Brian Kuehn is an award winning graphic designer and artist in a variety of media. He has worked extensively with pastels, pencils, watercolors, collage and digital art. Brian’s work has been displayed throughout the country at high-end juried shows. His studio is located in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, near the town of Brevard.
Growing up in the small town of Mandan, in the heart of North Dakota, I was given two gifts that would profoundly impact my journey and, ultimately, my work. The first was a love of art, fed and fostered by my parents. The second was an upbringing that kept me connected to my immigrant ancestors and the work ethic and resilience that enabled them to survive and thrive in rural America.
One of my earliest memories of art is the blue ribbon I won for a crayon drawing in first grade. My parents took great pride in that, and I know it got my attention. Art was something I might be good at. This came as no surprise to my mother who, in addition to working as a nurse, was an artist in her own right, often taking classes in watercolor and oil painting.
Along with the support of my parents, I had the encouragement of my high school art teacher who urged me to pursue art as a career. I attended Rocky Mountain School of Art in Denver where I earned a degree in graphic design. Upon graduating, I worked as a Designer/ Art Director for several design and advertising firms in Denver and the San Francisco Bay area.
While I always tried to make time for my drawing and painting, it wasn’t until I started my own firm as a freelance graphic designer, Kuehn Design, that I was really able to carve out time to pursue my art. At the time my wife, Diane, was still traveling extensively for her job. We had two kids so working from a home studio was the perfect solution and I’m so grateful I had that opportunity to be present to my kids.
Working as a freelance designer also allowed me the flexibility I needed to work on my other art which has varied quite a bit over the years. It also informed my art a great deal. Working in graphic design, I spent a great deal of time crafting two-dimensional graphics for advertising. That forces you to simplify the images, to flat shapes and colors.
My most recent works are in soft pastels and I find that they lend themselves perfectly to my bold and gestural style. While my subject matter varies, I find my greatest inspiration coming from nature. Whether painting landscapes or flowers, I am always looking for unique lighting, interesting composition and textures. Sometimes this is found outdoors. Other times it’s set up in the studio using artificial and natural light.
I am also continually fascinated with the struggles and hard work of the generations who came before us. My ancestors immigrated from Germany in the late 1800s. I often reflect on the fact that my grandmother grew up at the turn of the last century living in a sod house on the North Dakota prairie. It was a hard yet beautiful life, part of the inspiration for my “Farmers Series.” Among the images you will see are people picking crops or working the farm. Many times these images are a result of old photographs I have found while searching archives, as well as my own personal experience growing up in rural America. Ultimately it is about telling a story, in as true a visual voice as I can.