Tulane graduate makes mark as NOLA artist

Mackenzie Bookamer, Arcade Editor

brandon surtain stands in front of a piece of his artwork outside
Brandon Surtain poses in front of a piece of his artwork. (Jose Cotto)

Brandon Surtain graduated from Tulane in the spring of 2020 with a master’s of architecture as well as a master’s of sustainable real estate development, but these are not the only interests he explored in the classroom. Before coming to Tulane, Surtain received his bachelor’s degree in studio art from Louisiana State University, as art has been a steadfast passion in his life.

“I got involved in art when I was very young,” Surtain said. “I remember seeing friends making drawings of Dragon Ball Z characters and I essentially started off by mimicking them. After some time, I began to develop my own ‘artistic language’ and would feel more comfortable exploring subject matter outside of anime.”

Surtain recalls that he has had a vivid imagination as far back as he can remember, and art serves a variety of roles in his life.

“In recent years, I have had more time to reflect on Hurricane Katrina,” Surtain, a New Orleans native, said. “Through art I am able to delve into experiences of Mid City, New Orleans, pre-Katrina. In this way, art serves as a therapeutic tool.”

Surtain has created a great deal of artwork in his life, but he does not have a singular favorite piece; rather, he has different favorite pieces for specific reasons. The piece that currently comes to mind is “Swimming Pool,” which reminds him of more simplistic times. 

“During the summer, I can remember that feeling of anticipation that I would have as I watched the pool fill,” Surtain said. “It’s a feeling that can’t be replicated. I’m really grateful to have had it.”

Recently, Surtain’s artwork has been featured in a show entitled STEPPERS 2020, which focuses on the wish to return to normalcy in New Orleans. Surtain expressed this through his paintings by exploring different color compositions and relationships. He is still painting for the show, but has nine pieces on display for viewers to see currently.  

When looking towards the future of his career, Surtain seems unsure of the exact road he’ll be on, but he is interested in creating art that explores the idea of salvation. 

“It’s hard to know exactly where I’ll go next artistically because a lot of what inspires me is circumstantial,” Surtain said. “Sometimes I am stimulated to explore based on a feeling and other times it’s a composition of buildings that I see while driving down an unfamiliar road.”

Alongside with his art career, Surtain remains well connected to Tulane’s campus and has been working on a number of projects alongside professors. Such projects include working with Ken Schwartz on using architectural tools outside of the architectural profession and “Pass Dat Joy,” which provides art toolkits to families to alleviate stress from COVID-19. 

“I was [also] able to work with Emery Gluck and Carlyn Morris on an art show/auction called Art For Activism,” Surtain said. “Tulane’s Carroll Gallery was generous enough to allow us to have the show up for a month, which we were extremely grateful for.”

You can explore more of his art at his website and follow him on Instagram.