Artist, legendary Old Way vogue performer, and chef might seem like an unusual combination. But it describes the Queens born-Brooklyn resident, Brian Branch. If he were not an artist, he would have been a full-time chef. Thank the heavens the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art alum, who played the violin, decided to go with his first love. We want to make it clear he’s not a bad cook. He likes to cook Soul Food, Thai, Vegan, and he is currently mastering his hands at Jamaican. It’s his brush strokes and imaging that make him so fascinating.
While other seven-year-olds were mastering the art of coloring within the lines, the world gained a craftsman with an amazing gift. “My work is a product of 3 decades of a life lived in the vanguard of visual expression. I was committed to honoring the beauty of the African diaspora, honed by a passion for the surreal. This is what I call Diasporic Surrealism,” said Branch.
After attempts to contact this artist for an interview, I am beside myself with joy. Sit back, relax and let Mr. Branch pilot the course into another reality of fantasy, folk tale, and beauty.
PrideIndex PI: I first became familiar with your work when I was a member of the House of Omni. In addition to house history, I was given Marcel Christian LaBeija voguing house magazine called The Idle Sheets. The Idle Sheets contained the history of houses, gossip, and your black and white pencil drawings of Dorian Corey, Erskine Christian, Michael Princess, Boo-Boo Danka, Temperance St. Laurent, Octavia St, Laurent, Andre Christian, Avis Pendavis, Pepper LaBeija, and so forth.
Brian Branch (BB): You still have those?
PI: Yes, I do. We used your drawings on the cover of Legends, Statements & Stars magazine. They’re timeless. I have been watching you and admiring your art and voguing from afar.
PI: Who are some of your influences?
BB: Woodrow Nash, a sculpture artist, Kadir Nelson, Charles Bibs, and Anne Bachelier.
PI: What is the one thing you want admirers and lovers of good art to take away from your works?
BB: I want people to walk away with the feeling of being uplifted, at peace, and proud of themselves.
PI: How long does it take to prepare for a show?
BB: Oil Paintings take a full year to complete 25 paintings for a one-person show. I’m always working on a new body of work. I do commission work. I am currently working on a mural for my church.
PI: Commission work? Tell us about some of your clients?
BB: I have done work for model and actress Yaya DeCosta. R&B legends Chaka Khan, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. One of my pieces, called Tribes, was purchased by the great poet Maya Angelou.
A couple of months ago, my work was featured in a gallery at the NY Port Authority. It has also appeared at New York Fashion Week and the Harlem Fine Arts Show.
PI: That’s quite impressive. When did you first start to draw?
BB: I have been drawing since I was 7 or 8 years old. I painted cartoons on denim jeans, jackets, and leather in the 1980s. I used to design all of the flyers for the House of Omni balls back in the day.
PI: Let’s talk about your ball scene/voguing house participation for a bit. When did you walk your first ball?
BB: (Laughs.) It was back in 1982 while I was in high school. I got into trouble for coming home late after attending the Paris Is Burning Ball II. I was only 16 years old. I was brought into the house by Derrick Omni. Omni co-founder Kevin Omni told him I had to walk on the first day. At that time, I walked Dark and Lovely Face, which evolved into Face with Performance. I also walked Pop, Dip, and Spin, which evolved into Old Way.
PI: Who are some of your house scene influences?
BB: My mentors are Kevin Omni, Derrick Omni, Michael Princess, Dennis St. Laurent, and Andre Christian. I was inspired by Shaun Omni, who later became an Ebony. He was off the chain. The straight boys liked watching Shaun Omni; they admired his masculine and controlled military-like precision. I also admired Ira Dupree, who later became Ira Aphrodite.
Dennis St. Laurent was one of my favorite performers I used to practice with. He incorporated the martial arts into his vogue.
Ronald Lamay was the first person I saw voguing on the pier and it made me want to vogue. Jerome “Arms” Omni was a performer before his time. He did many moves that were New Way before anyone ever knew there was a New Way. Each house had its unique style. The Omnis had different mannerisms from the Ebonies or St Laurent’s, so it was about creating movement. At one point, the Old Way was about posing. Paris Dupree used to tell a story when she vogued.
PI: What other houses were you in?
BB: I have always been an Omni.
PI: Are you legendary? An icon? A pioneer?
BB: Some say I’m legendary, an icon, or even a pioneer. (Laughs) I’ll take icon. I believe the many others that came before me are the true pioneers. Other than drawing, I am a homebody. I recall Kevin and others wanting me to travel to other cities, which I never did. I attended mostly local balls. I used to stay out late all the time going to balls. I used to work a part-time job at Midtown 43. I was fired for coming to work so late. (Laughs.)
PI: Who would you like to battle? Who were some of your rivals?
BB: I’m retired. I don’t walk balls anymore. (Laughs.)
I do recall battling Terell Ebony at the Elks Lodge back in the day. I’ve never had any rivals. There was the Face with Performance match-up everyone liked to watch featuring Mike Princess against Michael Dupree. Otherwise, a bunch of us walked without a consistent rival.
PI: What is your personal mantra?
BB: Something Maya Angelou said, “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
To see Brian’s works visit BBFinearts.com.