By Jack Feuer
Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM
Growing up in San Francisco, Bren Bataclan '93 saw a lot of street art. He always wanted to be a street artist himself, so after a Boston dot-com job went bust in 2003 and with time on his hands, Bataclan created 56 paintings of cartoon characters he had been drawing since he was a kid. Thus was born a happy mini-industry.
He decided to exhibit his work during an artist open studios in his Cambridge neighborhood, painting his smiling characters — and selling, he says, no doubt with a smile, 49 of the original 56 very quickly.
"My neighbors bought champagne — finally, Bren can pay his rent! — so to thank Boston, I decided to give back my art," he recalls.
Bataclan deliberately left his work — notable for the big smiles on his drawn faces — on park benches, senior centers and just about any public space he could find as free art. Thus was born the Smile Project, in which Bataclan and his family (he enlisted them after the concept took off) have given away free paintings in 40 countries, drawing the attention of big media like the CBS Evening News and, no doubt, an escalating number of smiles.
Clearly, the street art he saw as a kid was a big influence, but there was also a big difference: No pre-dawn spray paintings for this intrepid Bruin.
"Did I do any graffiti? No, I wasn't that type of kid," he admits. "I was too much of a goody two-shoes. That's why I waited all these years, so I could do a wholesome type of street art, an alternative to a permanent form of graffiti."
Indeed, besides being something of a media darling, Bataclan also finds himself a sought-after speaker at schools because of what he describes as "the anti-graffiti, anti-bullying aspect of my work."
In addition, although the Smile Project was born in Boston, it was inspired by a quintessentially California cultural trait.
In the Golden State, Bataclan concludes, "If you want to be left alone, folks will leave you alone. But if you smile at people, people will smile back."
Images courtesy of Bren Bataclan
(Above center) A typically happy Bataclan work
(Above right) The artist, all smiles