Saturday Success Story #15: BREN BATACLAN
Photo of Jim Gargani
There is nothing more fulfilling in life than doing what you passionately love to do. Life should be like that! Artists live like that. They work but it doesn’t feel like they are working. They work with their hands and still make money out it. It’s amazing how some people do it but it is more than amazing when I hear stories about artists who are not only successful but also use their art to make a difference in the world.
Such is the case of Bren Bataclan. painter, public speaker and author
I’ve at least written a few things about him. You can read about the painting I purchased from him at the beginning of the school year here. You can also hopped on to this post to watch an embedded video of him and how I strongly believe his art installations, projects and mission make an impact to the community he chooses he leave his paintings.
Bren is a Filipino-American painter based in Cambridge, Massachusetts whose work has graced some schools around the state of Massachusetts, whose art presentation and talks has inspired many classrooms across the state, whose paintings with a note that says, “This painting is yours for free if you promise to smile!” has uplifted many spirits in numerous locations around the globe and just recently whose book, “Everything will be all right” has captured and highlighted all the places where his paintings were given away.
With his new book out and his daily art give aways, I asked him a few questions about his life and how he keeps his craft evolving.
Below you’ll find Bren Bataclan’s amazing story of his art and his life:
AMS: Bren, everybody seems to know you across the world, but would you please still tell us your education background and your training.
Bren: OMG… I am not that famous I received my BA in design from UCLA and then I went to grad school for computer animation at The Ohio State University. I then moved to Massachusetts to teach at UMass Amherst. I am now painting full time.
AMS: You’ve done an amazing job with your Smile Project over the years, where did you get your inspiration to start it?
Bren: I watched a lot of Anime while growing up in the Philippines. I remember obsessively drawing Voltes V and Mazinger Z when I was a kid. When we moved to San Francisco, I became a big fan of street art–I saw lots of amazing graffiti in the Bay Area. Works of contemporary artists and designers have also inspired me: Philip Guston, Vaughan Oliver, Manuel Ocampo, Haruki Murakami, Peter Saville and Norma Belleza.
AMS: Did you have a mentor who has helped you establish your ideas and concepts? What motivated to become who you are today?
Bren: I had lots of mentors over the years. An uncle who rented a room in our house while he was going to architectural school in the Philippines. My high school drafting teacher. College graphic design and art professors. And more recently, fellow Boston-based artists. My motivation in life has been to excel at what I do and at the same time, be able to help others.
AMS: Since 2003, your Smile Project has brought you to many places in the world, how do you sustain your creativity, your ideas to keep this project going?
Bren: At first, I thought that my project would last just a couple of weeks. However, when I realized that what I was doing could help others, I told myself that I should do this indefinitely. Being a full time artist enables me to constantly evolve, both work-wise and on a personal level. Most of the time, I am free to paint whatever I want, even when it is a client-based project–like a painting commission. How can one not grow if I have this much freedom?
AMS: Did you have any challenges, disappointments or failures throughout these years of the Smile Project? What are they, if there are? How did you overcome these circumstances?
Bren: I can’t complain much, I can be a full time artist in this tough economy–I am able to do what I love to do. There was one painful challenge to overcome though… A few years ago, a publisher had agreed to print a book about my artwork and project. The book never manifested despite it being featured in their printed catalogs and website (the publishing firm never gave a reason why). This crushed me for a while but eventually, I mustered up enough positive energy to print a version of my book. It is now available for purchase.
AMS: What do you think is the biggest impact Smile Project to your family, your friends, the Boston community (where it all started) and to rest of the world?
Bren: To my family… That I could make a living being a full time artist To my friends… Something that they could support. To the Filipino community… A Pinoy to be proud of. To Boston and the rest of the world… Smiles everywhere!
AMS: Now, how about your Everything will be All Right Project – how did it all start?
Bren: In 2008, I decided to leave 115 paintings all over NYC around September 11th–the most amount of paintings I have given away to date in one place (3 day span). A former nurse, Dian, who saved all her money to open a new shop found one of my NYC paintings. Dian immediately touched base with me after picking up one of my smiley creatures. She said that finding the painting was a sign to keep her store open, despite the tough economy. Dian was the catalyst for the text change. The note attached to my paintings used to say, “This painting is yours if you promise to smile at random people more often.” The text is now, “Everything will be all right.”
AMS: Were you, as an artist affected by the recession in 2008? If yes, how?
Bren: I started painting right after the dot-com bust about a decade ago. In some ways, that was a blessing because I was able to conform to what people can afford, art-wise. I knew people were struggling financially and so, I decided to price my work fairly. I strongly believe that this was one of the key reasons for my success, I was and still is accessible, cost-wise. I am also able to adapt and evolve. I started to sell paintings on canvases but eventually, I began painting murals, I started to give presentations (from elementary schools to colleges) and I started to merchandise (like my new book). Each year, my art career has been improving, despite the economy.
AMS: What would be your next goal?
Bren: My goal is to leave artwork in all 50 states and in all the countries around the world. And guess what? A client of mine just started working for Virgin Galactic. She promised to bring one of my paintings when she goes to space. That would be the ultimate goal!
AMS: I believe you have recently been giving away paintings/posters on a daily basis. Do you foresee yourself doing it for ten years? Would you have another “project”?
Bren: I can’t see myself not giving away artwork… Ever! I am hooked. I love being able to help out in my own small way, especially during these challenging times. I plan to go back to giving away just paintings next year. This is more costly than leaving postercards around. And so, my project may not be on a daily-basis in 2012. But who knows? I don’t plan that far ahead. I like to keep things kinda organic.
AMS: Being a Filipino-American artist, what is your philosophy in creating arts and making a difference in the lives of people? Has this philosophy changed over the years?
Bren: Prior to painting full time, a group of Filipino designers and I were trying to define the Filipino aesthetic in graphic design. This lad me to explore Philippine fine arts. Most art based work in the Philippines is still done by hand and not by the computer. The exploration inspired me to draw again and abandon my computer-based work. My drawings shifted to paintings and here I am. The “Bayanihan” mentally is constant throughout my work. This Tagalog word is defined as, “mutual cooperation for the public good.” It’s a philosophy I follow through and through.
AMS: Do you have any advice to artists who would like to become successful? What do you think is the recipe for success?
Bren: I know that this will sound so cliched but my advice is to follow your passion and never give up. Look, I discovered my dream job during the beginning of a recession and I am still able to continue doing what I love during this current recession. Anything is possible.
AMS: You recently published your “Everything will be All right” book and I am loving it. In fact, inspires me to visit the many places that I also want to see. My question is, how can people purchase it – and what would they get from it as well?
Bren: Folks can purchase the book through my website. I guess what I want for folks to take away after reading my book is to be able find their personal best in the most challenging situation. And in the midst of this search, be able to help others.
AMS: Finally, what is your definition of success.
Bren: Waking up every morning and being excited about work!