Nashville, Tennessee, artist Wayne Brezinka has created a mixed-media work titled LINCOLN. The eye-catching 5-by-4-foot head-and-shoulders portrait of our 16th President is made from objects including tintype photographs. We spoke with Brezinka about his work and the inspiration for creating the three-dimensional piece.
Question: You worked as an art director for EMI Records before becoming a full-time artist. How does your artistic process evolve with each new project?
Answer: Making art is like any vocation, hobby or sport. It’s in a constant state of transformation. The more you do it, the better and more refined and disciplined you become. The process is in constant motion and evolution.
Q: Describe the mixed media or paper collage style. What is it about this style that you find most creative?
A: I enjoy working with my hands, and the materials I use are tactile. Paper, cardboard, photographs, string, rope, wood, etc., they’re very organic and have lots of texture. These items allow me to tell a story with the ability to produce many layers and depth. I want to draw the viewer in, and, by using these materials and creating layers and texture, I attain that personal more intimate interaction with the work once seen at a closer glance.
Q: What inspired you to create LINCOLN? Did you have a previous interest in history or the Civil War?
A: I’ve always been fascinated with history. Lincoln fascinates me. In 2012 there was a lot of press on [Lincoln] because of the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I can’t remember the first time I saw a photograph of the face of Lincoln, but I’ve been fixated ever since, mesmerized. His face, to me, is like a map finding its way—full of roads and leathery lines shaped like rivers and trails leading to truth and the desire to overcome. He has a look of determination with eyes revealing, and I wondered if I could capture this by telling his story through my chosen medium of cut paper and collage.
Q: How long did it take you to create the work?
A: It took me about two months from inception to completion. I mentally prepared the image in my head, imagining what I might use to construct it, and then from that point it took about a month to actually make and build it.
Q: What types of vintage items were you hoping to collect to incorporate into the LINCOLN piece? Where did you find the pieces from the 1860s?
A: This portrait was created using historical and period pieces and documents from the American Civil War time period. A friend of mine (Dana Wright) recommended that I use actual photographs, newspapers and various items from the Civil War. He and I traveled to the annual Civil War antique and relic show that comes through the Nashville area in December of 2012. It’s one of the largest Civil War artifact shows in the world.
I was looking for affordable paperworks, photographs and items from that period that I could later work into the image. I wanted to attain that personal, more intimate interaction with the work that I spoke about earlier, to tell the larger story of Lincoln once seen at a closer glance and by using these chosen items, I hope I’ve achieved that for the viewer.
Q: What are the pieces from the 1860s that you used in the piece?
A: Among the items used are:
An 1860s patriotic envelope featuring the Constitution with a 33-star American flag. Various tintype photographs (one in Lincoln’s eyebrow and the others in his beard and in his bow-tie) A Rochester Express newspaper dated January 6, 1863, was used in creating one of the white stripes of the flag along with a November 8, 1862, Harpers Weekly original paper. Several photos of slaves were used to construct Lincoln’s ear and the shadows around his eye and right cheekbone. A photograph of slaves picking cotton on a plantation has been fastened to the lower left portion of his jacket.
Q: How did you feel about having the work displayed at Ford’s Theatre?
A: Honored, excited and very thankful. With nearly one million people visiting the site each year, it is a tremendous privilege.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I have several projects on my plate. I’m making new work for a solo exhibition opening October 3, 2014, at O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tennessee. I’m also working on a commission for The Boston Globe; a portrait commission of musician Zach Sobiech; a children’s book jacket for an upcoming Candlewick Press title; and a few covers for Deloitte University Press.
Wayne Brezinka’s original LINCOLN appeared in the Ford's Theatre lobby from 2013 until Feb. 2018.
Lauren Beyea is Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at Ford’s Theatre, where she oversees media relations. She is editor of the Ford’s Theatre Blog. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBeyea.