What Matters to Brian Rea

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Brian Rea is an artist, author, and educator who has worked on print, art, fashion, and film projects around the world. He lives in Stockholm with his wife, two sons, and lots of baked goods.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Being with my family on the beach and sharing waves with good people.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

Coloring a book on a shag carpet floor in my parent’s home— I was probably 5 or 6.

What is your biggest regret?

Not being more present for my son Luka’s first year.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

In the past, I would try to bury it beneath more recent good feelings, then let it slowly compost into a part of who I would become. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve come to realize that’s probably not the healthiest approach for mind and body. I’ve also come to understand that heartbreak can sneak up on you in different forms— grief, loss, depression, isolation, feeling inadequate— once I can find the source of the pain, I can better understand whether it’s something I can control or not. And if it is out of my control, then I can manage that pain with some perspective.

What makes you cry?

When my kids hurt emotionally or when they speak from the heart. I just fall apart.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Accomplishing a task is different than accomplishing something creatively. TO DO lists feel like burdens so I keep WHAT I’VE DONE lists. These make me feel better when I add something to them. It’s not joy, but a genuine uptick in my mood for a short period of time.

Making work, however, (whether writing, drawing or painting) is MUCH different. I can genuinely feel real joy from making something— and pride. How long it lasts can depend on whether I’m at the beginning of a breakthrough in my work or finishing off a project I feel good about. A day or sometimes two to three days. It’s like a rush from a drug. And I suspect that high is part of the love of creating work and plays a part in why I continue to do the work I do.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

Yes. I just co-wrote a book about it (Fixing Flamingos, fall 2023). Everyone has a job, it’s slightly disorganized, but everyone is kind. And interns handle most of the heavy stuff.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I can carry grudges. And I have a good memory.

What do you love most about yourself?

That I have people and passions in my life that I care for more than anything else in the world and I make these my life’s work— without compromise.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Any meal called bread and cheese.