Brandon Watters, 22, Columbus, OH; Fashion and Acting
Inspirations: Jaden Smith, ASAP Rocky, Frank Ocean, Mace Windu, Deadpool
By: Steven Underwood
Brandon Watters collects DVDs: rows of them, and he watches them in the mostly remodeled basement of his family house in one of the more suburban neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio. When we were younger, it was like a cold prison: four dense white walls of cinder with too few power outlets and an itchy carpet that we turned into a teenage paradise.
Even then, that room had more DVDs than necessary. Some were his father’s, a large, stern black man with a pair of ever watching eyes. But most of those DVDs belonged to Brandon. His most prized and prestigious collection of every movie you wouldn’t realize to think of from action-adventure to obscure heart-wrenching dramas.
And if you ask Brandon why he collects these DVDs, he will shrug at you: “Bruh, this is art.”
Brandon and I have been cool since the day he walked onto my bus with a semi-tall curly afro and a green sweater. He was easily impressionable, and did a lot to hide the talents he thought people didn’t: it was basketball, or nothing. At the time, I don’t know what made me choose him, but I did and since that day I’ve been defensive and protective of the man I knew he could become.
Now, he wears face-length dreads, leather jackets and buys his pants from the female section of unisex clothing stores. He loves to thrift shop and, soaking wet, he maybe weighs the combined weight of all three dogs he’s lost. And, just like me, and many members of the Columbus Underground of Artistry, he is an artist whose sensitive about his shit.
“I kinda just express the moment.” He says when describing his art form. “I don’t wanna say how I feel, so I express what I feel in that situation. Like if it’s raining, my outfit will reflect it. I embody that time. Even when I’m taking pictures, I think about something someone said about me and that will be my caption. It will be my response. Something I will say in a certain moment”
Brandon is naturally anti-social despite the charismatic image he adopts like an armor to protect himself. It makes him seem more radiant than he is, and somehow it’s this armor that causes people to float towards him at their own peril. Vanishing over the course of a week or a month isn’t anything foreign for him, no matter who is looking for him. During his Caspar days, he’s shoulder deep in a project he wants to perfect. Other times, he is just in that same basement as our teen years, isolated in that basement with his DVDs.
But this need to isolate himself is something that has caused much friction between him and others whom he deems to love. My own personal friends have asked me personally why are we friends. “The way you talk about him, i’ve always expected that nigga to be this suave, charismatic, awesome nigga who glows,” said my own friend, Jan. “I kept expecting some fine cross between Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba and Trevante Rhodes with the way you painted him.”
Other less blunt people have just rolled their eyes when he and I were in the same room and just bluntly ask: “Yo, why are you two friends?”
To both of these kinds of people, I have no idea what to say afterwards (especially to the former, because the implications is always that I’m not “worthy” to even associate with him). Both perspectives are valid, though, we’re so dissimilar on the surface: maybe it’s something that I just see in him that he conveys via his Art?
After all, it isn’t necessarily that we have a lot in common: he’s athletic, and I’m not. I express love in the most open and warming ways, and he doesn’t. He tries to maintain this image of himself with a certain kind of power, and I do what I want, when I want in a devil-may-care attitude, while veiling my own real power behind a carefully tapered cloak. I was raised to be a loving brother-in-arms, and he has been raised to be in solitude.
How we see each other, and why I’ve strived to make a friendship last the trials of post-graduation and three states in distance…It’s always been something that you would have to grow up with us to understand.
The twenty-two-year-old, like me, is a proud Franklin Heights Alum. Heights is a high school set in Southwest Columbus between the shiny suburban neighborhoods and what is widely considered the ghetto of the city. It was there we learned the imperative of hard work through shitty lunches, and a year without sports or extracurricular activities. We watched kids fight one another just to have something worth fighting for; talk loudly just to remind everyone that they had a void and thought within the now because the pain of now was the only thing present.
It was a place of hard knuckles, hard hearts and harder heads; where you needed fangs and claws and a sharp tongue to remain on top of your own life and not be crushed by your environment. An experience like that is life-bonding, and that helped us both make it out.
If you ask us now, we don’t know what made us different than the others who were swallowed by the city we both loved. The place we claim as our artistic homelands.
We suspect it was because we had people – and by we, I mean I: I know those days despite anything that happened, we knew we had each other – Brandon, I, and our friends; we had a way of inspiring each other to express who we were. We did it through performance mostly (even I dabbled in dance for two years), but others took mild inspirations where they could find it and applied it to something secret and theirs. Yet, no matter what, it always expressed the cacophony of characters we had at Heights. At the time, we – everyone, Brandon included –thought the interest that struck Brandon was his athletics as a varsity point guard.
Brandon was a Baller. His father created the mold that he would fill that was exactly that. Everyday after school, dribbling up and down the asphalt drive way, practicing the right way to dunk, to pass, to make the J from middle court. He practiced in the rain; the sun; in fog. Brandon was a Point guard and that was it. He was an Academic, sometimes. But that was it, Brandon’s hobbies revolved around a spotted, orange ball and a netted hoop a foot in diameter.
Sophomore Year of High School, Brandon Watters was cut from the Basketball team.
“I realized I wasn’t going to the NBA at a very young age. I realized that this wasn’t going to happen. And I lowkey wasn’t trying to push it, but everyone kept trying to push me. I got cut, though. That was the biggest reality check. I mean I was a weird kid, I’ve been drawing since the age of one, I’ve been watching weird shit since age one.”
Weirdness is something that captivated Brandon for a long time. One of the many things Brandon veils behind his armor is a love for the alternative interests commonly refered to as Nerd Culture. There were days in our youth when I would wake up from the middle of sleep to find him looking through my own ULTIMATE X-MEN issues. He never mentioned he was reading them out loud to me, ever. It became a secret that he never knew I knew until I brought it up to him one day.
When the first and pivotal AVENGERS movie debuted, we all went in one large group and watched the movie through the end credits and Brandon personally pretended that he didn’t know who Thanos was. When I asked him why, he tried to laugh in an involuntary sigh of charisma. “I ain’t want to seem like a nerd.”
His Netflix account has a lot of provocative shit: BEETLEBORG marathons, a soiree with the season-long series, PUSH, and even the hit DC TV show, YOUNG JUSTICE. He is just a bit more open about what he loves now. Yet, there still seems to be that involuntary distancing between Fashion Brandon and Nerd Brandon, as if both could never live together in unity within his being — because, you know, black men are never allowed to be multi-faceted.
“I especially love YOUNG JUSTICE. Anytime I need some inspiration, I sit down and watch some old episodes over again. Especially the dark episodes.” He said “Knowing I wouldn’t go far in sports took me a far place. I want to be what I want to be. Art is something I really enjoy watching.”
Brandon dabbles in a bit of everything for his Art. For a time, his Art was acting. Brandon took several acting classes and submerged himself in the lore of the craft. He went to many Theater shows just for the hell of it: to see actual actors at work, forming expressions and formulating their dialogue. “I was going to a theater show. I love watching it because they’re artists. They’re artists, but they’re acting in real time. You will never see that play again. You can see the plot again, but this performance? Never again.“
During NYFW 2017, Brandon had the courtesy of walking for a few fashion designers after meeting with them in Cincinnati. He was one of a handful of Columbus artists to appear during any of the shows that week. For the first time in a while, Heights students were pounding the pavement throughout the Gotham city.
Though I never told him, I was very proud of his accomplishment. Brandon, as a person, is known uniformly by his nearly open charisma and shining smile. He laughs off pain and shrugs it down as if that careless motion could send years of darkness cascading off like small black raindrops off a raincoat. A certain kind of person will look at him and think they can know him in totality: as a Fashionista, as an Asshole, as an Anti-Altruist, as a Player who deflects love of any kind. The more observant person will notice something softer beneath the surface that craves the need to express itself at any stakes and at any cost. I see an amalgamation of many things: some of which is positive, some of which is negative and recognize that complexity of him as a person. I embrace that he is, in-fact, a multifaceted black artist.
But when he walked during NYFW, as a Columbus’s one true son, and as someone I’ve personally see grow large enough to survive in both the dark of day and the light of night, I was proud to say that I was right about this young artist from my city.
I was right the day I saw his curly afro on the bus when I thought he was going to shine and everyone had to be there to see it. Even if he’d have to shine without me.