Fellows Friday: Q&A with Brent Wahl

Brent Wahl, 2014 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

As part of our “Fellows Friday” feature, we focus on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges. Starting this week, we’re pleased to introduce the 2014 Pew Fellows, and to unveil their official portraits. Visit us each Friday to meet a new Pew Fellow and to learn more about his or her artistic practice.

We begin with visual artist Brent Wahl, who works primarily in photography and time-based mediums. Wahl transforms everyday materials and detritus into mesmerizing compositions, and his work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at Philadelphia’s Vox Populi, as well as in group shows at London’s Tate Modern, Philadelphia’s Institute for Contemporary Art, and the Print Center in Philadelphia.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

I have been involved in map making, encyclopedia sales, picture framing, waiting tables, advertising, editorial photography, and photographic ghostwriting. I do love the pairing that I have in my life right now, which is making art and teaching, but if I had to do something different, I think I would have been a musician, scientist, architect, or maybe something nutty that involves nature and survival. Maybe this is why I became an artist—I can incorporate or use any of this stuff whenever I want.

When did you know you were going to be an artist?

I fantasized about being an artist in elementary school, when I had this very inspirational art teacher. But if I had to choose a particular point in time, I think it became apparent when I was 19 and worked in the photographic division of a university science department. The very generous guy that I worked for gave me unlimited access to his darkroom and that was it—everything just exploded from there. I spent many all-nighters in that lab.

What images or things keep you company in the space where you work?

I have lots of little things around but I always have my picture of Glenn Gould, a postcard of this amazing Van Gogh drawing, an image of Yves Klein’s Leap Into the Void, a picture of my oldest friend and myself in Nepal crossing over the Ganjala Pass, and five different announcement cards from shows that I saw in the early ’90s: Bruce Nauman, Matthew Barney, Terry Adkins, Roni Horn, and Terry Winters—all artists that were very inspiring to me when I started my life in New York.

Which artist would you most like to have dinner with, from any time in history?

This seems like a question designed to torture me.


Located in Independence National Historical Park, the Independence Visitor Center is the official visitor center of Philadelphia and the region and is the primary point of orientation for Independence National Historical Park, the City of Philadelphia, and the Southern New Jersey and Delaware River Waterfronts, as well as Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Michèle Steinwald is an independent curator and dance producer, and former assistant curator for the performing arts at the Walker Art Center.

The Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum held a residency with bassoonist Pascal Gallois, featuring a series of master classes and performances.

Grants & Grantees

Megawords (run by Dan Murphy and Anthony Smyrski, both Pew Fellows) is self-described as “an experimental media project” that takes the form of a biannual photography magazine, as well as related installation projects and public events.

Building on the success of its Museum Without Walls project, the Association for Public Art is working to engage audiences in an online dialogue about Philadelphia’s public art.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Naomi Beckwith is a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, known for recognizing artists whose practices are social, participatory, and communal.

Grants & Grantees

PRISM will explore the artistic possibilities that arise at the intersection of saxophone music, technology, and time-based visual art, to lay the foundation for an evening-length production.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist, and professor Shulamit Ran is the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the department of music at the University of Chicago.

The Barnes Foundation’s Center-funded exhibition, Yinka Shonibare: Magic Ladders, was highlighted in The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and more.

Grants & Grantees

Steven Donegan is a visual artist and a 1998 Pew Fellow.

Tacita Dean speaks about time’s myriad forms, from the geological and the celestial to the biological or the structural.

Grants & Grantees

Performance art, pop-up storybook design techniques, and a cinematic score will combine in a visual theater work for children and adults devised and performed by Phillips, in collaboration with visual artist Steven Dufala and composer Juan Gabriel Turbay.