Frida Kahlo, the famed 1930s Mexican artist known for her signature self-portraits, turned to art after a bad traffic accident that left her injured. She isolated herself from people and began painting these portraits as a way to keep her mind active.
Much like Frida Kahlo, Brittney Palmer, former UFC Octagon Girl and Playboy cover model, found herself in a horrible car accident at 21-years-old that rendered her body inoperable for months. During that time, she picked up a paintbrush and started expressing the faces of her favorite icons on canvas.
Eight years later, Brittney is now an esteemed artist with her first solo show on the verge of catalyzing an incredible new horizon. MiLLENNiAL caught up with Brittney at her Hollywood studio to learn how she transitioned from a UFC spokesmodel to a pop-art sensation.
Ring Around the Octagon, Pocket Full of Poses
Born in San Diego, raised in Las Vegas, Brittney tells us that as a girl, she liked to get into trouble. And in a place like “Sin City” being bad wasn’t hard to achieve. At 16, however, her life would change forever when her father passed away.
Reacting like any rebellious teenager, Brittney lashed out and further escalated her misbehavior. “But then you have that ‘come to Jesus’ moment, where he would want me to be better. I straightened my life out when I was a senior in high school,” she explains, even joining the Varsity Debate team.
By the time graduation came around, her grades weren’t good enough to apply for a scholarship to college. So rather than taking out student loans, Brittney found work as a dancer on The Strip to support herself.
“I was dancing at the V theatre as a magician’s assistant. Then I was cast to be an X girl in the X Burlesque show at the Flamingo.” Being a Vegas dancer, Brittney had several talent agents and was quickly cast as the ring girl for World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), the lighter weight class of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
When Zuffa, the same parent company of the UFC, bought WEC in 2006, Brittney was brought over to become the UFC Octagon Girl. Her popularity among viewers exploded when she hit the scene. At the same time, she was working three jobs, seven days a week, and as she puts it, “just saving, saving, saving.”
But as fate would have it, she was T-boned in a car accident just three years into her career. Instead of choosing to view the situation as a setback, Brittney used her time in recovery to fuel a passion that had been burning in her for years.
The Calling that Brittney Palmer Couldn’t Ignore
It wasn’t until Brittney was forced to take time off from work that she realized her love for painting. She had always had a knack for art, but this was the first time she could dedicate her full attention to developing her talent.
Back in 2008, she started posting photos of her art on Twitter. “My paintings were horrible. I was painting Jimi Hendrix, and yet my fans were saying they loved it, and asking where they could buy it.” That’s when she realized she could turn her passion for creating art into a career. This obsession even led her to taking more time off from work just to paint.
Her yearning to go to art school was fueled by the amount of buzz generated on Twitter about her paintings. In 2010, Brittney decided it was time to migrate to the city that would enable her to pursue a modeling career while also embracing her life as a painter: Los Angeles.
Although still working with the UFC, Brittney attended UCLA’s Art School with the intention of becoming a classically trained artist. And with the social influence she had amassed through UFC (today she has close to 1 million fans on Instagram), Brittney was subconsciously positioning her artistry to a large, existing audience.
The Fourth Wave Feminist Movement
It’s not easy making the transition from a career based on exploiting your looks to one that exhibits beauty on a canvas. Brittney has certainly received her fair share of stigmas in the cross over, but surprisingly, received a lot of support from her female fans.
According to her Instagram analytics, her following is evenly split between men and women. The female engagement and positive response to her work reflects a new era of feminism, known as the Fourth Wave. This next generation of feminism is defined by technology, which has enabled women to empower themselves and each other through prevailing online support groups.
An entrepreneur at heart, Brittney has capitalized on her influence by self-producing and selling a swimsuit calendar to her fans. To those that believe a line needs to be drawn between brains and beauty, Brittney insists there is no need to create division between the two worlds. “We should be able to do whatever it is we want to do and if that means it crosses a line, then so be it.”
She likens her artistic use of sexually provocative expression to that of drawing nude subjects. “When I went to art school, I took figure drawing and figure painting classes…it’s the same thing except I was on the other side of the canvas.”
Living a Life Through Color
Inspired by Andy Warhol and some of her counterculture musical heroes, Brittney naturally gravitates to faces. She tells us she can’t remember names to save her life, but will always remember someone’s face.
Her title show, “I Remember Faces”, set to debut in Hollywood, CA November 5, 2016 is a series of 21 colorful faces – some that are instantly recognizable and others that are nameless but convey strong emotion.
The use of neon color is particularly signature to Brittney’s technique. Before this recent collection of pop-art idolization, she had only painted in black and white. Admittedly, this was a result of being in a bad marriage. “I started painting these colors in the middle of that relationship. It was the prettiest brightest part about those years.”
While her day-to-day life seemed mundane, she was able to live a life of color through her art. “Some of my most beautiful pieces were made in some of my darkest times,” she says. Her paintings act as a reminder to see the color and feel the beauty in each and every day.
“There are something about the faces that I choose…they are happy,” she says looking at a Charles Bukowski painting sitting on her easel. “I want you to leave my show, after looking at the art, feeling good.”
The Girl Beyond the Glam
As if she wasn’t hot enough, Brittney is also a tomboy– a girl who loves to surf, skateboard and snowboard, and unabashedly loves wearing her Vans. On any given day in the studio, you’ll find Brittney Palmer, barefaced and curly haired.
It’s this attitude and identity that led to her collaboration with motorcycle company, Thunder Road. The business that partnered with the Easy Riders themselves, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, back in 1999 has since become an L.A. establishment known for some of the coolest custom bikes.
With vintage 70s flare reflected in their designs, it only makes sense that Brittney would partner with them for her upcoming show. The collaborative effort will feature a Thunder Road motor hood and matching helmet painted by Brittney.
“Art should never pander. It should always elevate.” While she is not certain which direction she will take next, she does inform us that she is particularly passionate about politics and may begin to use her art as a platform for political statements.
If you are in the LA area during the month of November, be sure to check out Brittney’s exhibit at the Artist Corner Gallery on Highland Ave. in Hollywood. You can also catch her exhibit at Art Basel in Miami this December.
For more information on Brittney Palmer go to her website and be sure to follow her on Instagram where you can learn about her latest work.