By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Peoria artist and Bradley University fine art student Britni Ulrich came to Bradley to learn about art. In the process, she began to explore dichotomies, and learned a lot about herself.
Britni grew up in the Chicago area. She always loved art. She recalled the time when her parents remodeled the basement and she turned one wall into her own art project. “I added sayings, trees, whatever I felt like. They’ve left it there to this day.”
After high school, she was attracted to Bradley because of their art program. “They have a great painting program and I like how it’s intimate. I knew I’d get a great education and they’d push me to the right level I needed to be.” Though she originally considered pre-med, she decided that art was too important to her. That prompted her to switch to art education, but eventually her professors convinced her to apply to the BFA program.
Britni is focused on abstract painting, but she comes from a more realistic background. “Abstract is something that evolved,” she explained. “My early work was mostly representational. I did a lot of figure drawing. Once I got into my more advanced classes, I started to really love paint.”
Near the end of her junior year, she undertook a project doing dichotomy paintings where each pair of paintings illustrated either the sacred or the profane. “Those are abstract ideas, and it was the first time I had painted in an abstract way,” she said. “I feel like it opened up this whole new world for me. Once I did those paintings, I haven’t painted anything realistic since then.”
“Our acknowledgement of everything in life is defined by the idea of dichotomies,” she said. “We wouldn’t know what light is without darkness, we would not know what pain is without love. It applies to virtually everything. I think that all of life is encompassed by opposition. I try to represent that with the way I paint.”
Her paintings evolve as she works on them, and sometimes the process creates a happy surprise. “I build the canvas, so I know the size. I typically start with a color pallet in mind, but I may change my mind. Acrylics dry darker, so my colors may change. Sometimes I’ll come back to a painting and the acrylics will have mixed together to create a whole new color, so now that’s a color I have to integrate.”
Britni likes to push the limits of acrylics and oils. “I start in acrylic; then, I go back over with oil. Acrylic allows things to happen very quickly and allows for some really interesting marks to be made. And, oil does a lot of interesting things that acrylic can’t do. I really enjoy working with both.”
“I think that paint on its own can be so beautiful, even without my hand – just the fluidity of the paint. It’s really important to me that there are organic shapes in my work, and that I contrast them with grids and straight lines.”
“I’ve used everything under the sun to work the paint,” she continued. “I’ve used tape, paint brushes, pallet knives, anything you can think of. I’ll put gloves on and push paint around with my hands. Sometimes I’ll use water and push the paint around with water. I try not to use brushes until the very end. Beautiful things happen without the acknowledgement that they’re going to happen, but you have to have a creative eye to catch it and stop it before it goes too far and turns into nothing.”
Every painting is different. “Some paintings I can finish in two or three sessions. Sometimes I have a yelling conversation with my work and we get into a fight. But, I always push it until I feel like it’s completed. Sometimes that involves a lot of layers of oil, and sometimes it happens on the first try.”
“It’s horrible if I don’t paint anything for more than a week – I feel more stressed out, I feel like I’m suffocating. As an artist, I love to be free and without constraints. When I’m at home, I’m really OCD, organized and clean. But when I’m here, my painting isn’t like that. My paintings are my freedom. They’re my way of tackling the world around me.”
For more information, visit Britni’s website at www.britniulrich.com.