Joshua Breland: Pathways in Art

This past April a group of students shuffled into the Redux gallery to gaze at Yulia Pinkusevich’s aggregate map of the psychology of cities, Reversion.  The assignment, prepared ahead of time, was on drawing perspectives.  Today they were going to draw monsters destroying a city.  

But the Boston Marathon had just been bombed and the bombers were still at large.  The pretended destruction of cities suddenly seemed less gleeful.  After explaining the day’s assignment, the Outreach Coordinator, Joshua Breland, paused.  “How’s everyone feeling?” he said.  “Let’s talk about this.”

The conversation was brief and halting.  Everyone agreed they felt angry and frightened.  They were shocked, and worried about the victims.  They were sad.  As the kids then fell silent, Joshua walked them into the large, cheery painting studio which opens off the main gallery space of Redux.

“Let’s see if we can use art to process this,” he said.  He spread out their art supplies, and they began to work.

Breland has long used art to process terrifying concepts.  When we spoke in his studio on Friday, there was a large portrait of colorful bodies on one wall, and a view on the dark, electric edges of a city on the other.  A weird energy reverbed through both.  Joshua began to paint, explaining the canvases I’d noted.  The first portrayed victims of the Holocaust.  The second was a window on New York City after 9-11.

Joshua has a jittery charm and the ability to put strangers quickly at ease; with his fluffy brown hair and delicate, tapering face, his corduroy Toms and faded red board shorts, he could be your best friend’s younger brother, the one everyone always knew would go to art school.  His whimsical tattoos- an old fashioned radio, MLK, a spread eagled insect on his bicep- look as though they came from a personal sketchbook, giving him an idealistic air.  He is a young artist who wears his heart on his skin, and welcomes the world into his art.  His paintings are a commentary on cultural abysses rather than private ones, and he loves working in the Charleston community to bring art into the everyday.

As Outreach Coordinator, Joshua has a hand in the design of many upcoming Outreach programs which concentrate on Lowcountry Traditions, including Gullah Sing & Dance, Traditional Southern Art, African Storytelling.  He’s helping to coordinate a sculpture and 3D design month next year, which will feature a silver bracelet making class. He would also like to arrange weekly or biweekly crafting visits with the elderly, and artist-led student field trips to the Gibbes.  He recently completed a 9-11 remembrance mural at Chicora elementary, which he painted with the help of two students and two (taller) volunteer parents, and is already in talks with Chicora to do another.

He lit up as he spoke about the Outreach, painting with brisk, dance-like strokes.  He’s been working to obtain a $10,000 grant from Blackbaud in order to make all these programs possible, an experience he’s found deeply satisfying.  “I love to dive deeply into projects, and see things through to fruition.”  He grinned.  “And I like to be busy.”

-article by Pauline West

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