Ask Adrian: How Did Viola Davis Discover You?

By: Julie Loffredi National Lifestyle Content Desk

Brooklyn-based artist Adrian Brandon is making headlines for his illustrative works, specifically portraying the “unique joy, swagger and love” that is shared throughout the Black community. In this roundup, he talks about his work, latest projects, and his fans:

Q: Can you describe your work as an artist?

Adrian: As an artist, I am working to bring attention to the injustices the Black community faces, as well as highlight the joy, beauty, and magic that flows throughout our community. I use ink markers, graphite, pastel, and digital illustration to tell these Black stories.

I have been working for years on a series, titled Stolen, which currently consists of over 40 “unfinished” portraits of Black people who have been killed by police. Each portrait is sketched in pencil and then colored one minute for each year the person lived. Michael Brown was 18 years old when he was killed, so I colored his portrait for 18 minutes. This series is my focus right now, but I am also creating more imagery of hope and love because we need those reminders now more than ever.  

Q: When did you know you HAD to be an artist? What were the circumstances?

Adrian: Art has always been a part of me. I grew up in a very creative household and so I naturally gravitated towards the arts. I was a big-time doodler both in and out of school, and I grew to understand how powerful the arts can be to advocate for change. 

Q: As a Black artist, how has this time impacted you creatively?

Adrian: I have always used my art to share my perspective as a Black man. The recent times have reminded me of the importance of art in social justice movements. Art has the power to shift perspectives and communicate messages in ways that words cannot, bypassing the political and going straight to the heart. In Stolen, my goal is to keep the human stories out front so that people can feel the injustice and loss. I’m deeply saddened and angered by the recent events in America, and I’m channeling those feelings through my work.

Q: What types of artwork seems to be resonating right now with Black communities?

Adrian: The Black community has been terrorized by police brutality for hundreds of years and has shouldered the loss, anger, and grief, largely on their own. Black people resonate with Stolen because it shares these stories of human loss with the masses. It begins to reveal the history and scope of police brutality against our Black bodies. Several family members and friends of people in my Stolen series have reached out and thanked me for honoring their loved one and keeping their name and story alive. The promise to never forget the names and stories of those killed is a theme in this movement and resonates deeply. In remembering, I think we all help carry the grief. In addition to my artwork with a social justice focus, Black people are resonating with my work that gives us hope and a sense of community. 

Q: How did Viola Davis discover you? 

Adrian: I began picking up some traction on social media, even before Viola Davis found my work. I was surprised by how much my work was being organically shared throughout social media, and I was thrilled once I heard that Viola had come across it on Instagram and shared it with her followers. 

Q: How does it feel to have so many recognizing your work?

Adrian: It feels amazing. I have always used art as my own form of therapy and to connect with others, so having many people engaging with my work feels incredible. Creating the Stolen portraits is an emotional process, but knowing it’s having an impact makes such a big difference. I plan on using this platform to continue having a voice in this movement. Everyone’s time and attention are precious and valuable and I’m honored that people are sharing that with me. 

Q: Tell us about how you are bringing your artwork to children with your new partnership with HP? Can you tell us about a few of the drawings in the collection?

Adrian: I partnered with HP for Print, Play & Learn to provide families with accessible ways to start the dialogue around race and the social justice movements going on today. I created five different resources available for free on their website, including a coloring page encouraging kids to learn about protesting by expressing something they are passionate about and an art therapy exercise celebrating Black beauty. I also included a worksheet that breaks down common stereotypes, a coloring page encouraging kids to think about what makes them unique and a Black history word search.

Q: What were the inspirations for the activities you created for Print, Play & Learn?

Adrian: For Print, Play & Learn, I thought about what exercises I could have used as a kid to start thinking more about race, equality, and diversity at an earlier age. I also thought about my time as a Fulbright Teacher in Taiwan, which taught me how curious, creative, and unfiltered children are at those early ages. I wanted to tap into that curiosity and provide parents and teachers with an easier way to have tougher conversations. 

Photo: Vanessa Lynn