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Friday, June 09, 2023 — Houston, TX

Black Art at Rice: Preston Branton draws inspiration from cartoons

Photo courtesy Preston Branton

By Shreya Challa     4/6/22 12:14am

Preston Branton, a Jones College senior majoring in architecture, uses digital methods, charcoal and pencil to create art inspired by the human experience and his love for cartoons. He reflects on his artistic journey, the art he aims to create and the feelings he hopes it will evoke in viewers, as well as the intersectionality of his Black and queer identities.

Rice Thresher: What first drew you to art?

Preston Branton: My dad’s an artist. I feel like that’s probably a major influence. I feel like I’ve been drawing for forever. When I was a kid, I used to sell drawings of Pokémon. I had this Pokémon book with all the Pokémon that ever existed, from the beginning until the time the book existed. And I would  just recreate the drawings and sell them for, like, a dollar when I was in fourth grade so I could buy candy. 

RT: What inspires your art?

PB: Literally cartoons — American cartoons and also anime. I’m honestly really inspired to create an established style as well. I recently [drew] the most complicated thing I’ve ever drawn before. There are four people with individual expressions, but I got really frustrated because I can’t draw everyone in the same universe. It’s so hard to maintain a certain stylistic image. I think that’s a lot of what I draw from cartoons. I want to make my art convincing, but I’m not really drawn or tied to realism at all …  It’s all about iconic form and figure. Anime really provides the gore, the crazy, really intense narratives. I think that’s what I really want to make.

RT: What or who would you say are your biggest artistic influences?  

PB: Adventure Time. The cartoon is literally my favorite thing to ever exist. It’s [influenced] the way that I think about the world and see the world, but also the way I want to render the world and analyze real stuff. I feel like Adventure Time was very fantastical, but at the same time, [it has]  real themes [that are] integral to what the human experience is.

There’s an artist that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: Kara Walker. She does some amazing, amazing stuff. It’s all these silhouettes, and she draws from fairy tales but also the Black experience. I think that this also really recreates the same idea I’m talking about — rendering something in simple terms, but making it read in a way that pushes your agenda [or] idea. I like Black radical art and unapologetic art.

RT: How would you describe your art and artistic style?

PB: Honestly, I think I want my art to upset people. I just don’t think I’ve ever achieved that, but that’s ideally what I want. I want something that really stirs people, makes them uncomfortable, makes them sad. But overall it’s really a reflection of me. I can hardly draw a person freehand without it just ending up looking like me … I honestly don’t know if I can stop recreating myself or imprinting myself in my work. So it’s very much a collection or  reflection of me, but also, I think my art is very, very human. I don’t really believe in there being a right answer ever. I’m not aiming for perfection. I’m not aiming for realism.

RT: Which themes does your art explore?

PB: Morality is a big one. I think that also aids my motivation — making things very human. I never want to draw anything that’s perfect. I never portray a person that’s perfect, unless it’s very strategic. People [may] know you, but what happens in [your] brain when you’re alone in your room sitting in the dark —what parts of yourself do you show only when you’re alone? What are the things you want to hide? …  That’s something I really enjoy thinking about. 

RT: What Black representation in art mean to you? 

PB: I consider every person that I draw to be Black, whether that is clear or not. I think it’s important for Black artists to represent Black people. It’s a form of communication, a form of relaying our experiences to an audience who may or may not know what that is. I think there’s a lot of great people representing the Black experience, but that never limits the possibilities. There’s always something unique about the way people experience Blackness.

I feel like a lot of the ways which I experience Blackness and really internalize Blackness is also through the intersection of my queer identity, [which is] totally different from how other people may express or experience Blackness.

RT: What advice would you give other Black artists and students interested in art? 

PB: Watch cartoons. But also, evaluate yourself as a Black artist and as a Black person. See yourself for all the internalized anti-Blackness, all the internalized homophobia. Work through those things and really get to know you as a person and as an artist.

I think Black people have a very particular skill in presenting themselves differently in different spaces [and] accommodating the conditions that are there. It’s very important for someone to think through that. 

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