Most nineteen-year-olds don't get solo exhibitions. But Brady Dollyhigh — who created a drawing over 24 hours without lifting his pen a single time — is no normal nineteen-year-old.
The artist, who will be showing his work at the Lakewood Cultural Center starting tonight, Tuesday, September 3, has always been fascinated with making things, from wood-shop experiments to digital art. Before he could legally drive a car, he was working as a freelance graphic designer, having taught himself Photoshop and Illustrator. Art has been his main focus since his early teens, so when it came time for him to do his final portfolio in high school, Dollyhigh was determined to do his best work yet.
"I was rejecting every idea I had because I kept thinking I could come up with something better," he says. "I ended up not making anything for a month, and it was just awful, and then to get everything out of my head, I was like, 'I'll just do this kind of brain dump and do the opposite of what I've been doing, not plan anything out, not come up with the best idea, not try to impress people, and actually just put down on the paper what's on my mind, completely honestly, and without lifting the pen.'"
And so his experimentation with continuous line work began, as a simple stream-of-consciousness exercise. Doing continuous line work without lifting the pen over a substantial amount of time allowed Dollyhigh to focus on the act of creation, rather than how the result would be perceived. His portfolio ended up being entirely made up of these line drawings, and he passed with flying colors.
Though he applied to and was accepted by an art college, he couldn't afford the cost, even with scholarships. Plus, he knew he didn't really need to attend art school, since he already had an established clientele from his freelance graphic design work. So the year after graduation, he bounced around from Georgia to Denver to Chicago, then back to Georgia. And along the way, he came up with an idea: What if he did one continuous line drawing for a full 24 hours, uninterrupted?
"I'm always trying to find ways to push my boundaries, challenge myself and do something that is difficult," he says. "Because I think that if I want to grow as an artist, I can't just live in my comfort zone. So I wanted to see how far I could push this simple concept of putting the pen down and just getting out what's on my mind without planning it, and not picking it up until I decided I'm done."
When he was back in Georgia, with friends and family to help him through the 24 hours, he decided to put his idea to the test. There were plenty of logistical issues to figure out. How would he eat? How would he stay awake? What if his pen ran out of ink? And, perhaps most important, how would he be able to go to the bathroom?
"I wanted to live inside the drawing for a whole day. I didn't want to have a conversation with someone during those 24 hours. I wanted to be completely focused on drawing for a full 24 hours," he says.
Dollyhigh enlisted his friend, filmmaker McKinley Benson, to film the process, and also had a camera on a tripod getting a continuous shot the whole time, in case he wanted to submit the video to Guinness World Records.
Stocked with caffeinated Cliff bars, energy drinks, a few timed meals, extra pens, a fifty-foot roll of paper, a five-gallon bucket and a team of family and friends, Dollyhigh embarked on the 24-hour journey, drawing interconnected figures, words, and anything else that came to him. He wasn't sure he would make it the full 24 hours on his first try, but remarkably he did.
"I never actually quit moving my pen for longer than sixty seconds the whole time," he says.
He was able to post the entire 24-hour video on YouTube at double speed, to fit the platform's twelve-hour maximum requirements, but also wanted a more digestible video.
"Obviously no one wants to sit and watch it in real time, so we wanted a bite-sized version that shows the whole thing, gives you an idea of what it was like, and is actually entertaining," he says.
Dollyhigh and Benson collaborated on a short time-lapse video that sums up the 24 hours in seven minutes. That video took off on its own, making it to the front page of the Art/Videos section of Reddit. It went viral, getting over 100,000 views in a week, and Dollyhigh started to get artistic feedback and freelance gigs from all over the world.
While he was in Denver last year, Dollyhigh connected with a curator at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Months later, after he had completed the 24-hour continuous-line project, she offered him a space to do an exhibition at the center's Corner Gallery. So a few weeks ago, Dollyhigh packed up his things and moved back to Denver, where he prepared for his first exhibition, featuring the 24-hour continuous line drawing as well as other works.
"My biggest challenge now is how I'm going to hang it up and show it, because it's fifteen feet long," Dollyhigh explains. He decided to create a wall-mounted conveyor belt that would rotate the 24-hour piece. "While I was drawing it, I would move the paper, so it would fall off the table, so I only saw a certain amount of it at a time. [The conveyor belt] solves two problems. It makes people see the drawing the way I was seeing it while it was being drawn, and it takes up half the space, so now it's only seven feet long."
Dollyhigh has built all of the displays for the exhibition by hand.
"It's all going to be unpolished and unfinished, just like the actual artworks are — not refined," he says. "I don't get to take out parts of the line drawing. I don't get to sand it down into something nice. It just is what it is. So all of the displays are going to be raw wood and metal. The whole show is almost going to be like you walked into a construction yard, and things are being built, but it's not like you're walking into the finished product. Because that's how my life is currently."
The continuous line drawing done by Dollyhigh make up a self-portrait of sorts, and it's important to him that its rawness and authenticity be the focus of his debut exhibit. That means walking a fine line between starving artist and commercial sellout:
"'Art of Brady' is almost like my personal 'brand,' but my actual art is anti-branding," he says. "So I don't want to contradict myself, but I also know that people are going to want to come to the show and buy something to remember it that's cheap, because not everyone wants to drop a few hundred dollars on a piece of paper. Not everyone has that kind of money lying around, but I would like them to have something."
He plans to have people who come to the show request prints of their favorite pieces; he'll turn the top picks into prints for sale on the show's closing day. While the artwork on display will also be for sale, Dollyhigh is reluctant to list prices next to the art.
"I don't want to have the price next to the artwork, because I think it takes away from it, so I'm thinking of just having the title, month and year, because I think that when you just put down what you're thinking about, you create a story," he says. "I want it to be kind of chronological, and you can see the ups and downs."
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But he will have pricing cards available for those interested, even though he wants the focus to be the artwork, not the money. "I really want it to be refreshing — after seeing so many artificial things, things that are so polished and so manufactured to grab your attention and money — for people to see something that isn't trying to impress them, or fool them, or just show the best parts."
Dollyhigh doesn't want to be known just for his continuous line work, and is already planning future exhibitions.
"My next show after this one, I plan on having it be all paintings, or at least mostly paintings," he says. "I'm so young, so I'm not about to just put myself in a box right away. There's so much more experimentation left to do and so much left to learn, and I just want to try everything and express myself in any way that I possibly can, even beyond visual art."
Brady Dollyhigh's debut exhibition opens Tuesday, September 3, at the Corner Gallery at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway; it will be up through the end of September.