By Ron Wagner
Nature versus nurture is one of the oldest debates in the history of psychology, and it’s the theme that runs throughout the collaboration between Watkins students Brandyn Busico and Quinton Hickman. But there’s no mystery when it comes to the effect environment had on their fast friendship.
“We’re both very introspective,” Hickman says. “We like to make work about experiences we had coming out of sometimes not the happiest situations growing up. It’s work about dealing with that but also trying to connect to our audience and make them have the same question about themselves as we have about ourselves.”
“I don’t want to use the word trauma, but we both come from difficult households,” Busico adds. “We both related on that measure and started making work from those places together. It’s almost been, from my perspective, therapeutic.”
Busico is a talented fine-art photographer, while Hickman is making a name for himself with his films. Even that, they recognize, is no accident. “We are a little unusual in that we’re making work about the same thing, but we’re looking at it from two different perspectives,” Hickman says. “He’s somebody who moved around a lot (growing up), and so things like locations or set are not a focal point. Objects are things he ties meaning to. I stayed in one place … so my work is more focused on the environment and the set and stuff like that.”
Hickman spent his youth in Dalton, GA, while Busico says Long Island, NY, is the closest thing he has to a hometown as a child in a military family. The friendship began in early 2017 when Busico asked Hickman if he’d like to work together on a lighting assignment. Soon, they were taking about concepts and the sources of their inspiration.
Turns out, their work and chosen mediums are two sides of the same creative coin.
“I like to talk about emotions in domestic situations and nurture a lot in my work and what upbringing can do, and Quinton’s also interested in the same thing,” Busico says. “We both realized our brains worked the same way, so that drove us to start working together.”
What was quickly apparent to the men was that they had much more to offer each other than shared experiences.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about cinematography, camera work, stuff like that,” Hickman says. “He looks at it so differently because he wasn’t brought up as an artist to think about things in such high motion, and so sequentially. He paid more attention to moments in time.”
That eye is exactly what Hickman realized he needed for his Production II class assignment, set in Dalton, and he gave Busico the opportunity to do the film’s camera work. Dalton is home to many of the country’s carpet and rug manufacturers, and Busico’s eye gave the final product a layer it would have lacked. “That really worked. It was a big learning experience for both of us, and I don’t think I could have done it without him honestly,” Hickman says. “He looks at textures; he looks at space, whereas somebody who is just starting out in cinematography is super focused on depth of field of field and temperature and lighting. So, it’s really a refreshing kind of perspective to the world that I know.”
Speaking of new perspectives, camcorders weren’t a big part of Busico’s world until Hickman encouraged him to get out of his box. Now he’s a trendsetter. “I was the first photo major at Watkins to film a production, so that was pretty cool,” Busico says. “Quinton is a really good technical nerd, and I knew stuff but I feel like every day he teaches me something new about technology. That has been a huge game changer (for me).”
Another is the effect the friendship has had on him a person. “Until I worked with Quinton, I was very anti-social and did not work with very many people because I honestly hated the interaction, like talking to people,” he says. “Probably the biggest thing I did learn from Quinton, and I realized this after filming his production for a week and a half, is that it’s actually incredibly easy to work with people who have similar goals as you. I was always intimidated by other artists, and now I’ve been more comfortable dictating to others and realizing that I’m not stepping on people’s toes. We’re all just here to make art. He’s taught me a sense of workspace etiquette.”
“I think me and Quinton are just people who like making art for art’s sake, and we really just want to bring awareness to something that we’re talking about in a piece or maybe start a conversation over something more than we really care if anyone knows if Brandyn Busico made this or Quinton Hickman made that,” Busico says. “It seems like artists have a stigma that if they don’t make something entirely themselves it’s not theirs. They’re afraid of losing control, and I would say at first I was afraid of that. But after a while it’s made me stronger than I would be if I continued to work on my own.”
Artistic collaborations aren’t as rare as they may seem, but they’re not common either. It takes a special relationship, one able to make room for both the selfishness vital to the creative process and the humility to accept your ideas aren’t always right. Hickman and Busico have found that place.
Busico is a senior set to graduate in the fall, while Hickman is a junior. The two are already talking about continuing their partnership at the same graduate school, but in the near term Busico hopes Hickman will return the favor and shoot a script he wrote before the two finish an ambitious project.
“Right now (we) are wanting to put together a show that’s all about domesticity and how nature vs. nurture can affect a human being,” Busico says. “In the last two years at Watkins I think I’ve matured. Artistically I’ve taught him a lot about frame consciousness, and I think he’s taught me a lot about color study and technology. It feels like the most healthy collaboration I’ve ever had with another artist. It’s very give and take. He gives 50 and I give 50, and we’re both really content with what we get. We cover each other’s weaknesses, and that’s kind of fun.”
Hickman agrees. “I don’t think my college experience or even my growing as an artist would be the same without Brandyn,” he says. “He’s really taught me to slow down and look at things in their moments and talk about the substance in one event rather than thinking about this whole story that spans so far. I owe a lot to Brandyn.”