In his Stolen series, artist Adrian Brandon features Black individuals whose lives have been cut short by police brutality and uses time as a medium to define how long each portrait is coloured, with one year of life equating to one minute of colour. “This series is dedicated to the many Black people that were robbed of their lives at the hands of the police,” Brandon explains. “For example, Tamir Rice was 12 when he was murdered, so I coloured his portrait for 12 minutes. As a Black man, I know that my future can be stolen from me if I’m driving with a broken tail light, or playing my music too loud, or reaching for my phone at the wrong time. So for each of these portraits I played with the harsh relationship between time and death. I want the viewer to see how much empty space is left in these lives, stories that will never be told, space that can never be filled. This emptiness represents holes in their families and our community, who will be forever stuck with the question, ‘who were they becoming?’”
This plays out across portraits including that of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, just seven-years-old, and George Floyd, aged 46, whose death at the hands of police acted as a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement. The absence of colour, reflecting the loss of life and stolen years taken from the individuals, is startling so that what is missing from the canvas becomes as important, if not more so, than what is present.
The idea for the series came about in 2018 when Brandon was undertaking a commission for a 92-year-old Black man who subsequently died of natural causes. “As I worked on the piece, my girlfriend and I discussed the haunting beauty of the unfinished work and of all the questions the empty space stirred,” he recalls. “What was his life like? Who loved him, and who did he love? Around this same time, Jemel Roberson, a 26-year-old Black man and security guard at a bar in Illinois was fatally shot by police after he had subdued and pinned a man to the ground who had just shot four people at his bar. In the aftershock of this tragedy, and the collision of these two experiences, Stolen was born.”
“My intention with the series is to keep the human story out front – not just the handful of stories that make it to the media, but also the stories of Darius Tarver, Janisha Fonville, Casey Goodson Jr., Marvin Scott, Jonathan Price, Shereese Francis and so many others that few people hear about,” says Brandon. “It’s easy to become overwhelmed and demoralised by all of the information, emotion, and political battling going on, and with that comes the risk that we’ll lose stamina and focus. The human stories of loss and grief serve as our North Star. My hope is that Stolen elevates these individual stories through a visual language that breaks down all this pain and inspires new understanding in the midst of so much division.” The resulting body of work, in ink and graphite on paper, is both poignant and moving. “Viewers have told me they have a visceral response to Stolen,” Brandon says. “The simplicity and starkness of the visual image startles them and stirs deep emotion and questioning. For viewers of my videos, which document the colouring of a portrait from start to finish, the ending of the piece is experienced as abrupt and devastating – an experience I also feel when creating the portraits and one that echoes the abrupt endings to these lives. Viewers are haunted and touched by the empty space in the portraits, which symbolise the emptiness left in the lives of family, friends, and the community… the empty chair at the dinner table, the father that will never come home, the graduation stage that will never be crossed, the wedding that will never be planned, the laughter, the kisses, the planned future that will never be. Stolen invites viewers to imagine and experience the loss and emptiness caused by these stolen lives.”