In a lot of ways, Sean Brannan is a man trapped inside his own mind. Sure, a blanket statement like that can be said of most any artist, but while any painter can dabble, and even create amazing work in the process, with Brannan there almost seems to be a physical need to craft what he has dubbed his “surrealist expressionism.”
It all started 15 years ago, when Brannan, fresh out of college and with $400 bucks in his pocket, decided to pack up his Volkswagen and leave the mountains of New Hampshire for the sunny environs of Southern California. With a degree in graphic design, he hopped around from job to job during the dot-com boom—and subsequent bust—until one day, discouraged but having just moved into a new home, Brannan had a rather serendipitous moment.
“I got out of art for awhile, but never really all the way out. For years I was making excuses,” Brannan, now 40, says about that time in his life. “It was weird. I had just moved into this house, and after about a couple months there, I looked up in the rafters of this old garage, and there was this old easel. I took that, put it together, found a canvas that I had been moving around with for the last 10 years, threw some old paint on it, and that was it. After that, I just couldn't stop.”
Since then, he's exhibited his paintings in various boutiques and galleries, including Sanctuary and the Art of Framing Gallery. “Bittersweet Victory,” the acrylic-on-panel piece we chose for the cover of this week's CityBeat, shows what appears to be a battered fighter, both in mind and body. One eye almost swollen shut, lips fat from punches, the gloves almost down to his sides, Brannan says that in many ways, that fighter is him.
“That piece I did during a pretty tough period in my life,” he reflects. “I was going through a separation from my wife. That was probably another one of the catalysts that got me back into art. That piece is all about someone, in this case the metaphorical boxer—he was down, but not out. Overcoming adversity, still on his feet.”
Brannan says he's able to interpret these emotions by accessing “the subconscious through the creative process.” The son of an Air Force pilot who moved every couple of years or so, Brannan was often forced to retreat inside his own mind because friends came and went. Brannan says he finally feels at home in San Diego and that the trappings of the subconscious mind are the places that he has come not to fear but, rather, to dwell in. One stroke at a time, old easel intact.
“I sometimes want to bust out of the flat plain of painting and maybe build something or get into sculpture,” he says. “Maybe sometime soon, but I think I still have a long way to go as far as my career as a painter. There's still a lot in my mind. Maybe 20 years from now.”