Becoming Art

“Becoming Art”
An Interview with BRF

by Raffi Wineburg
Photos: Noriko Nasu-Tidball
1. Pioneer

Part of what makes him so special is that he is doing something that no one has considered art before.” -Melissa Mann

With short blond hair, bulging muscle, and Clooney-esque laugh lines etched into an otherwise youthful, clean-shaven baby-face, Brent Ray Fraser looks like an Aryan superhero.
In reality, Brent is a multidisciplinary erotic performance artist. But he doesn’t like labels. Few labels, if any, do him justice.
“I don’t even like to be called and artist,” he said. “Art is just what I do.”
There is no one who “does” art in the same way as Brent. The first such example is Ecdysiart: for these live shows, Brent simultaneously paints and strips naked—a literal and metaphorical take on art as an act of self exposure.
At the end of an Ecdysiart performance Brent often creates “[object] D’art.” where he imprints his body part onto a canvas (“like a self-portrait of arousal”). Brent has also pioneered an art form called “[object] paintings” where he uses his body part as a brush to create portraits or landscapes.
Brent’s art is truly unique and regarded as such: He has performed (not always naked) in hundreds of venues and garnered international acclaim for his works and performance pieces. His art is both experimental and boundary pushing. It forces us to reexamine what we believe art is. It challenges us to recognize the human body as an object of art. And it dares us to celebrate sexuality in new, provocative ways.
“When you take away things that push the envelope, then we will just crumble,” said Brent. “Sexuality is something that is swept under the rug, but if you take that away we will cease to exist.”
Brent exists to make art. Just the word ‘art’ itself is enough to spark his almost endless exuberance. Sometimes, asked a question about his own art, he gets lost in his excitement, eulogizing arts’ profundity until he realizes he has strayed and says grinning: “I don’t even know what the question was anymore.” Then he laughs.
His laugh must be mentioned, the two-tiered masterpiece that it is. At first, deep and powerful, this man-laugh gives way to a type of boyhood giggle. His voice raises an octave and strings of ‘ha, ha, has,’ come out in short, staccato bursts which escalate in volume as if he’s laughing at his own preceding laughter.
Such childlike enthusiasm, however, does little to explain how Brent became involved in his specific line of work. Those familiar with Freud might turn to fixation or repressed trauma to explain something like [object] d’art. Yet Brent’s childhood lends nothing of the sort. His art evolved naturally. Things happened, Brent responded, and art—the reflection of the artist—manifested.

2. Striptease

It’s very weird. It’s ironic actually what I do now. Because I used to be very shy and introverted.” -Brent Ray Fraser

Brent grew up in Surrey, BC. From a young age he showed both a talent for art and a fascination with the human body. He would sketch detailed drawings of Hulk Hogan and other “muscular dudes” striking poses. Now, he just draws himself.
But Brent was shy. While art came naturally to him, performing did not. In first grade, Brent’s classmates would gather round his desk to watch him draw. Shunning his adoring fans, young Brent pulled his desk to the corner of the room, refusing to let anyone watch.

By high school, Brent had officially resigned from class presentations—either skipping class, or accepting a failing grade. These public displays left him with clammy hands, a beet-colored face and severe heart palpitations
He graduated high school with disastrous grades in anything that wasn’t P.E. or Art. Yet, with the help of his grade 12 art teacher, Brent put together a portfolio and was accepted into Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.
It took Brent ten years to graduate. He got bored quickly. He floundered, partied, experimented, switching his focus often. Meanwhile, he started a personal training business, began bartending, worked as a night club bouncer and never considered ‘making art’ as a viable way to make a living.
In art school though, Brent’s aversion to public speaking came to haunt him.
“You get into University and

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is important. To not get up in front of class and to sometimes skip class so you don’t have to give a presentation and talk about your art, that bothered me so much,” he said.
So Brent sought out his father for words of wisdom. His response? “Just imagine the crowd has no clothes on.”
Brent quickly dismissed his father’s clichéd advice. But then, the proverbial light-bulb clicked. He wondered, what if it was he, and not the audience that was naked? If he could somehow overcome his inhibitions of self-exposure, he thought, speaking in front of a crowd would pale in comparison.
An opportunity for Brent’s unclothed aspirations soon presented itself. Brent was hired for an event as a topless bartender. As the steady stream of ogling, inebriated patrons slowed, he began to chat with his shirtless co-workers—one of whom happened to be a male stripper.  He connected Brent with an agent who gave Brent a time and date and told him: “Go watch. And if you think you can do what that guy does, then you come back to me and we’ll talk.”

Brent went alone to his first strip show. He sat down, the only man in sight in a crowd of hundreds and watched the performance with a keen, academic interest.
“What enticed me was that here is this man, and he is on stage and completely naked and he is in control and he has control of the crowd… He’s entertaining everyone, and he’s bringing out all these emotions and I just say: How do I learn how to do that? I have to do that [for my art].”
Brent’s first performance started out well. Only, at the end, a perplexed DJ took the microphone and said: “So, uhhh, who wants to see this guy get naked?”
Brent looked down and realized he was still fully clothed. He stared out at his confused audience and in an instant, ripped everything off. Standing in the spotlight, fully exposed, reveling in the crowds’ cries of delight, Brent knew that he was not only hooked, but somehow liberated.
It took a year of stripping until Brent felt ready to perform in a gallery. He convinced the White Ocean Art Gallery on Granville Island to let him do a surprise strip show/art piece for couples on Valentines Day. Brent, dressed as cowboy, slowly stripped off his accouterments—his boots, his hat, his black leather jacket—and began painting with his body. Over speakers played a self-recording which narrated Brent’s journey of self-exposure.
“It was a melding of art and stripping,” he said. “And people were just like: ‘whoa’.”

3. Artist

If I do anything else other than art, it’s like I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to waste my time.” -Brent Ray Fraser

It was past midnight and Brent was drunk. He and his friend Blake were at Brent’s abandoned grain-silo turned art-studio in Langley, BC. Their conversation was unmemorable, or maybe just washed away in a boozy swell.
At some point, Brent pulled out a large canvas and began painting for Blake who was not only his best friend, but also his biggest critic. Blake had repeatedly expressed his distaste for Brent’s work. But he had never seen Brent paint live. Blake was captivated.

“I’m proud of you,” he told Brent. “This is what you need to do.”
But the drunkenness that night was no aberration. Blake and Brent imbibed often. They stayed up late to party. They reinforced each other’s life style.
“So,” explains Brent, “I told [Blake] listen: If I’m going to to be doing this, I gotta stop hanging out with you.”
Blake, in an alcohol fueled epiphany, replied: “Man, that’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
That was the last night time they saw each other. Six weeks later, Blake passed away in his sleep.
At the time Brent was still bar-tending, stripping and working a variety of other jobs. After Blake’s death, Brent dropped everything to pursue his art.
“I told myself  I’m going to make the big push, because I wanted to honor Blake’s life by doing this. I realized you only have one chance at it, and you should do what you love and all that motivated me to focus entirely on the art. That’s what I do 24/7. I just appreciate life, that’s what art is. Art is life.”
Brent moved into his studio so he could make art all the time. He would paint for hours, videotaping himself, then watching himself paint before collapsing on and old, hard couch.
“It sounds like the most narcissistic thing,” said Brent. “But I never learned more about myself…When I paint, I lose myself, and find myself at the same time.”
From the time he began stripping up until Blake’s death, Brent was losing one identity and finding another.
He left behind Brent Fraser, the shy introverted boy from Surrey, in favor of Brent Ray Fraser: The artist. He then became, simply, BRF: The brand.

4. BRF

“I wanted to become art. I wanted to be one with art, So that’s pretty much what I’m doing.”       –Brent Ray Fraser

BRF just launched a new website. It’s a type of adults-only virtual art gallery. He doesn’t consider his art a product; art is just art. So instead, he turned himself into product, and sells it (or him) on his site.
This is how BRF is “becoming art.” You can purchase Chest Man Fur, or Pubic Man Fur (BRF’s chest and pubic hair) on his website. Also for sale is Eau D’BRF (his sweat captured in small glass vials: $69.99).
But the website inevitably begs new questions. If BRF is “becoming art,” and his art is not a product, then how does making products of himself equal art?
Such inconsistencies are not altogether uncommon with BRF. He seems to fashion himself a type of artistic King Midas: Whatever he touches turns to art.
This becomes problematic in certain contexts. For example, BRF does live webcam performances on a porn website called cam4. This setting seems disingenuous to art. This not to say that pornography cannot be art. But at the very least, performing on a porn website obscures the line between Brent’s art and outright pornography.
Such is the grand tension of erotic art; where does art end and something else—be it pornography, or cultural pollution—begin?
I posed this question to Melissa Mann: Brent’s friend, and later, the content writer for his website. To perform this job, Melissa watched “literally every single one of [Brent’s] videos.”
Melissa is thoughtful, well-spoken: “There are some things I struggle with, and I think how is that art? But then I consider all the time and effort and thought he puts behind his work, and I see that that is the art. The art is in the process.”
BRF agrees. If a suitable label for his specific artistry existed, ‘process-based’ would be it.  This means that the “art” is not the erotic painting itself, or the clipped pubic hair, or even the strip tease. The art occurs behind the scenes: BRF building canvasses, spending hours in the gym, choreographing his performances.
If this is true, then perhaps BRF’s aim is greater. A 2010 New York Magazine profile on James Franco suggested that Franco, the art obsessed movie star is crafting his career as a type of “gonzo performance piece…the work of a virtuoso public image artist.”