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Diasporal Rhythms Studio Visit with Paul Branton

Paul Branton is definitely a Griot of urban Chicago life with dazzling stories to tell on a colorful canvas. He is so influenced by the spirit of the city; we see his images of the past, present and future in his work as if he is graced by primordial energies only he can feel. His paintings chronicle tales of the community in a non-linear fashion recording time as a cyclical phenomenon, transmitting and preserving our cultural memories. His paintings are imbued with multiple tones and shades of primary colors reflective of his early training. One art instructor challenged him not to use blacks and whites to create chiaroscuro effects of shadows of light and darkness. He incorporated this practice as his signature style. We find this palette in his abstracts, his more literal themes of portraits, and in his imaginative paintings of fantasies. Collaboration as a guiding principle is obvious in several portraits he and Chicago artist, Brian Golden worked on simultaneously. In these seamless depictions of James Baldwin, Jimmy Hendrix, Nelson Mandela, and Bob Marley, one can almost sense Paul’s euphoric feeling he describes as being in another zone. The primary colors of these portraits leap out at the viewer, captivated by the planes and definitive lines in these works. Collaboration is also a source of inspiration for Mr. Branton. He stated the adage, “Iron sharpens iron,” to describe his continuous penchant for seeking creative stimulation from other artists. Believing that art should inspire and resonate with the viewer, he seeks the critique of other artists to hone his craft, as well as the partnership implicit in collaboration. In addition to promoting culture and the arts in communal venues, he has also worked closely with other Chicago artists, David Geary, Darno Demby and Brian Golden. The fruits of their artistic synergy were seen in several art shows. He characterizes his style as urban with the subject matter representative of his influences and reflections of the present and the past. Always socially conscious, Branton incorporates these themes in his paintings of love and family. He likes to take liberties with what the eye sees and expand his imagination on the subject and on the style of the art piece. One provocative image in his human body series is of a nude female polishing her toenails. She is seated in a red chair surrounded by shades of primary and secondary colors shown in the interior surroundings. Her body is contorted in the peculiar shape only women who paint their own toenails understand. It is a realistic depiction of a woman preparing for an important evening, hair neatly combed and her body only needing the finishing touches of beauty on her toes.

In a particularly expressive painting of the role of fatherhood, he has captured in the foreground the images of a father and three children standing under the protection of a golden colored umbrella. Symbolically, he is shielding each from the forces of oppression one sees in the background. Words commonly used to define the condition of oppressed people are written in the background. Noosed bodies are hanging from trees while gleeful crowds gather underneath them looking and pointing to their dead images. Other icons of danger and subjection surround the family. Cotton grows near-by a huge linked chain, reminders of the enslavement of black people. The painting itself is depicted in bold primary and secondary colors. This work of art is entitled “The Role of Being Colored.” In another painting, the embodiment of Black women going through storms, Mr. Branton, uses the color blue to depict mood. The image of a woman’s face, obscured behind vague clouds symbolic of misery, appear as an unfinished concept. Her chin lifts forward as if to say, I am keeping my chin up. Artist Paul Branton is an embodiment of the Humanities. His life expresses The Arts in his creations of film making, painting, commercial art, fine art, and in poetry. He is involved in teaching and collaborative productions in theatre, art, and music, or in a combined presentation of these disciplines. His influences are so numerous; we see script incorporated onto his socially conscious visuals, as a reminder, a written message too important to leave to the viewer’s imagination. An artist who loves jazz, he listens to his favorites as a muse of inspiration while he paints.

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