Humbert’s Toucans, Ice Cream Bowls & Betty Boop


By Amber McCord

I had to ask what is up with the toucan that keeps showing up in Brian Humbert’s paintings? His art seems rather random, but loud and clear. I wondered if there was a specific symbolism behind it all?

“Well years ago…when I lived in San Francisco near the university,” Brian said “there was a pet store, and they had a toucan for sale. They would feed him and he would bob his head up and down and do all these tricks, and I wanted to buy him but couldn’t so instead I decided I would paint him, and I would domesticate him in my paintings.”

I laughed. One of many laughs to be had that morning in Brian’s studio.

My next question was about the ice cream. He makes these awesome ceramic ice cream bowls, and fuses glass into the clay to keep the ice cream colder longer as well as paints ice cream. There must be a meaning behind all the ice cream. A childhood memory or something.

“Well, no,” Brian laughed “I just really like to eat ice cream.”

Man, either I take life way to seriously, or this guy is really laid back. Either way, this was fun.

On a more serious note, Brian’s work was influenced by Wayne Thieband, who also painted a lot if ice cream. It was always humor that drew Humbert in.

I came to know Brian when we gardened together at the community garden on Jefferson Street in Oshkosh over several seasons, and his garden was always amazing! The most beautifully grown and most interestingly designed, with little trellises built that would connect to other little trellises that just wove together with nature so beautifully, as if he were one with nature. One almost wondered.

At the very young age of four Humbert remembers playing and creating what adults would call sculpture out of mud. Humbert was raised in a suburban white collared neighborhood, and had a typical childhood. His parents instilled in him at a young age to think about his career. As an art critic I always enjoy learning of the horror stories an artist goes through as a child and the pain and suffering that shows through in their work. For Humbert, it was the exact opposite…he had a great childhood, he’s a funny guy.

His parents forced him to think about a career. He rebelled and became an artist. “What a’ya think of them apples Ma and Pa?!” So rebellious was Brian, you just couldn’t get any naughtier.

His humor and thought process really does come out in the work, and the sociology behind it proves it. I found it very intriguing.

Humbert joined the military and used the GI bill to go to school. He attended the Academy of Art North Park Community College in Chicago. Then later in Seoul Korea he attended the University of Maryland Far East Division. Then the Art Institutes of Chicago and Milwaukee, earning a BS at UW Oshkosh in 1970, an MA at Northern Illinois University in 1972 and an MFA from Arizona State University in 1974.

Upon reviewing his portfolio, which did not have any of his current work in it, it was a refreshing surprise; a pleasant wakeup call from the mundane scene. And so I dug deeper and went to his studio “Zazen” where he has his walls covered with brightly painted 5×7’s canvases. Some abstract, some repetitive dots.

And then I saw it. I could not help but notice that Betty Boop was butt naked in his living room, (at least in drawing form). Each drawing had Betty in various poses and scenes, but in almost all of them fully nude with sun tan lines.

And this is Humbert’s work, humorous as it is.

I looked in complete wonderment at the work, the studio, the humorous laid back energy.

Please visit Brian Humbert at the Oshkosh Farmers Market this summer. He will be selling his ceramics for sure. Unfortunately a lot of his paintings have already been sold to private collectors, but the paintings you see on his studio walls will be for sale at the market.

To contact Brian, his email address is

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