By Alec Banks
As I prepare to speak to Action Bronson on the telephone, I’m reminded of the scene in Seven where Brad Pitt yells, “What’s in the box?!” While that scene was decidedly macabre — and supremely violent — I’m more focused on the “box” as an organizing principal for people who live in the public eye.
Bronson first emerged in 2011 with his debut project, Dr. Lecter, which was chock full of sports and wrestling references which felt familiar to any kid who grew up in the ‘80s — as well as culinary flourishes which seemed in stark contrast to the “every man” persona the former metaphors may have suggested. Music critics had a hard time reconciling with an emcee who combined braggadocios lyrics, with mentions of Japanese “yakitori.”
In subsequent years we’ve seen Bronson become a TV host, best-selling cookbook author, proponent of natural wine, and of course, one of the sharpest emcees in Hip-Hop. If the proverbial “box” exists, Bronson broke through it like the Kool-Aid man.
His latest evolution is that of a fine artist. While some many have used the COVID-19 lockdown to order a paint by numbers set, Bronson has continued to evolve since he first began posting his studio practice on social media in the summer of 2018. In a full-circle moment, a leg injury — which spawned a shift from working in the kitchen to the recording booth — is what prompted his latest metamorphosis.
“I was supposed to go on a 20-day tour in Europe in the summertime in 2018,” he says. “I tore my meniscus the day before I was supposed to leave playing in a CC Sabathia Celebrity All-Star game. I hit a double that brought Mariano Rivera in with the RBI, but I got hurt. I went to the doctor and he told me I couldn't get on the plane, so I ended up losing the European tour.”
His fine art practice isn’t as surprising as one might think. He fondly recalls drawing all sorts of things when he was a kid — favoring tracing basketball players like Charles Barkley from Sports Illustrated for Kids. As he got older, he found himself enamored with graffiti culture which still motivates him today. He cites the frustration of recently catching a fresh tag outside of Peter Luger’s Steak House in New York City, and having it buffed almost immediately.
During the filming of his popular series, Fuck, That’s Delicious, he traveled to Alex and Allyson Grey’s Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors, an artist retreat, in Upstate New York. The process of painting brought him back to a simpler time before the world contemplated the possibilities of the Frugal Gourmet and The Source’s “Unsigned Hype” existing on the same spiritual plane.
“They just brought us into a room and told us, ‘Just paint something,’” he says. "I think from that day, it just kind of sparked me. The simplicity brings out the complexity in things. I try to interpret thing like I’m 10 or 11-years-old. I've rubbed shoulders with every single type of person that there is; from the art snob, to the billionaire, to the fucking bum graffiti writer that chills every day and smokes crack. I'm not scared of anything because I'm not expecting anything. I just flow. This is me.”
When it came time to release his 2018 album, White Bronco, he decided to use a red-and-white canvas with a cobalt blue horse encircled by a two-headed snake as the album cover. In his 2020 follow up, Only For Dolphins, he repeated the process — showcasing a pod of dolphins and a grim-reaper figure. For Bronson, he’s following a recipe that is distinctly his.
“I was sick of fucking asking people to do art for me and doing this and never getting what I liked,” he says. “So I figured that I should start doing it on my own, and I got exactly what I wanted every single time. I think that the album art and music are all driven together because, to me, it's one life force creating it. It’s the antithesis of an actual project. I like to hit all the senses.”
Whether a verse, culinary dish, or painting, Bronson is supremely confident when it comes to knowing when something is finished. For him, he credits his grandmother as the driving force behind everything.
“You just have to have that notion to know when to let it go and move on,” he says. "My grandmother gave me the hand. She was an amazing cook, an amazing baker, and an amazing artist. The real key is to not overdo things that are simple.”
Bronson’s studio is full of new works which adhere to his principal of keeping his process simple, fun, and supremely confident. While other artists may be constrained by what they think might catch the eye of a collector, Bronson is instead invested in the journey from blank canvas, to a Royal Rumble-esque mixing of colors and textures that feels like smoking DMT while getting DDT’d.
“This is not just a phase,” he says. “There are phases in life, and this is not a phase. This is something that's a part of me. So whether I show it or not, I'll always be doing it.”