American Death Inspired Art: Pajamasquid by Brittany Hanks

For this #ThrowbackThursday (#TBT) we look backward and forward: to kick off a new series of articles about American death inspired art, we throw back to one of our Our Favorite Etsy Shops for Dia de los Muertos, from October.

Everlasting Footprint staff writer Liz Grear met up with Pajamasquid’s visual artist, Brittany Hanks, at her home studio in Chicago, to learn more about her artistic inspiration.

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As soon as I walked into Brittany Hanks’ house, I was immediately distracted by the beauty on the walls. Refurbished clocks, her own paintings, and a Louisiana voodoo mask – it was hard not to ask for the items’ stories. Impressed with the décor in her living room, I was blown away by the masterpieces of death inspired art that clung to the studio walls. Like coloring a blank canvas, our interview unraveled as if our conversation was a painting I would hang on my wall.

Brittany Hanks desk and workspaceBrittany keeps her workspace surrounded with inspirational material.

Brittany Hanks is a visual artist of some renown. After graduating with a BFA from Florida Atlantic University, Brittany relocated to Chicago, where she now creates art inspired by Dia de los Muertos, sugar skulls, death, and other “dark” imagery. She has been featured in gallery shows at Flat Iron and Gallery Povocateur, in addition to her many commissioned paintings, tattoos, and commercial shirt designs. Her latest commission is a “Beauty and the Beast” painting, styled like a Victorian couple.

“Visual art is natural for me. I started drawing when I was little, and then one day, I decided I wanted to become a professional. I’ve never looked back.” – Brittany Hanks

A member of the Bad Apples Artist Collective, an international group of about 25 artists, Brittany frequently participates in their auctions. In addition, Brittany promotes her clothing and purse brand, Pajama Squid, available in her Etsy shop, and on and Brittany currently devotes efforts to expanding her line of death inspired art handbags into more brick-and-mortar stores around the world.

Brittany Hanks death inspired art, including her a handbag and pair of shoes from her Pajamasquid lineBrittany Hanks death inspired art, including her a handbag and
pair of shoes from her Pajamasquid line.

The story of the inspiration behind her unique style unfolds in her cozy studio upstairs, at a marked wooden table stained with paint and years of use. She explains about her style:

“I’ve always been interested in putting things perceived as ‘dark’ next to something perceived as ‘beautiful.’ Because, I mean, that is life. Darkness and light. So for me, they are both beautiful. For some, it might be bitter sweet, but I think that makes it real.”

Brittany Hanks death inspired art, sugar skulls and flowersTwo of Brittany’s intricate and colorful paintings.

 “If you make a piece and you hate it, it’s probably because it doesn’t ring true.”

When Brittany says that her biggest influences are from tradition, folklore, and superstition, I have to ask her to explain more. She laughs and replies,

“I’m Cajun, from Louisiana. I’m know about voodoo culture. At my grandmother’s house, I always felt like there was a ghost. When I told her, she said, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a ghost. No big deal. It doesn’t bother anyone.’ That was so indicative of Louisiana culture, because it was so nonchalant. When I was younger, I wanted to be a paranormal investigator.”

She laughs with deep honesty.

A true artist, Brittany keeps in mind the symbolism in her work, “Eyes in my paintings symbolize spirits and entities; flowers represent growing relationships.” Her most intricate pieces of death inspired art can take up to one week to complete. The painting Brittany completed for her Kickstarter campaign, “The Time Rose,” has individually hand-set crystals around the exterior and interior, and took over 50 hours. While she works, she always listens to music.

Brittany lists her musical inspirations as “all over the place – from metal to Reggaeton to punk and ska.” Her art inspirations include classic masterpieces as well as contemporary clothing illustrators. And her personal inspirations?: “My husband and my mom. My family. They’ve been my supporters through everything. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

Brittany Hanks keeps the dead in mind at all times. It is essential to keeping herself in the right mindset for her art. She points to one of her numerous masterpieces and says,

“That painting – it’s called ‘The Body in the Crawl Space.’ When we moved into this house, I wanted to honor the people who’d lived here before. If there are ghosts here, I want them to be happy that we’re living here. So that painting is a tribute to any spirits living here. I want them to know I respect them.”

Find Brittany Hanks: Etsy | Facebook | Website

Brittany Hanks, artist, and Liz Grear, writer - death inspired art feature at Everlasting FootprintBrittany Hanks, artist, and Liz Grear, writer, at Hanks’ studio.

With contribution from Cortni Merritt


About Liz Grear

Liz Greer, MFA, teaches creative writing, tutors students, and dabbles in ballroom dancing, book binding, paper making, and playing hopscotch between Chicago and New Jersey. She dreams of running a writing workshop in a prison, because she believes words can change things. Maybe not all things. But enough things.

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  1. Pingback: Everlasting Footprint Blog Interview | Brittany Hanks Art

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