The archaic meaning of the word “weird” concerns controlling one’s destiny or fate. Brian A. Bernhard is a weird guy—on the one hand. He embraced his weirdness early: He was the blond, blue eyed Jewish son of a German mother. He was a teetotaling teenager. And an artist. You’ve got to be at least a little weird to choose that kind of life. But thank God he chose it. And thank the gods fate and destiny brought us together to collaborate on A Million Words Away.
Since the third grade, Brian has “Embrace[d] the Weird” in the visual arts. His skills even turned his first bully into an art collector. People have followed – and collected – his art ever since. I’m the proud owner of some of his original work, which tends toward the monstrously anatomical, the surreally animalistic, the generally weird. It’s why I like it so much, and why I think we’re a good fit.
Bernhard grew up a nerdy intellectual in Gum Swamp, Virginia Beach, VA (not far from my collaborator Norman Mallard). He made a playground of the snake-addled marshes surrounding his house, where children regularly drowned. Like me, he questioned the party line at his Hebrew School. Like me, he didn’t get reasonable answers. Like me, he turned to rabid agnosticism.
Bernhard at first intended to go into medicine. He got paid to scare people at a haunted house, and his art took a darker turn. He trekked a circuitous route (yay, Community College!) to one of the best art departments in the country, Virginia Commonwealth University. At VCU he explored the world of video art, built gallery installations, and created experimental video projections for theatrical plays and performing artists.
During breaks, he worked with the wizards at Enchanted Castle Studios, building giant fiberglass sculptures for theme parks, attractions, and events—from life-sized dinosaurs, to virtual Titanic sinking experiences. Super cool.
In 1999, Bernhard learned his father had terminal cancer—and he underwent a kidnapping-at-gunpoint. These twin traumas forced him to reconsider his path, and motivated him to make more art than ever before. He needed to go where he needed to go—and he no longer had time to waste. “I wanted my father to see something of value in the path I had chosen, before I lost him.” Right on. And right up my alley.
A few unexpected twists – destiny, again – landed Bernhard in NYC, as a Master Control Operator and eventual producer for his own show about artists. “ART or Something Like It!” was born. He’d created a show that allowed him to interview, profile, and promote hundreds of artists all over NYC. The series captured the lives and work of some of the City’s most indelible creative minds, and enabled him to learn directly from some of his heroes and artistic luminaries. In 2007, “ART or Something Like It!” was nominated for an NYC EMMY (five years later, he’d eventually win a NYC “Best Educational Programming” EMMY for another show he created).
Bernhard attended Parsons School of Design, and earned his MFA in design and technology, with an emphasis on interactive narrative. Here he explored the cross-section between performance art, interactive narrative, gamification, and online technologies. Basically, a weirdo’s dream degree.
He produced “A Fool’s Idea,” a profile web series about eccentric performing artists, for which he traveled to Spain, China, and beyond, producing hundreds of interviews and amassing a huge collection of episodes that would go on to screen and win awards in festivals all over the world. But, pay attention: It was always about other artists, others’ art. Like me as a ghost, editor, and professor, Bernhard sublimated his own creative energies to showcase the creativity of others. He never regretted it.
But finally, in 2016, Bernhard shifted his energy again and refocused on shaping his own narrative as opposed to shaping the stories of others via his documentary projects (sound familiar?) So he began to paint again, painting like he was going to the chair. Drawing, inking, and otherwise manifesting all the weird, wooly, and wonderful stuff birthed by his brain.
This flurry of art-making led to the creation of his most recent passion project, “Embrace the Weird” a lifestyle brand for weirdos. Which is how and where I found him, through mutual friends and collectors.
After many a pop up gallery in art walks around California, Bernhard took the leap to level-up his art business, and opened his first ever physical retail boutique and art gallery called, “Embrace the Weird” in San Pedro, California. He’s well represented in art galleries around LA, and speaks regularly at schools and art centers about “artrepreneurship.”
I’m honored to collaborate with Brian A. Bernhard. He’ll be doing the book cover for Book 6, Quiddity, likely some videos, and definitely some co-branded merch, originally conceived by my partner, Ángel.
All images © Brian A. Bernhard. Used with permission. .