Bret Holland, or “Dirtbike Boyfriend,” is a multimedia artist based in Duluth. His art — encompassing doodles, denim painted clothing, music and more — explores themes both personal and political. And yes, he does ride dirt bikes.
What is the significance behind the name Dirtbike Boyfriend?
I like to say that it’s a perfect description of me; I race dirt bikes and I am someone’s boyfriend, but that’s not the whole story. It originally came from a doodle saying that because dirt bikes are so central to my identity and so alien to most people, certain folks see me as this abstract figure and ultimately I never live up to the idea they’ve created of me. A lot of my early songs were heartbroken emo ballads, so it felt fitting. My subject matter has matured a little bit since then, but I think the “you’re not gonna get whatever you expect” of it still applies.
As a multimedia artist, what kinds of art do you create?
I make art in many different mediums! I have always doodled and drawn comics. I paint occasionally, mostly on denim clothing these days. Lately I’ve been almost entirely focused on music. The only formal training I’ve taken and retained is in video editing, otherwise I’m entirely self-taught.
How long have you been drawing? Making music? Riding dirt bikes?
I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. My grandma used to have us play a game where we passed a drawing pad around and one by one added to the story. I first started sharing my drawings online around 2012. The first time I remember writing a song I was in middle school, but I didn’t pick up an instrument or sing out loud until three years ago. I’ve ridden dirt bikes for 20+ years, and raced motocross on a regular basis since I was 6. I still race, just recently I traveled to Michigan for a two-hour-long cross-country event on a ski hill!
Are you a full time artist? Or what’s your “day job”?
I have a full-time job as a technical director for a live TV show, meaning I push all the buttons to make things go on screen and I yell a lot. They don’t pay me enough, but it’s fun and engaging.
How would you describe your artistic style? Is it different for your illustrations versus your music?
I always call my doodles ‘obscene’ and my music ‘anxiety inducing’. Regardless of medium, everything comes from the same place: having a feeling and using whatever tools I have available to express it to others in the hope that they can connect with it. I try to be funny in the doodles and serious in the music, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes my doodles become songs, and sometimes writing songs feels like doodling out loud. My paintings are really just refined doodles in color. It’s all one big process really.
What inspires your work? Do you have certain artists or themes that you return to?
My art is pretty heavy on themes like anti-capitalism, being critical of authority figures, and speaking openly about the emotional troubles in my own life. Conor Oberst is a musician I constantly return to for inspiration because of our similar themes. In illustration, I look up to Bjenny Montero and David Shrigley for the same reasons. All three of those artists have found a way to earn a living off of their works while staying true to themselves and relatively un-famous outside of their fanbases, which is kind of my goal.
What’s it like to be a young artist in Duluth?
It’s not easy, but it sure is fun! There are many welcoming communities here where a young artist can grow and experiment. Had I not started attending shows at Blush years ago, I certainly would not be on the same path I am today. I owe a great deal of the little successes I’ve had to Duluth and the people I’ve met here. Losing Blush just a few months ago was a massive loss for the city and all of our young artists, but the grassroots efforts to organize shows and new spaces has been very inspiring. I recently found a new home in Wussow’s Concert Cafe (shoutout to Pete!) and I’ve found it to be a safe place to experiment with my music and grow my confidence. Over the past year or so I have been lucky enough to work alongside a secretive art collective known as the Embassy on a number of events, and finding them has been a dream come true. I encourage all of my art-inclined friends to move to Duluth!
Where can folks keep up with your work?
You can usually catch me at the open mic at Wussow’s on Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. I am open for booking, collaboration, and commissions! I love performing and I’m super excited to make a push this fall/winter to play as many twin ports venues as I can.
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