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Vancouver LGBTQ+ artist Brandy Mars recreates 'how it feels to love someone' through art

From line work to oil paintings, her work is an exercise in evolution.

LGBTQ+ artist Brandy Mars’ creative journey began with a blog. After coming out in 2014, Mars’ brother encouraged her to write and she built up a following speaking candidly about her love life and budding relationship with a woman.

“The first time I wrote a post I was like, ‘Oh, I'm gonna be sick,’ I was so nervous to write about dating her," Mars tells V.I.A. in an interview.

She also detailed her experiences in the fashion industry in L.A. and New York and the blog grew in popularity until in 2016 Mars opened an Etsy shop that turned the funniest lines into greeting cards. The cards weren’t overtly "gay" but instead reflected her quirky and fun personality with cheeky lines such as “I want to whisper sexy things in your ear. Like grilled cheese.”

“A lot of cards had just verbiage on them and then eventually that kind of morphed into me doing a lot of line art,” she shares.

For a while, ink and line art of LGBTQ+ themed figures was her signature. Mars grew her shop from cards to all kinds of products featuring her art, migrating over 1,200 listings from Etsy to her own website that included mugs, stickers, pins, hoodies, chocolate, and even furniture.

But in the last two years, Mars’ style has changed, morphing from black and white outlines into colourful abstractions of love in motion. Brushstroke women flow together in bursts of florals and clouds frozen in moments of quiet casual intimacy that Mars is known for. She says it reflects personal changes in her life and a new headspace she has entered. The bold yet comforting paintings of lesbian couples symbolize “how it feels to love someone,” she says.

Mars thinks that the majority of art that depicts lesbian love is overly sexualized and she tries to focus on intimacy instead. “I’m just a romantic person,” Mars says. “I think I feel things really deeply and even if the thing I'm painting isn't necessarily the thing I'm going through I find art is very cathartic to me and I don't think I could live without it.”

Last week Mars put out a call on social media looking for local couples to be her muses in 2022. Lesbian couples can apply to be painted for her new work and she will select three based on the energy and enthusiasm that comes through on the intake form. “It’s not a social media contest,” she says but based on feeling.

Mars gets a lot of requests for commissions that run between $2,500 and $5,000 and this call is a way for her to connect with people in a less cost-prohibitive way. She will be announcing the three couples she has selected at her first solo art exhibition at the Garden Strathcona on June 4.

Anyone can buy prints from her in person at the exhibit. Mars is excited to set up the evening to be more of an experience instead of simply looking at art hanging on the walls. 

Her shopfront, playfully nicknamed “the gayest little gift shop in all the land” is catered as much as possible to invite the community in. “I really do try to take everyone's feedback and be like, ‘yeah, you know, I am missing that,’ and there should be something for that in our community,” she says. “I think my store has grown to such a huge amount because I really do want [it] to be for everyone…I have couples where they're in a wheelchair, I have different ethnicities because I think, especially in this community too, it's really easy for people to feel isolated and not included.”

Mars and her art are both incredibly personal and intertwined, to the point where she has a hard time talking about it. “It's such a big part of me and I feel like all of my art is an extension of my personality and that's why I do a lot of videos and stuff–I think it's important for people to know I'm not just selling a product, I am a person.”