Casey Milbrand is not only a respected artist, he’s a friend of Buffalo. Casey’s readily identifiable works have an undeniable Buffalo flavor that sets them apart from the rest. Not only are his murals typically rainbow-bright, they are also rallying flags that we can all get behind (and in front of).
I love sitting down with Casey to talk shop. He’s such a character, which is another reason that he’s so good for Buffalo. He has the ability of brightening up your day, with his energy, his laugh, his sense of humor, and his passion for his art.
Casey is also a traveler, who visits other cities in search of inspiration. I think that’s really important for him, to fuel his drive to create. Buffalo might not have the greatest mural scene out there, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was a couple of years ago, in part to Casey’s contributions.
During a recent chat with Casey, we discussed his latest creation – “I Just Want You To Know Who I am.” Of course this is a lyric from the GooGoo Dolls’ song, Iris – just about any Buffalonian could tell you that.
Casey told me that he started thinking about this mural concept a couple of years ago. Following his typography theme, he set out to create (another) mural that he felt Buffalonians would connect with. “I was in a store, and I heard Iris playing on the radio,” Casey explained. “It was an ‘aha! moment.’ I thought about the GooGoo Dolls, being from the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, and felt that it deserved a mural. So I sent a message out to the band, and Robby got back to me ten minutes later. He loved the idea. So did Johnny Rzeznik.”
Next, Casey needed to find the perfect wall, which is not always easy. Eventually, he came across an owner of a building, kitty corner to the Broadway Market, who was looking to paint some building details. Not big enough, thought Casey. But after some back and forths, the decision was made to canvas a 70′ wide wall with an 18′ tall mural. Yes, that would make a statement.
Next, Casey needed a sponsor.
Milbrand stresses that this mural project did not magically happen overnight and involved a lot of community groups and people for which he is grateful.
A few years ago The Broadway Fillmore NHS received a grant from Dave Francyzk for $4,000, while Fillmore Forward sought and received a $5,000 grant from Erie County while Barbara Miller-Williams was county legislator. This funding was specifically for a mural in the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. The final mural was part of an interconnected series of negotiations involving 976 Broadway, 959 Broadway & 662 Fillmore (the former Schreiber Brewery) and was part of the closing argument for getting the Schreiber Brewery sold to Buffalo Brewing Company. The mural landed in its perfect location on local business owner Loran Bommer’s building at 982 Broadway Avenue, thanks to the efforts of Stephen Karnath, who is the executive director of Broadway-Fillmore NHS. Loran Bommer not only donated the wall, he also contributed $3,200 towards its restoration and surface prep work. Councilman Mitch Nowakowski loved the mural idea and donated the final $3,000 to the project.
Despite the pandemic, Casey was undeterred to accomplish the mural, from soup to nuts. He sketched it for over the course of a year, put all of the logistics together during that time, and then painted it in three weeks.
“While I was painting, cars would pass by and people would shout out their windows, who are you?” said Casey. “At first, I thought they wanted to know who I was [laughing]. Then I realized that is was the mural – they were having fun and joking… ‘I Just Want You To Know Who I Am.‘ It was very funny. But I loved that people were engaged, and interacting with me and the mural. When I finished the mural, I started getting messages from GooGoo Dolls fans from all over the world, who wanted to come to Buffalo to see the wall in person.”
Casey said that more than anything else, he wanted to capture the feeling of the song… and Buffalo. “It’s that feeling when I was young and I saw the GooGoo Dolls play in front of City Hall in the rain. To me, the mural represents who we are… I want people to relate. I love this neighborhood – I have met so many people since I started this project. I want them to feel good about the mural, and feel that everyone has something special in them. That’s why I’ve always loved the super hero look. It’s like I can step through the mural and be transported back to that rainy day in front of City Hall. That’s what it’s all about.”
Photos and drone video by Scott Balzer