Iowa artist pushed through childhood pain to put rappers’ faces on spray paint cans

Rap music was an act of rebellion for central New York kids in the late 1990s. Brian Conran was an active participant.

“The small town and kind of collective of counties that I grew up in is like 99% white so hip-hop, graffiti, all those things were very taboo,” Conran, 31, told the Des Moines Register.

Now, the Des Moines artist is drawing crowds of his own for paintings of rappers and hip-hop artists on spray paint cans. Conran’s work is taking center stage in the Des Moines art scene as the world celebrated 50 years of hip-hop in 2023.

Brian Conran is a Des Moines artist known for painting rappers on graffiti cans and other forms of contemporary art.

Conran found escape from childhood struggles in rap music, hip-hop

In the early 2000s, Conran’s dad left. His world changed, but he coped by listening to rap music and hip-hop. Artists like Eminem, Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent and Ludacris carried him through the grief of growing up without his father, James.

His stepdad listened to AC/DC, Pink Floyd and Metallica. Conran’s mom enjoyed Phil Collins and Alanis Morissette. Conran didn’t have older siblings, but his friend’s brothers introduced him to the rap genre. He loved the genre’s lyricism, storytelling and wordplay. To him, it represented creativity.

Des Moines artist Brian Conran puts paintings of rappers and hip-hop artists onto graffiti cans.

“(My hometown) was very backwoods, and my mom was like, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. But we love people,’ which is why I felt like I should be able to listen to hip-hop,” Conran said.

After high school, Conran developed an issue with drinking, so his mom sent him to Iowa. He reunited with his dad, who also struggled with alcohol dependency, but had sobered up at the time in Des Moines.

Partly-covered cans by Des Moines artist Brian Conran.

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“My mom was like, you’re 18 and you’re drinking. Go figure it out with your dad. My dad figured it out. That was cool,” Conran said.

Then, Conran met his wife and moved back to the East Coast. In 2014, his son was born. In May of 2019, the family moved back to Iowa. Later, the family welcomed a daughter.

How Brian Conran became a Des Moines artist during 50th anniversary of hip-hop

Two years ago, Conran lost his dad. But they reconnected once again before his death.

After moving to Iowa, Conran began creating art to ease stress from his full-time job. He started businesses such as streetwear and lifestyle brands. Those failed.

Then, in May 2023, Conran sold his art pieces at The Move 6, a Des Moines market that is the brainchild of local rapper and philanthropist Billy “B.Well” Weathers.

“Selling myself as, you know, Brian Conran the artist started at The Move ’til now,” Conran said.

He has since appeared at several local markets. Conran paints rappers he listened to growing up, such as Ludacris and Wu-Tang Clan, onto spray paint cans.

He also painted icons Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg using colors such as red, green, yellow and orange. He draws details of the rappers onto the spray-painted cans with white and black paint markers.

Brian Conran can finally ‘take a breath’ in art, life after struggles

Creating the graffiti cans can take hours, but Conran enjoys the process of art.

The self-proclaimed perfectionist will throw out a canvas and start from the beginning. Drawing and painting, he says, are like getting a tattoo.

“Getting a tattoo hurts, doesn’t matter what anyone tells you. It hurts, but at the end of it, when you look cool or whatever it may be looks cool and (is) finished and done, the idea that’s in your head is finally out for other people to see,” he said.

As a child, Conran listened to rap to escape. Now, as an adult, he creates art to do the same.

Brian Conran draws Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z on painted graffiti cans.

How to find Brian Conran’s graffiti, murals and digital art

Website: thebrianconran.wixsite.com

Instagram:@thebrianconran

Contact: conran.art@gmail.com

Jay Stahl is an entertainment reporter at The Des Moines Register. Follow him on Instagram or reach out at jstahl@gannett.com.

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