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Bren Bataclan
Bren Bataclan / photo by Josh Campbell

Who stalks the one-way streets of Boston intent on weather-proofing it from drab winter to sunny spring?

Bren Bataclan.

This street artist uses a wand, the most powerful one to light up more than a landscape. He coaxes colors from your heart and you burst into a preposterous smile. Some giggle. He did it! You could be scowling rushing to catch a train, but Bren halts you with his art. And you can forget picking up a copy of the Boston Globe from your friendly newsstand, even bypass your morning java because you just have to hide behind your scarf to muzzle a smile and snuff out a guffaw. 

Reason? What stands between you and the morning rush hour is a color rush of odd balls, part balloons (defy their brightly pink and greens!) and part caricature; a brash attempt at an embryo's human face, wishing you would smile. You do—and it begins your day.

His "characters" speak loads. Let's see what the disembodied voice over the phone will say. Awright, Bren. What prompted you to start such a street-art project? Folks here don't smile as much as in the Midwest . And? I wanted to see more smiles. Why do you think it worked? I used colors from the Philippines, bright and vibrant, not what you expect to see in Boston winters. What has been the general reaction?

Most Boston locals agree. Some even say, we really need this. A New England winter produces a wonderland of hulks and bulks of snow, but in a city, snow turns into grey mush after a day or two. That's when most spirits sink low enough, cold enough, to turn the watery mix into icy puddles, potholes that splash dirty water if you happen to be in the vicinity. Catch sight of Bren's quirky faces and you forget to raise that finger in a display of pedestrian rage. You sheepishly smile.

Bren Bataclan

Bren Bataclan made them that way—to turn up around the next corner, with the playful personality of someone's enchanting niece/precocious seven-year old neighbor/paranoid best friend. They are, as the cliché goes, a sight for sore eyes, exactly whom you need to see before a big meeting and after a grueling day. They, like their "dad", have a fascinating exilic narrative waiting to be re-told.

Bren the Pinoy traces his youth in California, his love of community in Ohio, and his art form's origins in Boston, all places nurturing his concepts of warmth, color and design.  I first came across his name while reading the Smithsonian (August 2007).  In the article, "What's Behind a Smile?", Richard Conniff introduces Bren Bataclan as an artist "bent on spreading happiness. on a late winter afternoon, when the frost has gone to ground in New England's soul ."  Bren set about leaving his colorful paintings of charming creatures around the neighborhood, with a note:  

This painting is yours if you promise
to smile at random people more often.

Grab it—and smile !

To date, Bren's Smile Boston Project continues to "colorize" the city's landscape, a project begun in Cambridge in 2002. These adorable monsters find their way into the streets, the schoolroom, the corporate world, even ... *gasp* ... across the Atlantic and the Pacific!

So, you're not homeless or anything, are you, Bren? Not exactly. He is a graphic designer, by trade, who walked off with a Summa Cum Laude and a B.A. degree in Design from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1993. He received his MA in Computer Animation at The Ohio State University in 1995. Now, here's the killer, folks - The Smile Boston Project documentary won Best Regional Film at the 2007 Northampton Independent Film Festival and Best Short Documentary at the 16th Woods Hole Film Festival. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Exactly! A book is due - Spring 2008: first edition, "The Smile Project."

The secret to this man's audacity is that he and his acrylic creatures "complicate" circumstances so you fall in love with them. Maybe because, in their illogical generosity of spirit, they are creating a community of non-strangers.  To enter into this neighborhood, you just need to share the most disarming and universal of all welcomes . . . smile!

For more on The Smile Project, visit:
"Bren Bataclan's Smile Boston Project." http://www.bataclan.com/ .
Richard Conniff, "What's Behind a Smile?", Smithsonian, August 2007, 46.
"Smile Boston Project," http://kino-eye.com/smile/ .

Aileen Ibardaloza
13 February 2008

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