our newest location in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood is many things: a salad spot, a noodle joint + a space port. Yeah, that's right, a space port…with a mermaid…eating noodles. Brian Holderman is the Pittsburgh-based artist responsible for the gorgeous mural consuming an entire corner inside of our twentieth location. He specializes in pairing retro graphics with futuristic ideas, all while bringing a bit of the steel city along for the ride. We caught up with Brian at our opening events to learn a bit more about what inspires his unique vision + where else we can find his designs throughout the city (hint: pretty much everywhere)…
hg: tell us a little about you, your artistic background + how you ended up in Pittsburgh.
brian: I've been making art as long as I can remember—professionally for almost 20 years. I spent some time in Japan, which was a big influence on my work. Tried out some interesting projects over the years, the oddest one in retrospect was Apartment. It was an ongoing idea that lasted about 6 years during the early 2000s. During that time my 2nd floor apartment on the South Side doubled as a clothing store + art gallery. I learned how to screen print shirts and paper, painted murals in my living room—it was a fun avenue to try out different ideas without too much risk. It was called Apartment because it was my house you were shopping in. That couch? Not a prop.
hg: your work includes vibrant cartoons that you have described as depicting “poison, mis-happenings and temptation.” Where do you find inspiration for these scenes?
brian: inspiration for these scenes comes from my sense of humor, and my view on life.
"Depicting cautionary tales in silly and fun ways reminds me not to take things too seriously."
hg: you’re the featured artist at our new location in Pittsburgh. Can you explain a bit about what inspired the design + what you hope to convey with this piece?
brian: my first sketches for this one included an octopus astronaut + a mermaid eating noodles in a noodle bowl (the hand of the mermaid is actually modeled off of Brian's own hand holding a pair of chopsticks). After that, I thought about where those disparate characters might exist…and landed at a space port somewhere deep in space. Bladerunner was also an inspiration.
hg: a popular mural of yours, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, displays Pittsburgh + its city life. Does your art generally represent or reflect Pittsburgh?
brian: there are usually references to Pittsburgh in my work, but not intentionally. This happens because Pittsburgh is my haunt…shapes, buildings + other Pittsburgh-centric things are bound to find a way into my work.
hg: you’re a pinball machine artist, muralist, painter, graphic designer, skateboard artist and more-what medium of art do you prefer or enjoy the most?
brian: I love all of them really. All of the mediums start the same way, pencil to paper, where they go from there is what changes—this one is going to be a mural, that one is going to be a screen print. That part of the process with each medium is exciting because different tools are needed to accomplish a finished piece. Changing up from project-to-project keeps things fresh.
hg: what is your main goal in your art and how would you like your work to spark conversation amongst its viewers?
brian: telling single image stories that don’t have a beginning or end.
"My goal with these is for someone to take away at least a piece of it... laugh, cry, scream.. whichever they find suitable."
hg: your work has been featured in many famous museums, one of which being The Andy Warhol Museum. How does your art align with Warhol’s, and do you take any inspiration from him?
brian: I love Warhol and his work, but our similarity as artists starts and ends with commercial illustration + screen printing. I’m certain there are other indirect influences from what he accomplished as an artist, but to define his impact on the art world and the artists that followed is a topic for a book.
hg: how, with colors, shapes and other techniques, do you manifest retro cartoons into contemporary graphics?
brian: it’s a combination of rendering my characters with the same weight as lettering and other graphic shapes within a composition. They don’t contain any texture or non-graphic dimension. Coupled with some elements or shapes that come from that era, like the cigar rocket or the legs of the flying saucer…it all adds up to my work having that look.
hg: your art can be found on many surfaces-skateboards, pinball machines, city walls. Is there any place where you’d love to display your work that you haven’t yet?
brian: a food truck would be fun.
hg: where else can we spot your work around Pittsburgh and around the country?
brian: all of my murals live in Pittsburgh. Yesterday’s Tomorrow and the täkō octopus downtown, Kickback Pinball Cafe in Lawrenceville, Jimmy D’s, Jekyl and Hyde, and the Rex Theater on the Southside…to name a few. I make t-shirts too, so you may spot one in the wild, anywhere from Pittsburgh to Japan.