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South End Artist Trades Art For Smiles

A New Jersey doctor walked into his office last week and saw a painting with a cryptic message unexpectedly sitting in his waiting room. And that's exactly the point of South End artist Bren Bataclan's "Smile Project."

A mysterious painting left at a New Jersey doctor’s office had the exact effect on its un-expecting recipient that the artist who painted it wanted – it made the doctor who found it smile.

When chiropractor Dr. Mike Evangel walked into the waiting room of his Ramsay, NJ office last Friday morning, he found something that had not been there the night before – a painting of a cute white dog looking up at him.

“I didn’t know what it was,” he said. Then, he saw the note that was attached to it, which read ‘this painting is yours if you promise to smile at random people more often.’

“Actually, I thought it was kind of cryptic and weird at first,” Evangel said. “But, I looked up the painting’s artist, and I realized it must have been left there on purpose.”

Leaving his uplifting paintings in random spots across the globe is what South End-based artist Bren Bataclan does best.

“I always wanted to do street art, but I’m definitely not the kind of person who could draw graffiti on a building or anything like that” said Bataclan, who works out of his South End studio at 59 Wareham St. “Ten years ago, I thought painting my characters [on canvases] and leaving them at some random places throughout Boston would be my version of street art.”

Bataclan called his idea ‘Project Smile,’ asking the surprised recipients to pay forward the happiness they felt when finding the pieces of art.

When Boston Magazine found one of the paintings and wrote a story about Project Smile, Bataclan said it inspired him to grow the simple idea into a bigger endeavor than he’d ever imagined. After Katie Couric featured his story on the CBS Evening News in 2009, the effort became global.

Now, the artist and his band of friends and fans have left more than 800 paintings in 30 states and over 50 countries.

For his 10th anniversary this year, Bataclan said his goal is to get to all 50 states.

Dr. Evangel’s office was his first drop in New Jersey.

“My sister-in-law actually lives in the area, so it’s weird that I haven’t left a painting there before,” he said. When he saw his sister-in-law this past Christmas, he gave her a pile of his paintings and asked her to drop them off at random places in the area. Though he’s not positive, Bataclan said he’s pretty sure she’s the one who chose the doc as a lucky artwork recipient.

“Finding it was definitely a good experience,” Dr. Evangel told Patch. “You see so many bad things happening in the news, it can be depressing. But, when you see someone do something out of the goodness of his heart like this, it helps renew your faith in humanity.”

And yes, the chiropractor said the painting – which his wife and six-year-old son love and is now hanging in his home’s guest bedroom - did make him smile.

Bataclan, who is kicking off a donation drive to fund his 20-state drop-off goal, said he is always happy to learn of people being unexpectedly affected by Project Smile.

“I have the best job in the world, making people smile,” he said. “I wouldn’t change that for anything.”

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