If you’ve seen the Marvel feature film Black Panther, you’ve seen Brandon Sadler’s art. He created the mural visible about halfway through the movie, when King T’Challa and Princess Shuri descend a spiral ramp to her laboratory. The Gwinnett-born, SCAD-educated Sadler, who also goes by the name Rising Red Lotus, does street art, graffiti, painting, calligraphy, woodblock prints and comic books. His latest endeavor is the fine art of tea.
The name “Rising Red Lotus,” he says on his website, serves as a mantra telling the story of the lotus whose roots were sown deep in the mud of good and evil, gathered nutrients from both sides and rose to the surface to become whole.
Sadler, 32, and his dog, Sumi, welcomed ARTS ATL contributor TK Smith to his new studio at East Point’s ArtsXchange for an afternoon of talk and tea — Moonlight White tea.
ARTS ATL: Do you identify as a craftsman? As an artist?
Brandon Sadler: In some respects, I’m a craftsman, and in others I’m an artist. Just depends on what room you’re in and how it’s seen. I do a lot of things that require process that are not considered fine art. At the same time, I have concepts that are deemed to be fine art. I’m a maker. I have ideas, and whatever the idea is, that’s what my hands do.
ARTS ATL: Do you feel the labeling limits your work? If so, how?
Sadler: We have so many categories and methods of perceiving what a person is supposed to be. Then it goes even smaller when you talk about what a black person or an Asian person or a white person is supposed to be. You travel in your experiences trying to find the elements that make you up. You kind of unfold the truth within the process of using whatever those experiences are. For me, identity, storytelling and transformation are the common denominators of everything.
ARTS ATL: What kind of narratives continue to show up in your work?
Sadler: I like things about ascension — coming from a very ugly, misshapen, maybe even slightly dark and evil space to something powerful, beautiful and spiritually sound. [Narratives that] reaffirm your identity and the things you knew about yourself. I am very subversive racially. I tell stories for everybody, but because I’m a black man, I’m also speaking to folks who look like me in ways that are unconventional.
ARTS ATL: You continue to create a visual language in Atlanta. Is it reaching people?
Sadler: I’ll start with the imagery. On the surface, I capture people with beauty. I’m able to draw on the energy I learned from graffiti and calligraphy to hold people. I’m also creating work with intention, from a real place. I’m telling a story with words that are palatable, that catch most types of people because it relates to the human experience.
ARTS ATL: What influence does Atlanta have on your work?
Sadler: I think with the geography of Atlanta, being heavily surrounded by trees, you can find nature quickly. You can find your way to the river easily but still live in the city. My work very much exists in the natural world. If I had been in some concrete city, I think it would be different. The people and how they respond to the work shape what I make. I respond to that.
ARTS ATL: Your work blends different cultural influences and languages. Is that an intentional method, or is that just you?
Sadler: It’s very intentional. I like to find parallels. On the one hand, I am very aware of my culture because it’s my experience, but there are also parts of me that are subconsciously thirsty to find out more of where or who [I am] or where I came from. I’m not actively investigating these things; it’s more that I find things I’m interested in and that resonate with me.
When I became closer to becoming a man, I started dissecting and analyzing to find out how these things relate to my experience. Why am I interested in these things, these practices, these themes? When I do that, I find direct parallels to my upbringing and the way I was raised. With the art side of things, those are just more physical translations of the spiritual truth. So, I think it all starts with the philosophy and spiritual content of whatever I identify with, and then I figure out ways to manifest them.
ARTS ATL: What’s next?
Sadler: It’s been a while since I had a studio, so I’ll be getting back into painting. I want to focus on the writing and [fleshing] that out more, coming up with more substantial ways to display it. I also want to experiment and reinvent my means of working. I’ve been trying to reset my brain by doing different things, but I feel like I need to paint. That’s something that’s really important to me. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet or what the themes are going to be, but I’m always in a state of transition.
One of the things I crossed into was drinking tea. This simple drink, simple practice has brought me closer to people and closer to myself. I feel like something that comes from a humble plant, but through practice and intention you’re able to coach out what it has to offer. I feel like synergy has brought all the elements my hands have decided to work with together.