|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
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.