In the imaginary world of artist William Brickel, slender young men lie in states of crushing ennui, share a sorrowful glass of wine, contort their bodies in meditative poses, and tussle with each other in a way that might be fighting or foreplay. If the figures seem remarkably similar to one another, it’s for good reason, explains Brickel, who’s 25 and based in London. “I paint from my imagination, and the closest thing I can get to something physical, if I’m stuck, is myself,” he says. “I look in the mirror, or it’s quite interesting to feel a limb or something like that, and then try and paint it from the feel.” In this intimate process of almost self-portraiture, the limbs in Brickel’s (often large-scale) watercolors can be warped or exaggerated, creating unexpected compositions.
The son of a truck driver and a housewife, Brickel was raised in England near the Welsh border and began his career in an unlikely place: As an auto mechanic he gravitated toward photography before finding his calling at the Royal Drawing School, where he graduated in 2018. He doesn’t regret his time in the garage; he believes it was an important part of his journey. “In being a mechanic there was something about puzzle solving and doing something physical. It was creative as well,” Brickel says. “But understandably restrictive.”
For this commission, Departures tasked the artist with portraying the season’s loose yet sophisticated crop of nautically inspired menswear. It’s a look that’s familiar to any Brit, and just so happened to reflect Brickel’s personal style. “I’ve always had an interest in fashion, in a very small way,” he says. “It’s almost quite selfish, because in a way I like what I like, and I don’t really try and branch out into anything.”
Brickel’s watercolors are on view in a solo show at Ltd Los Angeles gallery. Despite his early successes, his goals remain as humble as his time as a mechanic. “Fame doesn’t really mean much,” he says. “I’d like to be niche...just to be pondered or mused upon by those who care, and that’s all.”