Paradigm Gallery + Studio is pleased to present Around the Block, a solo exhibition of work spanning four years by illustrator Branche Coverdale.

Curated by Ginger Rudolph of HAHA Magazine, Coverdale’s debut solo exhibition explores experiencing radical optimism while living in urban environments through the use of his distinct visual language; developed from his travels across major cities around the world and a career as a commercial artist. This exhibition features 8 acrylic gouache paintings on panel and 4 paintings on paper, capturing Coverdale’s unique stylized figures inspired by cartoons from his childhood as well as an installation designed to envelop visitors in the surreal environments of his pieces. Coverdale’s artistic practice of allowing different mediums to push his compositions blurs the line between commercial illustration and fine art. Around the Block will be on view on the second floor of the Paradigm Arts Building (12 N 3rd St) from August 4 through August 27, 2023 with a public opening reception on Friday, August 4 from 6:00-8:00pm.

Coverdale uses the accessibility of urban environments as a tool in his artistic practice, taking frequent walks or riding public transportation and thoughtfully documenting in his sketchbook. In his observations, he sees the metamorphosis of the metropolis, changing form from its inhabitants and from the effects of urban redevelopment. Coverdale utilizes traditional and digital mediums to fine tune his compositions. He begins each piece as a simple black and white pen drawing from his sketchbook, scans the image into Procreate, then gradually adds tone to bring his vignettes to life, spending extensive time on finding the right color palette. Viewers will notice in his earlier works, Coverdale limited his compositions to 2-3 colors, allowing compatibility for screen printing, an element that was once frequently relevant in his process. However, in current work, he adds more colors in controlled amounts to subtly ground his brightly colored figures in reality, like a weed sprouting from the sidewalk or clouds from an overcast.

Coverdale chooses not to romanticize city life, but to focus on gritty details and to portray dignity in the lives of the characters within these environments. In Unicorn, a young girl excitedly rides a pink bike through her neighborhood, her eyes holding a twinkle like the unicorn decal on her ride. The exaggerated innocence almost overshadows the bear traps in the street of a dimly lit neighborhood, with only the orange glow of an out-of-frame streetlight illuminating the girl’s face. It is this magical realism that the exhibition’s curator, Ginger Rudolph, is drawn to. Rudolph sees Coverdale’s sensationalistic figures as living in their own world filled with elements of major cities that Coverdale has traveled to. This composite metropolis is the universe where all of the characters in Coverdale’s paintings live.

Rudolph says, “Looking at Branche’s work is like peering into a crack between fantasy and reality”, especially when looking at warped bodies in motion among industrial elements of cinder blocks and chain link fences. Around the Block is meant to be a call to embrace the city, to have a sense of ease in the midst of traffic, pollution, and condensed housing. Throughout the exhibition, Coverdale depicts the universal language of city folk when thinking about the concept of home. “Home” extends past the threshold of one’s front door: it is the front stoop, the neighborhood sidewalk, or the passenger seat of a friend’s car. By channeling radical optimism, the grit of the city can have the same comfort as wearing your favorite slippers.

Embracing one’s surroundings creates a type of confidence that Coverdale brings to each of his works, a trait he has accumulated over time working as a successful commercial illustrator. Although he is constantly working with art directors of different brands, he does not feel boxed in by the label of commercial artist or illustrator. Whether it is an editorial assignment for a newspaper, marketing campaign, or community mural, Coverdale approaches each commission with thoughtful planning. Coverdale says, “You can creatively move through any medium you want, I use the medium to push the work in different directions.” Coverdale’s claim that art can be a chameleon for any purpose overlaps into the idea of not letting a title restrict one’s work into a box, as shown in the piece Fuzzy Slippers, which exists as a work on panel and a large scale mural in the Fishtown neighborhood. Rudolph believes the exhibition is an opportunity to examine urban experiences through an amalgamation of cultural influences that emphasize personal liberation to inspire other young black artists that there is a market for their art and they too can find success regardless of the hardships of their environment.

Branche Coverdale is an artist based in Philadelphia. Originally from Yonkers, New York, Branche works in an expressive and playful manner inspired from silkscreen methods he acquired during his time at Rhode Island School of Design, seamlessly combining cartoons, pop culture, and his experiences in New York in his playful and vibrant art. He celebrates the fusion of these influences, exploring themes such as city life, representation, and the blurred lines between reality and fiction, using iconic symbols that have shaped our collective consciousness. He is currently working as a full time illustrator as well as working in painting and fine arts.

Ginger Rudolph is a Philadelphia-based art curator and writer with a passion for developing multidisciplinary connections with artists. She is the Founder & Editor of an online art magazine focusing on contemporary and public art, HAHA Magazine (High on Art, Heavy on Antics), and co-founder of HAHAxParadigm, a civic and social art initiative. She received her B.A. from Tyler School of Art + Architecture in Art History.