Art for Heart’s Sake

Boston artist Bren Bataclan and his Smiley B Project (Photo courtesy of Bren Bataclan)

Ten years ago, artist Bren Bataclan left 30 paintings for people to take for free around Boston where he is based. Since then, he has distributed more than a thousand pieces of his art across the country and around the world.

For the 10th anniversary of his street art project this year, Bataclan will travel to 20 states (Alabama,
 Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming) to drop off paintings. By the end of summer he would have given away paintings in all 50 states. Through Kickstarter he reached over 300 percent of his funding goal.

His street art project, “SmileyB,” has been featured in the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and publications such as The Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and various Philippines-based and Filipino American newspapers, TV shows and news programs (Bataclan was one of Balitang America’s “Top Newsmakers of 2009”). Heinemann just published a textbook about his artwork.

After an article in Boston Magazine, Bataclan was commissioned to do murals at different institutions such as Boston Children's Hospital, Boston University and Lesley University. (Photo by Dawn Pakorny)

Bataclan’s cartoon-inspired paintings were mostly influenced by the giant robot shows, Voltes V and Mazinger Z, that he used to watch when he was a kid in the Philippines. “I premiered my whimsical and colorful paintings at an Open Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I currently live. Forty-nine out of 56 paintings sold during that weekend almost a decade ago,” he recalls. 

The feedback he receives ranges from the simple ‘Thank you’ to some really moving and deeply personal notes.

To thank Boston back, Bataclan started SmileyB™ and gave away 30 paintings with a note saying, "This painting is yours if you promise to smile at random people more often." He thought the project would only last for more than a couple of weeks, but Boston Magazine found a painting and they wrote about it. “Soon after the article was published, the Boston Children's Hospital commissioned me, followed by Boston University, Lesley University and others.”

Bren leaving a painting in Peru (Photo courtesy of Bren Bataclan)

Bataclan didn’t expect to be a full-time artist, let alone a muralist (“I actually moved here to teach at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst”). His SmileyB™ is meant to bring art to people who may not typically visit art galleries and museums.

The feedback he receives ranges from the simple “Thank you” to some really moving and deeply personal notes. 

June 2013, "Post Boston Marathon Tragedy" free painting giveaway feedback: “I took the picture you left at Hosmer School, with the note 'this painting is yours [as long as] you promise to spread Kindness in Boston.' How lovely! Thank you for doing this—spreading art for the sake of love! My son (9) wants to put it in his new bedroom to remind him to be kind. We live on the street in Watertown that was besieged when they caught the young bomber. What you are doing is so healing!” –Rena

Bataclan working in his studio (Photo by Jim Gargani)

“I was walking home from a somewhat bad first date, I live in the neighborhood in Watertown of the infamous shootout, I recall the STOP sign it was perched on having had bullet holes in it a few weeks ago. Your 'gift' was the highlight of my day. It had just started raining and the happy face caught my eye, first I thought it was a children’s book someone had lost, then I saw the note. Thank you for your painting, your talent and your outlook!” –Rob

From Eudora, Arkansas: “Bren, the Eudora City Hall thanks you for your painting; you are to be commended for your dedication of this wonderful Smiley B project. I am employed by the City of Eudora, Mayor's worker "B." –Mary

Bren brings his paintings to Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Bren Bataclan)

From Orange Beach, Alabama: “I found this one!!! I love it sooooo much! I would like to place it in our trauma room in Orange Beach along with a little write-up about Bren and Smiley B. I know it will help take away the anxiety and pain, which our patients sometimes unfortunately experience. What a wonderful gift! Thank you, Bren.” –Gina

From Mississippi: “We found this one. My husband is going to frame it and bring it to his office at Gulf Coast Mental Health. He wants to retell the story and improve people’s lives. Hopefully it will show them that even strangers care.” –Suzi

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