that other creatives do something similar? Why or why not?

I have always loved to travel and to see what’s out there and through this have had some some fantastic experiences which I treasure to this day. It’s hard to say specifically how it’s informed my creative process but I do feel experiencing new things and places is inspiring in itself which is why I love doing residencies abroad where you can live for a while and soak it all up from a local perspective and to share in a creative vibe with the other artists that are also there is wonderful. I’d recommend getting out and doing a few of them and there are so many out there to choose from with each one having a different setting and ethos to the next.

Morning Has Broken

Morning Has Broken

What is your favorite place you have lived and why? Where has the best artistic community? Are they the same place or different ones?

One of my favourite places I ever visited was what I consider to be the most magnificent camp spot I have ever stayed in. My wife’s parents had just died and we were feeling pretty low so we decided to blow all our savings, buy a Landrover and explore up into the interior of Africa from South Africa. It was a 3 month trip where I planned the first month and then left the rest to whatever may come and remain flexible to the whims of the trip. About half way around we bumped into someone we knew in Zimbabwe who was a guide and he recommended a magical spot which involved a long dusty drive to get there and would normally be done as a convoy but as we had a strong car we should be ok. It was a 700km drive on a corrugated dusty road along the underside of lake Kariba and about half way along we had to take a sharp right and head up a steep incline into the Escarpment. After a few hours in Low ratio 4WD we at last got there. The spot sat perched on the lip of a 300m shear drop into a dark rocky river bed below where the sound of a troop of Baboons could be heard. As the sun began to set it cast a dissecting shadow down into the depths. A rare group of falcons indigenous only to that area were arcing in and out of the shadow with soft raptor calls. Standing at the edge the warm wind rose up the cliff face and lifted my hair gently and I could just make out Zambia on the other side of the lake at 47 km’s distant, evident only because of the twinkling lights of Fishermans huts on the far shore of the lake. It was a special place etched into my mind.

From your bio it sounds like you have mostly settled in one location with intermittent residencies. What is it like to be an artist in Ireland? What is the dark art scene there and is there an artist community? Can you talk more about it?

We lived in The Garden route near Wilderness in South Africa and renovated an old farm house/small holding which was actually in a National park. A Big 300 yr old Yellow wood tree grew in the large rambling garden which merged into the forested hills behind and the house stood on a raised spot between 2 lakes. We collected our water needs from the roof, kept Bees, grew our own veggies, had a worm farm and felt very connected to the earth and in tune with the natural order.There were lots of like minded friends which we’d see often at gatherings around each others houses. It was very much a drop out of the rat race existence in a very beautiful part of the world. The South African Art scene was pretty buoyant and quite exciting. I can’t really say there was a dark art scene to speak of but they were a lot more open to different kinds of art than they are here in Ireland. It was possible to paint large works too.

Ireland is a great base for artists as they are given tax exempt status but there doesn’t seem to be many buyers to support the artists. Most artists seem to be chasing grants (where you need to know ‘Art Speak’ to be considered) and just about getting by on social benefits or part time jobs. It’s a small art scene with a bit of ‘Who you know’. So far, I don’t feel any connection to any art community in Ireland. I am however, represented by a nice little gallery that shows some more alternative work-'The Chimera Gallery' in Mullingar. Dark Art doesn’t seem to have taken hold which is strange considering the origins of Halloween are rooted here? The National Gallery and Hugh Lane gallery are fantastic with a Fine collection of world renowned Art. The royal Hibernian Academy…….enough said - haha!

If you could give any sort of advice to the aspiring artists reading this, what would it be?

Find the subjects and mediums that interest you and really explore them, learn from studying what the past has given us and once comfortable with what you are doing take it your own way.The internet is such a great tool for seeing what is out there and drawing inspiration from. Don’t be precious about getting it right as it really is a case of the more you practice the better you get.

For more of his work, make sure to give him a follow on Instagram, check out his website for his original work, and snag one of his prints in our online store

Brad Gray is represented by:  Underdog Gallery in London,UK and Chimera Gallery in Mullingar,Ireland. His work is currently on display at Copro Gallery from now until Nov 11th as part of the Dark Arts Society Show. Upcoming shows include: Dusk Collective's Ill Tidings, We Bring opening Nov. 30th online an  ​​WowxWow's Evolution of the Essence (Group Show) Feb. 8th-March 1st online. 

View Brad Gray prints on Dark Art & Craft

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