Brandon Seabrook Nelson doesn’t do small talk. Ask him how he’s doing, and you’re sure to get an introspective reply. Even his name is a tell for this trait. His middle name and sobriquet, Seabrook, was his grandma’s maiden name, itself a harbinger of how freely he moves toward great depths. Whether during a brief run-in at a coffee shop or through the acute edges of his paintings, he dives away from the mundane and straight to the meaningful. Seabrook is a deep well, and he won’t shy away from pulling you in with him.
In Seabrook’s life, faith is a central focus. As we sat down to talk, Seabrook politely asked if he could pray over our food. He did, and it was more than just a blessing. It was an intentional slow-down, and just one manifestation of Seabrook’s unmediated and earnest nature. It felt like an invitation not only to the divine, but for us to plunge into the depths opened up by pausing. There are prayer-like moments in Seabrook’s paintings, too, though he is careful not to label himself as a “Christian” artist. The point of his work, he says, is to “ask questions and leave room for interpretation . . . so my faith applies, but it’s not direct.” His sharp subject matter entwines with thoughtful technique to create, in each piece, an evocation.
Seabrook refers to his paintings as “journal entries.” They are portraits mostly, with lilting, exaggerated curves and edges reflecting a street art influence. Eyes that shake with revelation and forms that disclose a practiced hand stand solid on his canvases, typically juxtaposed by a word or two—a question maybe, or a claim. Bold, animated lines open up to negative space like an estuary in a sea of shape and color. Seabrook’s use of words and space are deliberate choices. They give way to thought, to breath. Seabrook will even pen a poem to accompany a painting—“if it needs it.” He submits these poems as an artist’s statement—“instead of saying ‘I chose these colors or these brushstrokes,’ it comes out as a poem. It’s my thought process, putting my mindset in the subject’s.”
Seabrook’s vulnerable, meditative approach to art-making began in college at North Greenville University. While in classes for youth ministry, he was pulled in to the underground art and music scene. He admits that while finding a real home “in the rock ’n’ roll, heavy metal scene,” he still “had identity issues.” He explains, “I never dated a black girl; I was raised on a military base. One time I wore a spiked collar and black lipstick,” he laughs, “and my mama got mad at that.” Seabrook often felt himself caught between invisible lines. He took to painting and poems as a way to navigate the grey areas of his identity, his work often eddying around faith, race, and culture. “I was just doing what I liked.” He was, and still is, working it all out on the page and the canvas.
With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Seabrook began to settle further into his identity. He felt a cultural shift, and its current took him under. Seabrook also credits Propaganda, a spoken word and hip-hop artist, with a big share of his influence. With a stake in the movement and a personal hero echoing his values, Seabrook stepped into more clarity, realizing “Yeah, I am black, and I have something to say.” His work has responded in kind, engaging his essential point of view to tackle subjects like feminism, black history, and in his newest piece, gentrification. Seabrook’s road to self-discovery has been fraught with questions, but he’s holding the reins now.
“I may listen to a certain type of music or wear these clothes,” he says, gesturing to his classic skater-boy getup, “but I’m not afraid to be black.”
Each of Seabrook’s paintings is a mirror to himself and his journey. When you look at his paintings, you can’t help but gaze into the mirror yourself. He invites you to listen, to see yourself, and to answer. That’s his aim, stated in rhythmic conviction with his personal mantra: “I’m created to create; I create to allow people to see reality and resonate.” Seabrook’s paintings and poems bare the depths that he carries as a person. In his works, one thought can stream to a sea of questions, but Seabrook is comfortable with the grey areas now. “There might not be a conclusion,” he says. “It’s okay to wrestle with it.”
Portrait of Nelson by Will Crooks.