Free Artwork for a Smile, Care of Bren Bataclan

September 25, 2013

Free Artwork for a Smile, Care of Bren Bataclan


Bren Bataclan likes to see people smile.

So much, in fact, that he’s in the midst of a decade-long project that coaxes smiles out of folks across the nation ... and even around the world. Bataclan, who earned his graduate degree from Ohio State in 1995 and studied at the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD), is a full-time artist in the Boston area, and leaves free paintings and "notes of hope" in public spaces.

“My project wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Ohio,” explains Bataclan, who grew up in the Philippines and San Francisco. “I found the people there to be super nice, and when I moved to Massachusetts I didn’t find the same kind of instant warmth and friendliness that I did in Ohio, where people will start a conversation with you in the grocery store or on a bus.”

So, he devised his project to help spread more smiles. Dubbed SmileyB, the project involves Bataclan anonymously giving away free paintings in public places. Each painting has a note attached: “This painting is yours if you promise to smile at more random people.”

In the 10 years since he started the project, he’s given away more than 1,000 acrylic paintings of quirky, colorful characters in all 50 U.S. states and several foreign countries. But at the beginning of summer, he still had 20 U.S. states to visit with painting give-aways before his project’s October anniversary. He reached his goal, logging 9,000 miles on his car over a two-week whirlwind, cross-country trip.

That trip was supported in part by an online fundraising effort that far surpassed his expectations. “I totally felt the love!” he said. “I came in at more than 300 percent of my original goal. That really is a highlight of my career as an artist.”

Bataclan leaves the paintings in high-traffic areas such as on benches in public parks. “I choose places with a lot of foot traffic,” he said. “I’ve found it takes between 3 and 30 minutes for someone to take a painting. On college campuses, though, they disappear in seconds because college kids have no qualms about taking something for free.”

He added, “I know it sounds corny but I don’t feel like people choose a painting; I think the paintings choose their owner.”

Bataclan also paints murals and has a studio in downtown Boston where he creates more experimental artwork. But his true love is the smile project.

“I’m just following my passion, and everything has fallen into place.”

His advice to other artists? “Don’t be afraid! Don’t let the economy or other people’s advice deter you. Do not!!! This is your life and you need to follow your dreams.”

Bataclan added that he won’t halt the project now that he’s reached his goal of being in every U.S. state. “After that, I’ll aim to give the paintings away in 190-plus countries around the world! I’m not stopping!”

Bataclan’s story has been featured on NBC Evening News with Katie Couric, in Smithsonian Magazine, and The Washington Post.