Brandon Donahue | Interview

As an intern for the David Lusk Gallery in Nashville, I had the opportunity to experience and appreciate the gallery world in a new way. I also had the privilege to interview Brandon Donahue for his show ‘No Look Past,’ currently on view in the Memphis gallery.

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Last year, I had the opportunity to take a class taught by Sonya Clark titled ‘Measuring Histories’. In this class, we focused on the history of objects, using them in multiples and how we, as artists, have the power to change the meaning of an object as well. In this class is where I first encountered the Donahue’s work, specifically his ‘Basketball Blooms.’ I was blown away by his ability to create such a delicate form with objects that possess a totally different use and meaning. I honestly will never look at the game of basketball the same again. This way of creating art has influenced my creative process in so many ways.

Ashante: Starting off, can you talk a bit about your background and what led you to the creation of this body of work? What are you wanting to speak about with this work?

Brandon: Having the opportunity to exhibit back in my hometown Memphis, TN felt really good. A lot of my family were able to come out and support and actually see the works in person. Some of them gave me insight on their experiences with the materials that I use in my work. What led me to this body of work was my curiosity of a basketball as an object. The game of basketball and its rich history is centered around this round sphere made of leather, rubber, and air. I wanted to take the air from it and reconstruct its form. I'm fascinated with history and the marks that it leaves behind. Used basketballs tell a story through touch. I am interested in preserving history, but also transforming things to re-define the meaning.

I exhibited a new piece, ‘Satellite Monument,’ which is a basketball rim, with a car rim (hubcap) attached to it. Two shadows made from cut vinyl sits beneath the basketball rim to create a trompe-l'oeil effect. In this piece, I am thinking about monuments, and the shadows that they cast.

Ashante: The combination of two objects that hold cultural meaning in the African American community makes me wonder if you are focusing on the shadows being cast by monuments in a literal sense or is this piece a metaphor for something greater?

Brandon: I am using the two rims as status symbols, symbols of success. Though it is a small monument, it is a circular monument that casts two unnatural shadows. By combining the two cultural symbols, the shadows of those objects are not literal shadows, but perceptions of this new monument in space.

I believe that even the most mundane objects possess a spirit and a history. My interest in this history compels me to re-contextualize everyday objects through customization and assemblage. I intentionally complicate assigned meanings to mobilize the spirit therein.

Ashante: With you being from Memphis, I am very interested in if you would say that the culture of Memphis plays a vital role in providing inspiration for the work you create and if so, how?

Brandon: Yes, I was born and raised in Memphis the first 16 years of my life. The city, the school systems, and overall culture has had a profound influence on my interests. Basketball, or “hooping” as we call it, is and was one of the favorite hobbies of young African American youth in the city. When I was in high school, my brother Bryan, and my friends and I would pack lunches on a Saturday morning and have our parents drop us off at the Mt. Moriah Precinct. We would spend the entire day playing pick-up ball. Bringing a basketball was a priority, and you had to make sure it had grip! Thinking back, there were a lot of basketballs that we would throw away once it became slick and unwanted. If I knew then what I do now I would have kept them!

Ashante: In response to your interest in preserving history but also transforming and re-defining the meaning of things, can you speak on the power and importance of artists and how you use your power as an artist to create change within your community and in the world of art?

Brandon: Artists are undoubtedly a valuable asset to a community and an artist has the power to energize a space. When I speak on the word artist, I am talking about anyone who creates. I know that not all artists will set out to intentionally use their work to transform their community. We do not control inspiration, nor do we control how a work will be received. So whether or not an artist recognizes their power or not, it is inevitable that their creation will have an effect on their community. I don't always sit down and strategize with the intention of talking to people in my work.

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Ashante: What was the defining moment in your life when you knew you wanted to become an artist? What advice would you have for someone who may be at that moment in their life but is unsure of what to do?

Brandon: The first initial moment in my life when I knew that I wanted to become an artist was around the age of 10. I could smell it. I just knew that making art was what I wanted to do. I understood an artist as someone who made their immaterial ideas come to life. I saw one guy on my football team who wore an airbrushed t-shirt. I was amazed at how smooth the paint looked, and how cool it looked as he wore it around. He wore it with so much pride. After seeing that, I wanted my work to travel with people too. As I grew older and evolved into an airbrush artist, I saw myself as a medium between people and their unmanifested ideas.

My advice for someone who is unsure about pursuing a career in art would be to examine what it is that they would do for free. If there is a passion in something that you would do without receiving a dime in return, start there. I feel that a lot of the hard work that you pit into your craft will go unpaid and unnoticed at first. Those days are very critical.

Ashante: I just saw you post something about going to Cuba soon. Can you talk more about that and any other things you have coming up in the future as well?

Brandon: I will be participating in the 'Intermittent Rivers" exhibition in Matanzas, Cuba. This will be a part of the 13th Annual Havana Biennial. Among other international artists, I will be showing along with local artists Alejandro Alcierto, Jamaal Sheats, Jana Harper, and Alicia Henry. The exhibition will take place early April through mid-May. I'm also preparing to complete the final two public art projects with Madison Community Center in May. Then in June, I will be attending a month-long artist residency in Wassaic, NY with my partner Jessica Gatlin.