Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the US. According to the newest data (2022), it’s on the third place after baseball and American football. Just think of any movie set in the US and remember the basketball hoops, groups of young people playing basketball in housing estates. It’s then only natural it has transferred also into other spheres of life and become an inspiration for artistic expressions, too.
Pop-art, basketball & the taste of America
Brandon Donahue (1985) is an American multidisciplinary artist working with assemblages, mural painting and airbrushing. His inspiration is Pop-art, Arte Povera, street-art and of course basketball. Donahue’s artwork is filled with the history of his community and ancestors.
Brandon Donahue was born in Memphis, Tennessee, now lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. Nowadays he’s represented by the Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia, New York and David Lusk Gallery in Memphis.
Donahue got his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He exhibits across the US and internationally, too, for example at the 13th Havana Biennial in Matanzas, Cuba. He received the Tanne Foundation Award and completed an artistic residency at the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, where he now works as the assistant professor.
Balls in bloom as art
His most popular work is the Basketball Bloom Series– cut and deformed basketballs forming flower-shaped artefacts. In no way they’re supposed to represent blasphemy or disrespect the ball or the sport as such – the opposite is the truth.
“You can have serious work that’s hidden in the context of something playful.”, said Brandon Donahue for Nashville arts magazine.
The Basketball Blooms, as he calls them, symbolize the sacred patterns of mandala. Mandalas represent harmonic connection of circles and squares. The circle is the symbol of heaven, external forces and infinity. The square stands for inner power, the connection of human and earth. They are connected in one central point, which is the beginning and the end of the whole system at the same time.
Each basketball is unique and every single one carries a history: the number of games played, blood and sweat left at the court. “They’ve been touched by so many people. It’s communal.” says Brandon.
How does Brandon Donahue work?
He collects and reuses mass-produced, randomly discovered, and found objects and materials of daily use. Video game controllers, sports equipment, even fallen street signs. He then arranges them into repetitive formats by airbrushing techniques, spray paint, de- and reconstruction. American Pop-art is known for its repetition and Donahue utilizes a similar principle. His expressive expositions emanate positive energy and joy. They often refer to sacred energy of the abovementioned mandalas or to flowers symbolizing reincarnation or metamorphosis – fusion, change, rebirth.
Brandon Donahue for David Lusk Gallery: “Customizing and personalizing things are to me a rite and I believe in the ability to transcend the original state and meaning of things. I see myself in the work and realize that I, too, have potential to change.”
His uncommon installations invite the viewer to join the physical action and psychological game as they disrupt the barriers between traditionally defined low and high art forms. They destroy the stereotypes. They transform the common “white box”5 gallery experience.
Peek into Brandon’s studio
One of the walls is all plastered with dozens of basketballs of different colors and sizes. Some have names written on them: Spalding, Wilson, Rawlings. You can feel some are fresh.
Basketball means a lot to Brandon. However, his first artistic love isn’t assemblage but airbrushing. His work is anchored in the graffiti tradition with neat font and distinctive colors while his MA degree and broad academic experience fate him to push the boundaries of artistic forms. He sees a difference between street-art and graffiti: according to him, street-art is legal and created to order. Brandon, however, grew up in the graffiti culture and painted clothes, shoes, skateboards and cars.
For his solo exhibition FOUL SHOT he turned the Speed Space Gallery into a basketball gym with a court. He constructed the backboards with bamboo wood and sprayed it with radiant colors. He used toilet seats covered in paint as provisional hoops and weaved nets from shoe laces.
“The practice of an athlete is not unlike that of the studio artist. While both arenas include plenty of competition, the athlete’s and the artist’s main adversary is himself.”, Brandon for Nashville Arts Magazine.