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Local Artist Highlight: Brandy Mayweather Rising from the Crucible of Experience

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Avenue for the Arts looks over the shoulder of Grand Rapids multi-media installation artist Brandy Mayweather to see how she does it. Interview by Pamela MacDougal.
Brandy Mayweather

Brandy Mayweather

/Brandy Mayweather

/Brandy Mayweather

Brandy Mayweather has the formula for spiritual alchemy, turning her darkest trials into artistic freedom, passion and connection. That makes her someone to watch. She hasn’t stopped brewing new ideas since her multimedia installation Don’t Cry won an ArtPrize award in 2022. As recipient of the City Hall Curator Grant, Brandy produced The Lived Experience: Silent Disco, 2023, an interactive multimedia event celebrating BIPOC art and culture. Brandy has been awarded the 2023 Motu Viget Grant in connection with ArtPrize 2.0. Along the way, she interviewed with Shark Tank, her lighted painting concept drawing their attention when it turned into a viral phenomenon. She balances all this with a young daughter and a fiancé.

What was it like for you growing up in Grand Rapids? Brandy hasn’t always been so out there. She admits, “I’ve been here my whole life, but for the majority of it, I stayed inside the house. I was a nerdy girl who played video games. I was not social; I didn’t interact with our city much.”  The COVID shutdown in 2020 changed all that, bringing significant hardship, but pushing transformation as well. “Now as an artist and adult,” Brandy says, “interacting with different individuals in Grand Rapids has been a beautiful new world for me.” Seeing a warm and energetic personality before me, it is difficult to imagine a quiet reclusive girl, but I take her word for it.

When did you become interested in art? With two brothers and a sister competing in the economy of parental attention, Brandy Mayweather took notice of the acclaim her older brother received for his artwork. She says, “He’s the reason I got started in art. He was always silent, always getting attention for his art. I wanted that attention too. But then when I picked up the art materials, I fell in love with art myself. I was 6 years old.” Her brother sought a formal art education with a four-year degree from Kendall College of Art and Design, while Brandy took a less direct route.

She may have thought to follow in her brother’s footsteps, but Brandy found a summer art program at the age of 13 very demoralizing. She says, “It was a nice summer program to teach people how to create realism in art. For some reason, I found it discouraging when the teacher would say kindly, ‘That’s okay. Don’t worry. It can be better.’ I could paint an exact Van Gogh image, but I didn’t do realism.” Though now supportive, her parents didn’t regard art as a real job, and she dropped it.

So then how did you get here from there? Setting her mind on a practical course, Brandy went to school to become a physician assistant, then withdrawing during the pandemic when she realized art was still her passion. She says, “I was working in a dental office, which was immediately shut down in the pandemic. I ended up being a squatter in a one-bedroom apartment, essentially homeless with a three-year-old daughter. Painting was my only option for making money.” Brandy sold her works for $50 apiece, regardless of how many hours they took to create. “My daughter would be in a pack ’n play. I would sit on the floor with a canvas taped to the wall and paint in silence in the middle of the night. Always in the middle of the night,” she laughs. Now her works typically sell for between $500 and $3000, depending on the medium.

The experience of dropping art and being steered back into it by the course of events yielded a freedom Brandy couldn’t have predicted. Everything was different: “I came back into the art world as a rebel. I started doing things that were unconventional. But then I realized, there was a space for it. Performance. Clapping, singing, lights blinking. You can get wine from one of my paintings. I punch holes in the canvas. So refreshing! I do things I know I am not supposed to do to a canvas.” She says, “I’m happy it all happened, because otherwise I would never have been an interactive installation artist.” Brandy notes that “I feel pressure to do realism because that is what sells the most, but I work better with live painting performances, entertaining, curating … installations. That’s how it started for me, and that’s how it’s going to end … installations.”

Brandy has a partnership with Arts Marketplace at Studio Park where she sells her paintings. She says they hosted her award-winning ArtPrize piece Don’t Cry, 2022. Her work also can be found on her website, and Instagram.

Can you tell me more about your ArtPrize piece? The piece Don’t Cry is a seven-foot tall, six-foot wide waterfall that cries real tears. Brandy says “I made it to explain to adults that it’s okay to cry. We are told not to cry when it’s actually a great thing for us.” The breakup of a relationship had led Brandy into experiencing homelessness and then finding a squatter apartment.  She remembers, “When I got in my apartment, I would cry every night. I had a queen size mattress, and I painted the image on the sheet that I cried on. At ArtPrize, I remember seeing people crying and interacting with the piece. It made me realize that my art needs to be seen more. It completely changed my perspective on being vulnerable with other human beings – because we need it!” Brandy had been going to ArtPrize since 2009, “I remember the paper planes that they threw off the buildings. To actually participate in its last year before it converted was a great experience for me.”

Participating in ArtPrize led Brandy into a career in the arts. She says, “That’s when I went full-time. There are so many people who want to work with me and talk to me just because of my experience.” In addition to creating art, she now spends a lot of time working with others in the Grand Rapids art community, supporting those who may not feel confident to put themselves out there as artists. She feels a huge responsibility to participate and support others.

So, what are you doing these days art-wise? Recently, Brandy used her City Hall Curator grant to create The Lived Experience: Silent Disco. She describes it as “a platform for everyone to be heard and seen.” With the silent disco, Brandy hosted multiple auditory and visual artistic experiences within the same space. Headphones to allowed participants to focus their attention on one artist at a time, taking in poetry, video or music. She says, “If you’re listening to the singer or the poet with the headphones, you’re completely focused on them. When you take off the headphones, you’re giving the visual artist or the food provider your full attention.” She notes that busy festivals, a typical venue for presentation of multiple artists, aren’t compatible with undivided attention. Yet, an artist needs that interpersonal interaction to realize the importance of what they’re doing with art. Brandy’s focus is Grand Rapids, “I wanted to give local artists the platform. Enjoy your people locally.”

The silent disco proved so successful that it will repeat this year. As a further development, Brandy would like to include celebrity personalities who can uplift local creatives by sharing how they broke through. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Brandy has witnessed her own family members become outstanding successes. She counts Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a cousin. She says that’s how she knows amazing things can happen. She’d like to bring well-rounded celebrities into the community, personable individuals who can help others see what is possible. Brandy says, “I can put my art out there and make it happen, I want to feed my community in any way I can, use all my resources, help them become greater.”

In addition, Brandy enjoys painting as a performance for social and networking events. She says, “I’ve painted Madonna and put lights on her–there’s always a 3D element. Like, I put hair on the canvas, and people are watching…wondering how I’m going to make it work. But I always do.” She’s working on new painting concepts for private gatherings, often corporate or community events. She trained herself to paint in front of others by setting herself up on the blue bridge over the Grand River where she fielded a lot of spontaneous interest. She says, “I had to challenge myself to do that.” Now, she gets in her zone, and turns on her entertaining side. Brandy has done over 40 painting events so far.

How is your daughter doing? Brandy reports “My daughter is 6 years old now, and she is such a delight. It can almost make me cry because she makes me look at life in such a different way. I didn’t think about putting lights into my canvas until we moved into my apartment, and my daughter was afraid of the dark. So, I installed fairy lights into a tutu painting. That got me onto two preliminary rounds of Shark Tank interviews because the idea went viral. I don’t want her to grow up in a world where she doesn’t have endless opportunities. Not only can I provide the opportunity to her, but to other kids as well.”

Brandy calls her fiancé a godsend, noting that his energy is a perfect complement to her own. Their first date was a walk in Ken-o-Sha Park, finding out they had the same background, growing up inside playing video games, and so much more in common. She says “He continues to heal parts of me I didn’t know were damaged. So patient and loving and understanding. He embraced my daughter. To have someone who pushes you…for him to embrace me and all my stuff, I am awestruck….He’s my best friend. I can’t imagine doing life with anyone else.”

What’s your favorite place in Grand Rapids? “Downtown Market,” Brandy says. “I like sitting there and looking at the city. It’s peaceful, in a way where you hear the chaos, but you also hear the trees blowing. I love something chaotic, but I love peace as well. It’s great to watch the sun go down. I go there just to appreciate where I am at. It keeps me humble. It’s right at the heart of where you see homeless people, business people, kids playing. That’s sort of what you need as an artist–to see different perspectives and create stories out of those different perspectives.”

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