John Breiner: Extinction and Adaptation

By Valeria Federici

John Breiner is a Brooklyn-based artist who works in a multitude of media. Co-founder of the Grand Champion Forever Collective, John is also a print maker and an excellent designer. He is currently working at an Art Journal to be released in Spring.

What is the Grand Champion Forever Collective?

The idea came in 2003. I met everyone through school (mostly the School of Visual Art in New York, but some went to Pratt). I knew some of the people through the whole Graffiti background thing, the rest of us met through mutual acquaintances. I knew they were all good artists and I wanted to do a show. It ended up at Office Ops in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY). We wanted to get together and throw this party / opening. (above flyer by James Bladgen)

Office Ops was not a gallery, they did roller-skating in this big open space, the rest of the place was Photography studios and a community art type of space, (kinda like how 3rd ward is now a days). That night James Blagden and myself were the DJs. That’s how the whole art opening / party thing started. We were working on a tape to be a show soundtrack, and needed a show. I remember that in the middle of the night I had to flip the tape!

We also had band’s playing, more buddies of ours. Welcome Home, (now called L’ Contra.) and Leaders Of The Free World. Nothing like this was happening here at that time. Not in 2003. Not in Bushwick. There were not galleries here. The opening party lasted till 1:30am. We had two more shows after that, in 2004 and then at Factory Fresh (a 3 year old gallery on Flushing Ave) in 2009.

How did you move from making graffiti to hanging your artwork in a gallery?

I went to school in NYC, actually I went to the city because I wanted to do graffiti and being in school was a good reason to be here. In school I struggled with the process of making art. I never painted and a blank canvas meant nothing to me. I could not relate to that. Paintings that I made are probably in my parents’ closet right now. I could not sit at a desk and paint, and I was not familiar with the conceptualization of art, why-you-make-art and what-does-it-mean type of thing. I got to the conclusion that I just needed to put it down, no matter what. I needed to have it coming out. So, for my thesis I had been assigned to work with the book Fahrenheit 451. In that book they burn books and I imagined myself being in the book and rescuing some of the books from a stack and bringing them home and making art with them. Something clicked and I started to make art with them and finding my way around this object. The book became my canvas. It was never blank and it reminded me of the walls because of that old book grime water damage thing they have going on.

And we get to the found objects…

I also started to work with different media: wood, metal, etc… Making art over this material felt right.  That painting for example (he points at a painting on the wall) it used to be a cabinet door. The door knob it still there but when people ask me about it I am not sure what to answer as most of the time I forget that the knob is there as the cabinet door became my canvas and it is not longer what it used to be. Same happens with the book. I don’t make the book. It already exists.

Most of the time I find books that people throw away because they don’t want them any more. I transform it and people like it again and they want it again, or So I hope.  I’m trying to make the book compete with modern media’s. There are no pages or words to scare anyone away. I work on the end pages where people read the summary, and well a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m trying to make the book a valuable object again, and to make people think about what it was, and what it’s becoming.

How did you start to make art?

I got into skateboarding as a kid, that was an intro to the DIY world. We made stickers and t-shirts. I wasn’t thinking about it in a DIY vision at that time but that is what it really was about. Now I know. In 1993, I saw graffiti in a magazine, and I realized what was going on in NYC. I went back home and started to draw graffiti. Then there was the “Artifacts” video in 94. Also i remember watching American Most Wanted and they were talking about these gangs in LA that made graffiti to mark their neighborhood. I liked that. All those inputs came together one summer.  In 1995, in high school, I met this guy Zane, who  explained to me everything about graffiti, how to read it, what Crews meant. He explained to me what was  behind a tag and then I discovered, I saw photo’s of graffiti all over the place. That site is still on. By 1996-7 I was out painting in the city I lived in. Also there is the skating / graffiti / exploring the city link as a teenager.  In 1999  I wanted to go to NYC. In NYC I was a full time student. I started to make prints in school with Bruce Waldman who is an awesome print maker. Graffiti is a very active practice and in school I had to sit at a desk and paint on a white surface. As I said, I could not relate to that so I picked a print making class. It was so much fun to work around the studio and having to follow all the steps to make an actual print. Soon out of school I had a show in Queens, which lead to another show where I sold bunch of stuff. I made some money with art and I thought I could live with that for 3 years! Way before the 3rd year money was gone and I had to find a job but the art thing definitely snowballed from that.

How is your work evolving?

I am starting to work bigger, I also bought some blank paper now. For long time it was about found objects only until something called me enough to work on it. I still have a huge archive of found objects to work with.

I bought blank paper because I wanted to do a series on the food chain and I worked on white paper. I though the white background would have made the printed image pop more and be stronger. In this food chain the animals are living in each other’s mouth. They are not eating each other, they are just running out of space. They are helping one another, they evolve and adapt themselves to the change. They know before us what is going on, so we should look to them.

What is your next project?

I am working on an Art journal. I am doing the design and will be responsible for curating the contents as well. Have you read about this Pink Iguana? It was discovered on an island in the Galapagos that Darwin missed somehow. Partially inspired by that and the dying of the book, the theme of the Art Journal will be loosely extinction and adaptation and my series of prints are incredibly connected to that although they came at a different time. We hope to have it issued by the Spring.

Images by John Breiner

Find out more about John Breiner on

Find out more about Grand Champion Collective on

Grand Champion Forever Collective is

James Blagden, John Breiner, Rich Browd, Andreis Costa, Denise Despirto, Brendan Donnelly, Mickey Duzyj, J.Elias, Eric Elms, Michael Farmer, Gary Fogelson, Sam Freidman, Matt Holister, Psychotropic Horizons, Jessica Tepora, Taras Hrabowsky, Stephen Key, MR. Kiji, Jordan Kleinman, Hek, Cat Lauigan, Sakura Maku, Josh Matta, Louie Guy Metzner, Soner On, NeckFace, Peter Paquin, John Francis Peters, Patrick Rocha, Graham Shimberg, Maylis & Nick Atkins, Jessica Smith and Joe Whitely.

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