Brandon Breaux: An Alchemist For His Community
Multidisciplinary artist Brandon Breaux has risen to prominence as a visual artist within Chicago’s music and creative community. A creator across disciplines and mediums, he captivates his audience while at times impressively balancing his message with commercial collaboration, never sacrificing the art itself. Whether fruitful partnerships or unique solo ventures, no matter the medium Brandon Breaux is in a constant state of creation, finding new ways to connect with the world around him.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Brandon sought out different forms of expression. He took voice lessons, yearning to experience what wasn’t available through local schools, such as band or music programs. Brandon’s mother felt hesitant about his growing interest. “My mother was trying to keep me away from music. In the 60’s and 70’s when she was coming up … it meant that you were into drugs.” Brandon’s father, a musician, had a negative experience with LSD that triggered a severe mental health incident.
Brandon was drawn to all types of self-expression, whether music or drawing or even dance. One medium was never enough. “I was always trying to create something new. Dance came about because I was drawing a lot. I used to draw a lot as a kid. I felt like something was missing. In my mode of self-expression, I just kind of felt like I wasn’t saying what I needed to say, or I didn’t have an avenue or way to really express myself.” For Brandon, drawing as a child could be an “isolating experience.” Brandon wondered, “What am I doing this for? I felt like in some ways art can feel like that.... It takes a lot to keep at it, despite the disconnects I think you’re bound to experience when you first start that journey.”
Brandon’s experience as an artist deepened, and his family recognized his gift, but the idea of a successful career as an artist seemed farfetched. No matter though, Brandon’s truth told him that he was going to live through his art. “To me it was the reality in my mind. It was like, 'No, I'm not going to work for anybody when I get older. I'm going to own my own business, and I'm going to do my own thing.'"
Today, that belief has been verified. Brandon Breaux is respected in his city and far beyond (recently doing work in Japan), treating success as a constant work in progress. For many, his story begins with the creation of Chance The Rapper's iconic "10 Day" back in 2012, but that understanding of Brandon is myopic; his laboratory is overflowing with more experiments than ever. 2017 was a year of growth and change, the beginning and end of several ventures.
Certain endeavors, such as his collaboration with Bud Light, require the sophisticated blending of personal and commercial interests. Last year, Bud Light approached Brandon with the opportunity to design limited-edition bottles released ahead of Lollapalooza, as well as presenting a one-day exhibition dubbed “Our Chicago.” His challenge was to find a compromise between the personal and commercial, something recognizable that connected his life experience as a Chicagoan to a product, a bridge between Brandon and their consumers.
“You see the sports in there, you see the buildings in there, you see all those things that people know. ” The exhibition was the conversation that he really wanted, tying the whole endeavor together. “When it came to the art show, I was still working through the rationale ... In the very beginning, I really wanted to do something with light on the bottle, but I couldn't figure it out, like illumination in some way.” This idea metamorphosed into large neon signs and paintings done in a like style, inspired by the surroundings in his neighborhood growing up. Bright, inviting beacons possessing a sense of wonder and mystery. The imagery connected Brandon and everyone who saw them through shared memories and experiences.
More collaborations followed, whether oil paintings of influential Chicagoans for Red Bull Sound Select, or partnerships with PBS and Brand Programming Studios, to create “What’s Good”, a show aimed at youth and families. First aired on January 8th, “What’s Good” highlights the arts and culture of Chicago, as well as practical topics such as science and money management. Gorgeous visuals and animations create a captivating project, one that works as well in an educational setting as in the home; the show was equal parts artistic and fun, as tangible and accessible. “What’s Good” also saw Brandon in his directorial debut, highlighting yet again his powerful ability to work within different mediums of his choosing.
His community work shines the brightest, bringing resources and opportunities to those who need them the most. His work on mental health is inspired by issues that his father dealt with. His personal campaign, “Mental Health is Real”, presented through the use of clothing, opens a dialogue about mental wellness between individuals and communities. Half of all sales proceeds of clothing sold are donated directly to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). He views mental health as a core component of himself and his work. “That's why I speak about it in the work, and I try to use my ability to be able to begin a conversation, foster the conversation, and continue conversation about it. It's really just wanting people to feel comfortable speaking about their personal experience, speaking about their mental health and wellness.”
Another passion project, “Field Trip”, aims to expose kids to museums and art. By renting buses and taking them to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Brandon hopes to be able to foster discovery and creativity, passing on the same opportunity to connect with art that he found as a kid. “You never really know how an individual is going to react when they see something new, and you never really know what people have had experience with and haven't. A lot of times the things that exist in our minds and our world are given. Then when you hear there are people in the world who don't know about it, it's such a surprise, because we view our worlds through our own individual lens.” Working with new investors, Brandon hopes to increase the availability of Field Trip, to reach as many individuals as possible. As with everything he does, the bar is set increasingly higher, challenging him to follow through and complete his vision for the project. Whether “What’s Good”, NAMI, or “Field Trip”, Brandon Breaux’s transformative work continues to meld artistic pursuits with grounded efforts to help others in concrete ways.
With plans to expand upon his current endeavors, as well as exciting new prospects, such as opening spaces within his local community, we expect to see even greater accomplishments from Brandon in the future as he inspires other creators to push their personal boundaries and create their own opportunities. “You have to develop a muscle to see possibility where it looks like none exists. You have to see the opportunities in your personal tragedies in order to grow from them and redirect that energy. You really have to, because that's how you begin to be an alchemist. That's how you begin to transform the world that you're living in and the things that are happening around you."