In a time when artists’ voices have been silenced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one artist has found a way to not only make his voice heard, but to make an impact on those around him.
Lifelong black-and-white photographer Brian Cattelle, 38, a Maine native now based in Lake Worth, has created the 50/50 COVID artwork project, which is designed to donate 50 percent of the proceeds from his art to local individuals and charities.
Each night from his home studio, he creates a video showcasing his latest works and talks about the different projects he’s involved with. If somebody buys the art, he donates half of the sale price to a charity of their choosing.
One day alone Cattelle said he donated $150 to St. Jude’s Hospital and $150 to Healing Hearts and has met his short-term goal of donating $1,200.
“During these COVID times, my ability to show my art in public was virtually eliminated and my ability to explore new projects that involve other people has been hindered, so I have to turn to the resources at hand,” Cattelle said. “I’m forced to have my art show in my apartment and invite collectors in for virtual private tours … With only myself to work with, my current work has me looking inward.”
Other beneficiaries include local organizations such as Boca Helping Hands, Liberia Economic and Social Development in Hollywood, Jewish Family Services, Black Lives Matter and No More Starving Artists Foundation (NMSAF).
This past Monday, he expanded his 50/50 project to include other local artists, featuring one each day who will present a work that he or she can sell and give 50 percent of the proceeds away.
In addition, he has created a virtual gallery on his website, viewable by appointment through Zoom or Facetime.
“Brian Cattelle is an extremely talented artist,” said Trina Slade-Burks, president and founder of NMSAF. “During his participation in the Continuum Palm Beach Art Fair last year, he demonstrated an amazing gift for community engagement.
“Brian knows how to intrigue and captivate his audience with his art and insight,” Slade-Burks says. “He was generous enough to donate funds to our foundation.”
Cattelle’s donations from the sale of his artwork went to support NMSAF’s Pay It Forward project for artists to create masks for the nonprofit, Clinics Can Help, which provides medical equipment to those in need.
“I aim to be a better person and believe in treating each other well,” says Cattelle, who adds that he is 10 years in recovery from substance abuse. “To live the happiest life, do what you want and don’t let fear hold you back.”
Captured by photography as a teenager, in 2012 he won $30,000 as a grand prize winner in a nationwide photography contest sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes in a challenge to “Capture the Unknown.”
He recalls when the fascination with photography took hold.
“I remember developing my first black-and-white photo in my high school darkroom – the ominous red glow of the light, the stink of chemicals, the trickling water in the background, and the anticipation as, moment by moment, my picture materialized.”
“From then on I was hooked,” he writes on his website.
“Exploring my art helps me develop as a person,” says Cattelle, whose works have been shown at Art Palm Beach, Art Synergy, the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County, the Cornell Museum and The Heart of Delray Gallery.
Daniel Cianciotto, owner of The Heart of Delray Gallery where Cattelle exhibited his photos between 2017-19, calls Cattelle “an amazing photographer.”
“Brian is an amazing photographer. The way he captures photo-realism along with graffiti art is impeccable,” said Cianciotto. “It seems like he travels through the most dangerous terrain to get the most prestigious shot.”
To get those prestigious shots for the Marlboro project, Cattelle traveled through Arizona, Utah and Nevada, capturing thought-provoking images.
It wouldn’t be the last time Cattelle sought the allure of the open road.
Two years later, he traveled across the country again in his exhibit-ready customized 1994 Chevy Astro van, for a photography project he titled Bare USA, which juxtaposed nude women models alongside areas of urban decay.
“For me, photography is an escape,” says Cattelle. “It’s a way to explore the world and gives me an opportunity to find beauty in unexpected places and in all walks of life.”
In a nod towards his own personal challenges with substance abuse, Cattelle spent time at the Caron Renaissance treatment center in Boca Raton.
In 2017, he was commissioned by them to create a series of photographs – the Gratitude Portrait Series, Part I — representing the idea of gratitude in recovery.
He interviewed alumni about their feelings of gratitude and conceptualized their ideas into a series of photographs, which has since been featured in their medical facility.
The following year he created his Gratitude Portrait Series, Part II, for Caron Renaissance in Wernersville, Pa.
Cattelle also finds creative ways to communicate with his photography, stretching the boundaries of the photo itself. In his project, 35mm Movie Mashup, he utilized photographic techniques from the 1990s. He screened VHS tapes of popular films (such as the 1996 film about heroin addicts, Trainspotting) on a CRT TV, photographing the most notable scenes with a 35mm film camera.
He then captured everyday scenes from his neighborhood – such as the fireworks on the 4th of July — and with an X-Acto knife and tape, “mashed” the two scenes together, creating a classic 1990s 3-D image.
“This photograph speaks to the false euphoria you get from doing drugs,” he says on one of his Facebook Live videos.
“I’m always trying to innovate and find new ways to present photography and to do photography,” says Cattelle.
More recently, he experimented again with testing the limits of his photographs, coming up with creative ways to view them.
This time, Cattelle put his Bare USA photographs into vintage Viewmasters, created specifically for last year’s Aqua Art Miami. Each Viewmaster contains seven different images and is encased in a custom painted box.
“Looking at my photos through the lens of the Viewmaster eliminates all distractions,” Cattelle says. “You actually become transported into the photo.”
Another project, Born from the Streets, is a series of photographs of underserved people, many taken in San Francisco, where Cattelle derived inspiration from painters, graffiti artists, sculptors, musicians, architects and product designers and integrated these elements into his photographs using a variety of mixed media techniques.
He collected found objects – flyers, stickers, all kind of street debris to create an urban wall backdrop, on which he applied cement, spray paint and wheat-pastes an original photograph onto the distressed surface to create what he calls a “street art style photo.”
All these photographs are part of his 50/50 series.
“These people I met on the street are a piece of my heart,” says Cattelle. “Some of these images are worth a lifetime of stories.”
What does he hope people take away from his work?
“I’m taking black-and-white photography to a new level and exploring new ways to present and capture an image,” he says. “My photographs are not just an image on a wall, but have so many more facets to them. I hope always to take my photos to the next phase.”
“There’s a lot of good that can be achieved through art – including philanthropy,” he says.