Best of America

Grin City: Bren Bataclan’s Smile Project

Grin City: Bren Bataclan's Smile ProjectCourtesy Josh Campbell
Unlike starving artists everywhere, Bren Bataclan, 40, is giving it away. He paints cartoon characters (neither human nor animal), with one big eye and one small one (he has no idea why), in brilliant colors, and he leaves his small canvases around Boston and other cities. And they’re free.

It all started when Bataclan moved to Boston from the Midwest to teach computer graphics. After he lost his job, he started painting what are now his signature characters. He sold 49 in two days and wanted to show his gratitude somehow.

But how? Bostonians’ reserved demeanor had bothered him for years. Now he realized the city’s residents were as friendly as Midwesterners—in their own way. It finally came to him: He would give away his artwork and ask just one thing in return. He attached this note and his website address ( to each canvas: “This painting is yours if you promise to smile at random people more often.” It was the beginning of his Smile Project.

Bataclan has left his giveaways in 20 states and 20 countries. People who have found his paintings send him notes and photos. The characters make them smile, his fans tell him, and they give them hope. “It’s nice to know that my art really is making a difference,” he says.

Since the economic downturn, Bataclan, who supports himself as a full-time artist, has been attaching a different note to his canvases: “Everything will be alright.”

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