FORGING BLACK


the art of Michael Anthony Brown

by Eli Kince
Every year, across the country, we are experiencing an increasing number of black art expos added to the roster of "must do" cultural events. These expos and art shows create opportunities for uncounted thousands to view creative works for artist across the country, and for artist to meet their public. In past economical and cultural climates, many a great talent would lay dormant, their artistic gifts transferred to other aspects of life in order to make a living. But this new cultural environment is a blessing to us all. It allows the artist to grow artistically and financially, allowing the artist to become and remain independent and true in their pursuit of their artistic dreams and standards.

This article is about Michael Brown, a multitalented artist who has worked independently for nearly three decades. Practicing art since the age of seven, his work has grown and transformed over the years. Michael Brown began art classes at age of 12, having been accepted in a "gifted" class in spite of being below the required age of 15. Before he was eight, he "was drawing cartoons and comic books", He came fully into the art experience during the sixties which was explosive with black pride. He genuinely loves art, all art, and hates to separate art by color, "black or white". A native of Washington D.C., he graduated form whit is now the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and Maryland Institute College of Art. He completed his graduate work at Howard University. His works have been featured in major museums and galleries nationally and internationally, including England, Haiti and Brazil.

Although Mr. Brown has an extensive training in realism he prefers to combine his realist skills with surrealistic ideas. Salvador Dali, Roger Dean and Frank Frazetta are his inspirations. M.C. Escher was the most amazing of his influences, the precision and the highly mathematical illusions of Escher's work reminding him of Islamic artwork. He felt it was traditionally African in nature. He believes that because the Islamic culture could not produce the human figure to go into their homes, they transferred and combined art in science into their patterns. Brown also draws inspiration from Egyptian stylization and traditional African artwork carvings and patterns and was influenced in his landscapes by artist, Robert Duncanson and in the richness in pride of Charles White. His paintings are full and lush historical dreamscapes that are subtly laden with cu;cultural images from our ancestral past.

Although trained as a realist he has found that his exposure to African history, our heritage, and the spiritual is releasing him from previous concepts and boundaries. He is pushing himself to look at the limits of those boundaries. Money, he feels, has ruined more good art than any thing else he can think of. He understands how black expos and shows help artists to make money, but the focus of his life is the work. "Some people just love art. They are visually stimulated, much like those who love music." But Mr. Brown's paintings and collages can be the subject of another article; the focus of this article will be his sculptures.

Michael Brown's three-dimensional works are truly magnificent. His control of the medium and the ability to capture life in inanimate objects, takes his work beyond that of looking at art work to that of having a visual experience. The figures in his sculpture suggest a moment just missed and another about to happen. a tension is felt in the twist of the anatomy that can tighten the viewers own muscles. Magical, logical, practical and impossible are the words that simultaneously run through my imagination as I view his works. There is a confidence in his forms that takes on the challenge of realism and meets it head on, courageously and UN-compromised.

From the twists of the toes to the arch of the head, from the expression on the faces to the subtle and pronounced muscular contortions, I feel his pieces.

Beyond the life and energy within Michael Brown's work, there is an aesthetic quality that goes beyond visually pleasing to beautiful. His work borders on haunting, suggesting encased spirits and souls locked into an eternal moment in time, and captured for our benefit. The ease in which his figures suggest movement reveals a perfectionist and the weightlessness that his work appears to have is seldom achieved without the dedication of genius.

But Michael Brown was not always able to practice his craft as a pure fine artist. His three-dimensional work began while he was in college, where he produced carvings for jewelers on demand. They make a request for certain images and he produced it for them to sell. After numerous trips to the museums he fell in love with sculpture and began to create them but he would have to wait for years before he could cast his first piece. He still has uncasted sculpture that is thirty years old. At first, the cost of creating bronze pieces was greater than his love for creating them. Eventually, when he had enough money to make his first cast, he "jumped in with both feet" to see what was possible, and to see what he could do. His first piece, Call to Freedom, is of a warrior blowing an ankiden, a horn used in West Africa to call people together.

Michael explains "these horns where carved out of different material, some where slit wood that was hollowed out and wrapped with skins to make these long horns. Some where carved out of ivory. The delicate royal horns tended to be carved from ivory or more precise material and could be decorated innately so. This horn represented a ivory tusk that had been carved. What I did was carve our history on it." He continued, "Normally ivory is carved with ornamental patterns and individual lineage. What I have done is to combine those two and our experience. It is a statement of our collective history. The horn starts in the Nile valley. Around the mouthpiece, there are pyramid builders and pharaohs as it moves to sub-Saharan to Africa. There's kings and queens through the Middle Passage though slavery to the Civil War and culminates in the Emancipation at the crown of the horn."

Michael Brown believes that the African Americans are sleeping giants and that greatness will always produce greatness. He also "believes that in this society we get pigeon holed into sections", but feels art is a wonderful medium for expression. When working, he "doesn't know what will come out of the process when he produces apiece", but he works to maintain the courage to continually produce his best.

Originally published in November 1999. Copyright (c) 2000 by QBR the black Book review, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for not-for-profit use only with proper credit to author and QBR the black book Review and use of this entire credit caption including website url For other permission, please contact QBR The Black Book Review (www.qbr.com).
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