Dennis Brown, better known as Bagger43, is an artist, illustrator, and designer interested in all forms of image making. His work has been shown in numerous publications including Juxtapoz Magazine, CMYK Magazine, and Giant Magazine, showcasing his wide variety of different styles. Inspired by a range of cultural and nostalgic influences, his work can be seen through an array of different mediums such as acrylic, collage, silkscreen, laser cut, and most recently pen and ink. After working for a grocery chain in high school, Brown developed his alias after his store position: “Bagger 43.” Having collaborated with prominent brands like Ecko, Zynga, Razor Fish, and XXL Magazine, Brown has now shifted his focus to pen and ink. I stopped by his in-home studio to get a firsthand look into his personal sketchbook and discuss the crossover appeal of his recent works.
JOSH SCHIELE: For those who aren’t familiar with yourself and your work, can you tell us who you are and describe your interest in art?
BAGGER43: My name is Dennis Brown, better known as Bagger43. I was born in the Philippines in ’83, but I was raised in Japan at Kadena and Yokota Air Force Base. My dad was in the Air Force, so I’ve spent the majority of my life living overseas. I didn’t move to the United States until 2001. I went to art school in Florida at Ringling College of Art and Design to study illustration and graduated in 2005. I was always into drawing, but when I was in school, my works were mainly focused on painting and working with different mixed media art forms, I was always interested in ink, but it was kind of something I got interested in later. My work back then was a lot more loose and expressive. Over time, I got more control over the pen and ink medium and as of lately, that’s pretty much what all my works have consisted of.
What brought you to San Francisco after college, and what was the local art scene like when you arrived?
I originally came to the Bay in 2005 for a convention and immediately I knew this is somewhere I wanted to live. The overall environment of San Francisco was amazing to me. There was, and still is, a huge artist draw in this city. At the time a lot of stuff was poppin’ off with Upper Playground, they were putting out a lot of amazing stuff with Mars-1, David Choe, and Mike Giant was still in the bay at the time too. There is just this crazy creative energy that flows through San Francisco. This city was built on such diversity and has an amazing culture built around it.
Can you tell us about the name Bagger43?
When I was in high school, my friends and I worked at grocery store. As part of our uniform, we all got these bagger pins because we were grocery baggers. My bagger pin was bagger 43, so I ran with that. I guess I was kind of shouting my friends out from high school but I really did like the ring of it, it’s kind of open-ended if you hear it, but don’t know the context. I liked that the name I chose for myself had a number attached to it because it gave me some room to play around with as far as having an option to have an alias but also have something to run with. I got that pin when I was seventeen and I still have it to this day.
Most of your early works consisted of paintings, what made that transition into pen and ink?
As an artist, I’ve always tried to be really diverse in my mediums. I’ve always tried to work in different types of mediums really just because it’s more fun for me. It’s funny because I would say that Instagram actually played a huge factor in me working in pen and ink form. I would sketch here and there in my free time throughout the day, but never really saw a reason to do it every day. Last year was the first time I ever committed to sketching every day. There’s an artist named Jake Parker who started this thing called Inktober and the whole point is to draw something in ink everyday for the entire month of October. I thought Inktober was a cool concept because you could search the hash-tag and see everyone’s work. I was posting a lot to Instagram and it was awesome to know that people were actually following this and liking my work. I committed that month to doing one page of faces a day in my sketchbook, and that point on the daily ink drawing kind of just turned into a habit.
Is there a specific quality relating to working with pen & ink that has caught your interest?
I would say that I’ve always been into ink, but for some reason I just found the right tools and that allowed me to work really fast. What’s fun about ink is that I’m able to turn a piece into so many other mediums like posters, T-shirts, patches, and other products. I work with one brush pen and it’s really just about putting down a clean mark and working with a variety of different line work. I usually try to pick a theme for some of my works, I like the idea of picking a theme because it forces me to research things I normally wouldn’t research.
In your early paintings work with an extensive color palette, however there’s not much color besides black, red, and blue shown in your more recent works. Is there a specific reason why?
I guess I just like how the black contrasts with the canvas. You’ll see some red and blue ink shown in some works but really that just became a product of experimenting with those ink colors. I working with the colored inks for smaller details, red works especially well because it was an interesting pop color that helped emphasize details like tattoos. I think drawing women is fun but it’s not like I only want to draw girls, although it is a reoccurring theme that I’ve had as of lately. It’s fun drawing women because there’s a lot you could work with when drawing them. Women are generally more fashionable then men so when drawing them I’m able to go crazy with the garment and I can manipulate the forms and flow of her hair - it all just works for me.
Can you tell us how one of your pieces was published in Juxtapoz Magazine?
This was the mixed media collage piece that got published in Juxtapoz back in 2007. They had this column going on where artist could submit work monthly and if the magazine liked the work, they would publish it. I’m not sure why but they only ran that column for a few months and luckily I was able to get in.
Would you say you have any other reoccurring themes that we can expect to see in your work?
I try to keep it mixed for the most part, it kind of just depends on whatever theme I’m feeling at the time. Lately I’ve been drawing a lot of birds. I look at images of all types of birds and then create a composition. In my most recent show at Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco, I had a wall that was all drawings of birds. As of lately I’ve been into drawing dogs as well, most of the ones that are seen in my work are friends’ dogs.
Can you tell us about the neon colored circles that appear throughout some of your pieces?
My sister gave me a packet of these colored dot stickers. I was working in a new sketchbook and I wanted to utilize the whole spread by working on both pages. I would place my mark and kind of just let the ink go from there. If I made a mistake or if there’s an area I didn’t like, I just could place these stickers over it. Eventually it became its own design element - the color is a nice pop and it adds another layer. It’s great because the ink and the stickers are both really bold elements so they work with each other to grab your attention.
What do you dislike about working in pen and ink?
Ink is a very direct medium - once you lay down a mark then that’s the mark you’ve got, so you have to figure out how to work with it or scrap it and start over. It’s important to learn how to work through the small mistakes when working in ink because it’s going to happen, you definitely have to be conscious of your marks.