Like many kids in the ’90s, Atlanta native Brandon Sadler grew up watching Japanese anime cartoons such as Dragon Ball Z and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. He’d often sketch the figures he saw on TV and in comic books—drawn by the depth of manga storylines as well as the angular features, emotive eyes, and saturated colors of its characters.
As a teen, he started to scale his work by exploring graffiti. This led him to pursue a degree in illustration and painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta. He had expected to graduate and become a professional illustrator, but with the 2008 recession lingering, he applied to teach in South Korea. During the year he was there, Sadler says that he developed his style and expanded his artistic palette.
“Calligraphy is more prevalent in Korea than it is here, so when I started going to museums there, I was a sponge,” Sadler said. “Now, I take the English alphabet and fashion it to look like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters. The trip allowed me to evolve my skillset.”
Cross-pollination of American graffiti and Asian art forms is his signature, which caught the eye of Hannah Beachler, who hired him to paint the walls in Shuri’s (T’Challa’s sister) laboratory for Black Panther—one of the sets that helped Beachler become the first African American to be nominated for, and then the first to win, an Oscar for production design. He also painted a mural portrait of the film’s costume designer, Ruth Carter, at the Georgia Freight Depot for a high-profile launch of her athleisure line for H&M.
“My dad is white, and my mom is Black, and growing up, it was like, you’re not Black enough for Blacks and you’re definitely not white enough for whites, so you exist in this gray area,” Sadler said. That experience helped him appreciate “cultural connectivity” and see parallels between different backgrounds and viewpoints.
Nowadays, in addition to working for commercial clients, like Google and Disney, and displaying public art on the BeltLine or local underpasses, Sadler is experimenting with a comic book and three-dimensional forms, including pieces used in daily tea practice, such as tables, boxes, altars, and meditation benches.
During this interview, he sat in his Moreland Avenue studio sharpening knives to create wooden cutouts of Asian-influenced alphabet characters. His dog, Sumi, who is named after the type of Japanese ink he favors, roams throughout the space, lying underneath large canvases of vibrant koi fish and bonsai trees.
“Art has already taken me where I want to go. I only want the work that I’m making to have an even more significant impact,” Sadler said.
This article appears in our Fall 2020 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.