"It's all pretty sentimental to me," said 37-year-old artist Sean Brannan about his body of work. Brannan has been living and making art in San Diego for the last 13 years, but he hasn't shown publicly until the last year and a half. So far, the local art community has been receptive; his images of the defeated urban loner have been welcomed by venues like the Art of Framing Gallery in Normal Heights and the North Park Festival of Arts. He says he's getting used to sharing his private work. "I'm fine with it now," he said.
With elongated faces and contorted, thin bodies, Brannan's subjects are brilliantly tragic. Think of his characters as rambling dreams fostered by loneliness and a broken confidence. He calls his pieces "figurative portraits," but they're more like a good, boozy novella.
"Ingrained" is one of Brannan's more ambitious works. Having stared at a piece of wood lined with knots and grain for a day or longer, Brannan began painting the imagined history of the board. On the right side, a woman appears to be falling happily into hell. On the left, a man with an extra eyeball is blowing a bubble of smoke from his shriveled lips.
Asked why the women he paints always appear in distress, Brannan jokingly said that he genuinely makes women unhappy. "Everybody has some sort of sadness," he admits.
Working out of a crowded spare room at his home in El Cerrito Heights, Brannan employs India ink, acrylic and water colors. "I usually start in black," he said
Since he was 5 years old, Brannan has always been drawing something, anything. But two years ago, he rediscovered his talent, he said. "I just started painting at night until I had one eye opened."
Some of his art touches on the African-American community. "IAMAMAN" features an aging black male still engrossed in the ghetto. Living in such a diverse neighborhood in San Diego, Brannan regularly sees Ethiopians playing football on the street. "I get to inhabit these characters," he said.
Brannan steps into the ring with "Everlast," in which he nearly masters a prizefighter with a removable face. His "Lucha Libre" portrait is of a masked Mexican wrestler with a meaty chest. But what is this character the protector of? "He's just a pop icon," Brannan says. "Mexican culture has always had an influence on me."
Like in "Lucha Libre," which comes from Brannan's Superhero Series, the faces of his characters are nearly always bathed in hair, covered in linen or slashed to pieces. When his portraits are naked, like the female in "Love Me," piles of dark hair nearly cover her small breasts while exposing her darkened soul: She looks petrified.
With a show opening in San Diego this week, Brannan hopes to continue sharing his work throughout the summer with shows in Los Angeles and possibly New York City.
"I want to make this a career, not just an outlet," he said.
Sean Brannan's work can be seen in Vision of the Dolls, opening from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 15, at Magnolia Salon, 1975 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill. The show will be on view through Aug. 15. 619-795-7799.