Paul Branton: Get To A Point Where You Have No Fear When Creating

In our latest interview, we caught up with Paul Branton to talk about his partnerships with Pigment, YCA, and No Cuts No Glory, Floyd Atkins, Hip-hop and Jazz being an influence on his art, and a few meanings behind his pieces. Indulge below and follow Paul on social.


Introduce yourself

What’s up everyone, my name is Paul Branton, I’m 45 years old. I was born and raised primarily in the Southside of Chicago, and I’m a fine artist.

Going into 2018 you entered the year with no solo shows on your schedule. You talked about how it was very liberating, yet frustrating. While having no shows on the books, you were able to just create and create. Through creating, you were able to develop three partnerships over the year with Pigment INT, YCA, and No Cuts No Glory. Talk about these relationships

The biggest relationship out of the three is with Pigment. In December, for the first time, I will be taking my art down to Miami for a couple shows with Pigment. We are also planning on going to six other markets in the next two years.

My relationship with No Cuts No Glory is out of my love for Black-owned businesses. I love to see Black businesses strive. If there’s a synergy with what I do and what the business does, I love it. Whether I sell a painting or not, that part is secondary, the first part is all about putting the spotlight on black businesses.

YCA is a special place for me. When my son was back in high school at Jones, he would call me on Tuesdays and always tell me he’s going to YCA. Finally, then I was able to speak to Kevin, he was telling me that YCA has space for me where I’d be able to showcase my art. I remember at that time being like cool, I can rock with this. However, it wasn’t until later that I realized this is where my son had been coming every Tuesday night for years. Once I opened my show, I knew that there were going to be young kids that are going to be checking out the space on Tuesday nights, just like how my son did. That made it extra special for me, because I’m always going to do what I do, but this opportunity was connected to one of my seeds.

Back in September, you then had your first solo show of the year at YCA. You talked about how the work you showcased in this show was by far the most personal expiration you’ve taken as a visual artist.

The show is about me growing up in Chicago. I didn’t have a normal ‘hey this is my family house’ where I grew up from age 5-18. I didn’t have that. Each one of the paintings in the show showcases how I bounced around a lot as a kid, what was going on, what lessons moving around taught me, how I felt about myself, how I felt about the people around me, etc. A lot of these paintings I was able to reflect back as an adult and as a kid on the men that were around me and what I learned from them.

In an interview with Magzter, they said, “Your attraction to the juxtaposition of boisterous hues and complex subject matters was birthed from working through personal pain”. Early on, what was that pain you were facing? 

Growing up it felt like I had two fathers. At times he was a loving, caring, family man, but he was also an alcoholic and at times could be a substance abuser, which led him to be volatile. I remember nights before school not being able to sleep because all I remember hearing was screaming and things being broken. Being an introvert, I would internalize all of what was going on and all of it would sit inside of me. The only way that it would come out was through writing, painting, music, etc. Specifically, in my paintings, I would take subject matters that were very dark and paint them in these really vibrant colors. It was this real contrast between what your eyes were seeing versus what your brain was receiving.

Unfortunately one of your mentors Floyd Atkins passed a few weeks back, how much of an important role did he play in your artistic journey?

In the Chicago Black Art community, there are people that succeed and they know the steps to their success, however, they don’t share the formula, but then there are others who would share a wealth of knowledge with the artists that would come behind them. Floyd was one of those people. Look, I can sit here and talk about the important role Floyd has played in my life and others all night. He was a great guy and he was really straightforward.

As a young kid, hip-hop had a big impact on your life. You created a series called 16bars. Talk about this series

The rap culture was born the same year I was born. 1973. As I was growing, rap culture was growing and by the late 70’s, early 80’s, I was deeply entrenched in the culture. I was breakdancing. I was listening to every cassette that came out. I started to see then the music grow up, mature and spread into all of these different areas. While it was spreading to all of these different areas across the country and across the globe, everybody had their own flavor. We were getting these stories from these regions that we have never been to, but the words were so vivid, it felt like we were there.

For 16 Bars, I wanted to highlight my love for Rap music. I created 16 pieces of Art on some of my favorite songs and lyrics that personally stuck with me. Whether it was from the early 80’s or from a couple of years ago. I took the lyrics and I visualized them. Most of the paintings I was mixing text with imagery and that’s how the project came about.

Jazz music in college and as you got older have on an influence on your artwork

My work is always married to music. I never draw or paint in silence. I’m always listening to music. When I was in college, I was able to get away from the city and urban environments. Because there was no urban radio, I was kinda forced to go out to try and find art and culture. Whether it was through books, computer, record stores. I was always searching for something that could spark my interest. As my mind expanded from all of this new information I was taking in, you could see how my art had changed. Even looking at my Artwork now, you can sometimes tell what kind of music I was listened to when I created it. While I love Jazz, I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary jazz.

You’ve spoken on how as an artist, you want to be able to get to the point where you have no fear when creating. Looking back on your journey, when did you get to the point when you had no fear in creating?

I didn’t find all of this out until the last few years. What I learned is that, you have no fear when your art is not predicated or dictated towards selling something. Whether someone likes your work or not, that’s irrelevant. You want to get to a point where you’re creating something that’s from inside of you. Creating something that’s important to you. Obviously, you’d like it to look aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time, you’re only creating for yourself. You’re not creating because you think it’s what the audience will like. You never want to enter your studio and say I need to create a piece because it’s what the consumers will like. Fuck that. You want to go to your studio and tell yourself, I have to create what I like. That’s the most important thing.

Talk about a few of your pieces, ‘They ruin everything I love’

Getting back on Hip-hop. It’s really hard for me to describe how much I love this genre of music. The more money that started to get put into hip-hop and when people started to realize how much money they can make off of hip-hop, a lot of bastardized versions began popping up of the culture that I love. While there were still artists and DJ’s that I adored, even them, money influenced their art. When money influences the art and becomes the motivating factor, most of the time you don’t get good art. I started to see the magic get lost, to the point where I couldn’t even recognize it anymore. That’s what this piece was about.

Black Belt (Chicago)

Outside of painting, I try to do a lot of other stuff. Especially things that I’ve never done before. This piece was inspired by Elizabeth Catlett and in honor of her work. I was doing some linoleum work and thinking of Elizabeth and a few other artists, and at the same time, I was thinking of where my community came from. For those that don’t know, The Black Belt, was when black people migrated to the South of Chicago. Which is now known as Bronzeville. You had all of these people living on top of each other, however, there was no opportunity there.

I always like ending with this question, because it’s always interesting to hear the answers people give. What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years of being an artist?

The biggest lesson that I learned is to not to necessarily listen to everything that you’re told. Obviously, I’m respectful of the things people tell me and I do hear everything they say, but I don’t take it all to heart. Because that can either 1) crush me, or 2) cloud my head where I can’t create what I’m supposed to create. The main reason why I was born was to create and when I have something that’s blocking that, that’s a dangerous place for me to be in.

Written by: Nico Rud