Meet the Artist: Paul Branton

A visual collector, an observer, a documenter. Paul Branton is a Chicago artist who lets music and paint describe the world that surrounds us. Using bright and saturated colors, he revels to us what we should already know. He describes the faces of people we pass by each day. He observes musical trends and translates them to the canvas. This month at NYCH, you can see these documents for yourself. Branton’s first solo show at this gallery will open Friday. We were lucky enough to frame some works for this show and talk to the artist about where these observations come from.

How long have you been a painter?

My very first painting was at the age of 15. I am now 42.

Do you paint from images mostly or from live models?

Although I do paint live models often, for a lot of my art I will use my photography or close friend’s photographs as references. And when I say I use live models I literally use them as my canvas and paint onto their skin. After this, I then photograph them.

Does the city of Chicago encroach into your paintings?

My urban environment is a major subject matter in my paintings. I find the city to be this living, breathing organism that shapes the growth and death of many.

Your work seems reminiscent of Basquiat and Warhol. Of the two eras in art which do you feel closer to- Pop or Outsider art?

I am a child of sub-cultures. Although I reference and poke fun at some pop culture in my work, the visual language that I speak is that very much that of an outsider. Instead of admiring the beautiful architecture that Chicago has to offer, I was always attracted to rusted metal, dilapidated buildings and graffiti.

Music seems to be a heavy influence on your work. Is there an artist who you reference specifically?

Or an album you often listen to while painting?

My love for visual art is almost matched by my love for music. Every time I pick up a brush, music accompanies me on the journey. My favorite albums to paint to are Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, and tons of Hip Hop.

Your palette is rich with primary colors resulting in high contrast. Is there a reason you work in this way?

There are actually 2 reasons for my color palette. When I was being traditionally trained in painting, I was not allowed to use Black or White. This practice forced me to look at colors and light in a totally different way. The other reason I painting in bright colors and high contrast is due to the somber subject matters I cover. I paint the most depressing events in vibrant happy colors.

The paintings you brought into the shop have alternative materials on them. Why have objects been incorporated into your work?

I have always been attracted to found objects and alternative materials in art. In this particular body of work, I was exploring the art form of Rap Music. I used broken cassette tapes to verbalize a disconnect between where that art form is now and the Golden Era of the late 1980’s / early 1990’s.

Have you shown at NYCH Gallery before?

My art collective 4 of a Kind has shown at NYCH before, but this is my first time at this gallery doing a solo show.

Lyrics and their effect on your life drive the show happening at NYCH Gallery. Have you tried to write your own lyrics or songs?

I have never officially written lyrics before, but I have written books of poetry. Hip Hop music to me is just street poetry.

Have there been any other music genres that come close to influencing you beyond Hip Hop?

I am a lover of Jazz and Rock. The Bee Bop era of Miles, Dizzy, and Coltrane are a big influence on my work. The improvisation and creativity of that brand of music always takes me away. The same goes for Hendrix, Clapton, and a few others that made guitars transform beyond what we thought music could sound like.

Chicago’s Hip Hop scene is nationally recognized right now. Of the young artists out there right now, who are you most excited by? Its funny that Chance the Rapper went to school with my children. Years ago i remember listening to 10 Day and telling my daughter, this kids pretty talented. So from my city, the people I listen to the most are Lupe, Chance and Mick Jenkins. Its always substance in their lyrics.