North Carolina native Brandon Dudley comes from a long line of artistic minds. Though he might be the first in his family to work as a full-time artist, his father, grandfather and uncle are all creatives. “My grandfather, who I admire dearly, is the most creative person I know, says Dudley. “I've seen him take the simplest of materials and create unique works of art.”
When his grandfather taught him how to build wooden panels to paint on, Dudley got busy experimenting with different paints. He struggled with oils at first but kept at it, and his first completed oil painting — a sword-bearing, ball cap-wearing self portrait — was quite a triumph, expertly capturing the look and the essence of a confident black man.
Having cultivated his portrait skills at The Art Institute of Miami, he aims to use his art as a platform to help reshape perspectives and narratives around African American culture, to put a sharp focus on black excellence. From portraits of athletes and musicians to paintings of civil rights figures and faces of the African Diaspora, Dudley’s work explores different angles on the complexity of the black experience. And misconceptions seem to be inescapable.
“Through my portraits, I'm reflecting how I perceive the people I paint, as well as myself. If I don't see or show them in a positive light, what does that say about me?”
When introducing himself as an artist, Dudley is often met with ‘Oh, are you a rapper?’ in response. He says many people seem confused to learn that he’s not a rapper but a professional painter. “When I show them my work, they seem to be in awe, as if it is uncommon for a young black man to be of this caliber,“ Dudley explains. “The misconception that all black men look the same, are the same, so judge them the same — it’s falsely preconceived based on what you look like.”
This is one young artist who would be difficult to pigeonhole anyway. Influenced by his grandparents and brought up in the ways of Southern country living (learning to garden, chop wood and drive trucks), Dudley is also inspired by hip hop, urban fashion and art history. He has his own ideas, his own style and, in a recent development, his own downtown studio space in Kinston, NC.
How can art change the world?
“Art documents life which eventually becomes history. Art allows people to visually communicate their emotions and opinions about the world around us.”
If you could meet any artist, who would it be and why?
“Kehinde Wiley. He has been one of the greatest influences in my work, and I love the message behind his work.”
What’s an obstacle you’ve overcome in your art?
“The biggest hurdle I've overcome is being consistent in my work. Finding my own voice, painting what I like to paint and not what pleases others.”
Tell us about a teacher who had a positive impact on your art.
“Ms. Debra Grady from high school played a major part in my art. She always challenged my skills and pushed me to stay focused on art.”