Featured Artist: Brandon Marshall

Posted on August 1, 2014

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By Kendra Lyons

bra1“I don’t have a lot but painting is what I have.”

27-year-old, Brandon Marshall, the graffiti artist who created the I Love Memphis mural, among several other murals throughout Memphis, welcomed me to the Orange Mound home he shares with his beautiful wife, Jennifer, on a Saturday afternoon with a smile and an immediate offer for coffee. We took a seat in their cozy family room while their pitbull laid down quietly to tune into our conversation from the adjacent bedroom.

“Art was never really something that was super important to me,” Marshall reveals right off the bat, until his passion was born at eight years old when his older brother showed him graffiti that was painted on a drainage ditch in back of the large backyard of their childhood home in Memphis.

Marshall accounts for feeling fascinated by the taboo nature of graffiti, and how the excited reaction that it provoked from his older brother made him notice graffiti more, and think about it as an artform instead of vandalism- an all-too-frequent perception of his chosen medium.

Marshall maintains that you shouldn’t have to be an “intellectual” to understand art, which is another reason he chooses graffiti. Graffiti artists “paint it and try to make it look as good as it can. There’s not some underlying agenda that they’re trying to push. “it’s just kind of free,” he added thoughtfully.

To Marshall, the taboo comes from a lack of understanding when it comes to graffiti, especially in Memphis.

“Around here, people are really fearful. They are scared to death of ‘the other side of town’ and ‘the other side of the tracks.’ They see it and they don’t understand the nature of it. They think it’s just vandalism. There’s an element of mystery to it.”

bra2Marshall reassures that a main difference between vandalism and art is placement. Painting on someone else’s property without their permission is wrong, he contends, but the art form itself when placed appropriately, is worthy of appreciation and artistic merit.

Marshall, who identifies strongly as a Memphian but more specifically, an active and invested member of the Orange Mound community, has big plans for his historic neighborhood; the first city in the United States where African Americans could own a home.

“I’ve started this thing called the Orange Mound Mural Project,” Marshall explained, “Basically the goal over the next 5-10 years is to paint every surface possible. Anything people will let me put art on I want to do that.”

Marshall’s vision for Orange Mound is inspired by one of his favorite quotes: “when a place ceases to be beautiful, the people there cease to hope.”

Regardless of the feat Marshall has taken on, he remains humble and down-to-earth about the mission, “It’s a small contribution what I’m doing. I just want to paint some walls and give people something aesthetically pleasing to look at. But it’s what I have and it’s what I do and it’s what I want to do.”

Marshall is eager to also tie in the upcoming 125th Anniversary of the neighborhood. He has started talks among families who have lived in Orange Mound for generations, and wants to create a mural to commemorate the iconic American neighborhood, hoping that these efforts will be a small step in putting Orange Mound back on track, considering its downward economic spiral and increase in crime rates that have been an unfortunate reality in recent history.

I asked Marshall what he would say to Memphians who avoid Orange Mound because of its undeniable reputation for crime, violence, drug use, and poverty.

“It’s kind of a cop out. It’s bullshit for people to stay outside of the inner city. Especially when you have things like the school merger where it’s like the people are basically scared to death. They’re motivated completely by fear. They say we’re going to start our own school systems, but we don’t want to contribute to what’s going on in the inner city. They want to come here and go to Beale Street, eat barbecue and go to the Grizzlies games. They want to go to the fun things but when it comes to this complicated matter they don’t want anything to do with it.”

Marshall admits, “It’s not that it can’t be a dangerous place. Last summer I got robbed on my front porch. It’s not to say that there’s not brokennes and crime. There is that. But it’s not this warzone that people make it out to be.”

Marshall left me with a lot to think about, but mostly conveyed an emphasis of fearlessness and freedom. Art, to Marshall, is not about being vague, coy, or abstract. Instead, it is a visual way to better a place, inspire its viewers, and get people talking. To Marshall, there is no point in creating something that people simply think is “nice.” Art should be impactful.

I can’t imagine a better place than Memphis for Brandon Marshall to put his art to work.

Check out some of Brandon Marshall’s amazing work on Instagram

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Posted in: Memphian to Meet