Bren Bataclan: Making People Smile, One Ugly-Monster at a Time.

Bren Bataclan: Making People Smile, One Ugly-Monster at a Time.

Ben Bataclan

Taylor Reed Vecchio

By Taylor Reed VecchioContributing Writer

Since leaving paintings of colorful creatures around Boston and Cambridge a year and a half ago, Smile Boston Project’s Bren Bataclan made us blue-blooded east-coasters lighten up and left corporate America behind only to steal her insights.

Bataclan, originally from the Philippines, moved to sunny California before relocating again to study special effects in perpetually bland Ohio. How could someone survive such culture shock? Because people in the Midwest are so, so nice! Grocery store cashiers inquire about your spaghetti purchase, and gas station attendants actually do want you to have a nice day. For all its white-breadness, people in Ohio have something on all of us in Boston: they are not “too cool,” they make friends with strangers, and they smile to one another on the street. When Bren moved to Umass Amherst to take up a teaching job, our unfriendly nature got to him. After the fall of the empire, Bataclan was out of a job, sick of computers, and left a city of stone cold faces. To escape staring at a computer screen, Bataclan began to paint. His work premiered in September of 2003 at an art show where he sold 49 out of 56 paintings in two days. Such a success, completely unforeseen and unplanned, gave Bren an unexpected career opportunity and the confidence to continue painting. Using the money he had earned selling his work, he went out and painted several more paintings, leaving them around the city, to thank Boston for making him feel good again. There was a catch…..the paintings he left were completely free on the condition that the person who finds them has to promise to smile more at random people.

By taking his work to the street, Bataclan was able use his environment as an exhibit. With his corporate background, Bren was able to perfectly balance the tradition of some of his favorite street artists, while still showing work in galleries, and working with companies. Office Max has printed some of his pieces, yet he has just returned from a show at San Francisco’s Super 7, a store that sells work from artists such as Shepard Fairey (Obey!) and Barry McGee. He is recently working on a promotion for an iParty opening in Hartford Connecticut that blends elements of street culture and commercialism. By leaving puzzle pieces on the street, people are urged to bring them to the opening in Hartford to create a giant puzzle of his characters. A few of his characters can be seen rocking “B” (Boston Red Sox) hats, or Bren Hats if any trademark despot is asking. This perfect balance of commercial familiarity, life in Ohio, admiration of street art, and a head full of colorful dog-alien-monsters is what makes Bataclan so successful. He is looking forward to maintaining this balance forever.

Walking this thin line between street art and the commercial world, Bataclan has involved himself in one of the best aspects of Boston neighborhoods by working on projects with our very own little monsters – kids. A local teacher, Matt Stall had purchased some large pieces from Bren and asked him if he was interested in working at Trotter Elementary School on a mural that had been left in need of direction. His involvement with local kids and their inspiration has widened the scope of his work. Knowing the attention span of six year olds, Bren has been giving five-minute talks to kindergarten and first graders followed by one-half to an hour drawing sessions. Showing them how to draw his characters, the kids will often yell to him suggestions: “draw a shark,” “add some eyeballs,” and new kid-inspired characters will materialize. The kids also get a chance to interpret Bren’s characters and create their own versions of googelyness. It is this aspect of the project that brings art to a public forum. By having kids create interpretations of his characters and then reinterpreting their ideas, Bataclan has included input from Boston’s kids, an often forgotten aspect of our city and a population not usually present in artist portraits. His character’s child-like presence is no accident, Bataclan claims that their images have been floating in his head since he was a little kid and is releasing them to a tangible form for the fist time in this project.

Much like musicians who leave lyrical interpretation to the fans, Bren wants the onlooker to decide what exactly his creatures are. Monsters? Aliens? Your six year old son? He is often brought to a pleasant laugh when people stare at a canvas featuring a blue blob with four teeth and a beanie hat completely convinced that the thing looks like their nephew. In fact, the people interested in his art are surprisingly diverse. People often collect his work, filling their house with his latest chubby-squid or friendly horned devil-cat. He specifically prices his pieces to be affordable; buyers could easily purchase just the right glob for their mom’s birthday or buy their first piece of original art for their apartment.

The Midwest inspired friendliness has left Bren with a number of new friends. His experiences with people’s reaction to his work are what truly inspired him to work on the project permanently, leaving behind the companies that made the richer rich. He talked about a woman with dark sunglasses he met in Harvard Square, who had asked him if it was alright to stop by his place for a chat. It turns out she had found one of his paintings right after finishing a chemotherapy treatment for her brain tumor and felt the need to thank him for leaving such a wonderful token for her to find.

There are more stories like that and surely more people who need a good crooked toothed monster-alien to make them feel good. The smile project has moved beyond Boston to make happiness global. Creatures are currently invading Asia, appropriately making stops in “the land of smiles” (Thailand) and Cambodia as well as Bali and Malaysia. A friend of Bataclan’s has also been so kind as to drop off some pieces in Ireland. If you are someone like Bren Bataclan, who does not believe in the US involvement in Iraq, and feels that the United States should have never been there but still really feels heavy hearted for the troops, then you’ll be pleased to know that an insurgency of smiling mutants are ready to greet soldiers courtesy of our very own Smile Boston Project. Amen.

Bren Bataclan will be showing a collection of his work this Friday April 15 7pm at Cassava Boba lounge, 1076 Boylston Street Boston. Friday is “any school we didn’t forget” special on drinks 6-8 pm. For more information check out Bren’s website at