Downingtown artist unveils new work and apparel line
by Melissa Jacobs
Even if there weren’t compelling messages behind it, Brian Hearns’ work is the kind of scroll-stopping art that commands attention. Part illustration, part painting, emblazoned with symbols (both hidden and overt) and often accompanied by written words, Hearns’ bright, colorful pieces – and even his black-and-whites – can be taken either as decorative art or commentary on modern America. “If something speaks to your soul, that’s great,” said the Downingtown artist. “And if it just makes you smile, that’s okay, too.”
Plenty of people are doing both thanks to a new installation at the King of Prussia Mall that includes Hearns’ “Bonded To Comprise.” Sponsored by Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, the installation features 15 artists from Montgomery County. On view now through March 31, the large-scale display features work from black and indigenous people of color and is part of the board’s ongoing Arts Montco initiative.
Earlier this month, Hearns released sweatshirts emblazoned with his artwork. The sweatshirts, Hearns’ first foray into clothing, were instant bestsellers. “I am surprised, grateful and inspired in equal parts,” Hearns said.
Clothing is new for Hearns, but people have been wearing his work for a long time. Hearns’ one-of-a-kind, leather cuff bracelets, fastened with repurposed belt buckles, have been gracing wrists since Hearns introduced them in 2008. “I was searching for gear for my wrist, but I was tired of leather with snaps,” Hearns said. “I went with buckles because I liked the combination of materials.”
Mixing materials is a hallmark of Hearns’ style. “Stone and Steel” was the name of Hearns’ show at West Chester University, held soon after he graduated from there. Hearns also studied at Moore College of Art, an experience he credits with expanding his creative horizons and informing some of his work. “I was doing a lot of sculpture, combining lights made of translucent marble and creating spheres with them,” he said.
Hearns’ love of art dates back to elementary school. The youngest of eight children, and raised in a turbulent household rife with substance abuse, Hearns found solace in art. Every Sunday morning, Hearns dove into the comics section of the newspaper, then turned to his sketch pad. “Drawing was my Zen,” Hearns said. “It was my go-to. Every Sunday morning, I knew what I’d be doing: drawing.”
Teachers soon recognized Hearns’ talent and gave him opportunities to hone his skills and show his work. Hearns was in fourth grade when he scored a spot in his first art show. Held at a Mercer County library near Hearns’ childhood home in Trenton, the show exhibited his oil painting landscape. “You don’t forget an experience like that,” Hearns said. “It was a transformative moment.”
Hearns tries to create those moments for the next generation of artists. For 15 years, he’s been the art teacher at Eastward Elementary School in Downingtown. Technique isn’t the only thing he teaches; Hearns wants to inspire kids to express their thoughts and feelings. “Art can be a therapeutic refuge,” he said.
That’s the theme Hearns amplifies in his “Sol Talk” Instagram videos. Hearns shares his thoughts on topics that include mental health, love and acceptance. “It is an opportunity for me to shine light on things that people forget, namely that we’re all beautiful,” Hearns said.
Up next: Hearns is building his own website and expanding his workspace. “This is the first time in my life where I have my own studio,” he said. “I’m starting to figure out my story, not only why I create but why I’m here, and what I want to say and how I want to connect with people.”