by Kenda Story
"We've contributed to more than we have been given credit for,"
says artist Michael Anthony Brown, whose work gives him the voice
to express the struggles of African-Americans in this country.
The political and spiritual statements in his artwork don't attempt
to explain what African-Americans have not been acknowledged for,
but they show the vitality of the people.
"My work shows the beauty that I see in, amongst and through
black people," he says. "It shows the various strengths
that have allowed us to go through what we've been through."
Paintings such as "Kiss
the Sky" and "A
Flower's Song" demonstrate Brown's fascinating use of
subliminal figures in his works. In "Kiss the Sky,"
for example, there are hundreds of people hidden in the rocks,
the water and the sky who represent the former slaves the courageous
Harriet Tubman led to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The
freedom fighter's face blends into the painting's soft blue sky
and beautiful greenery background, the rocks and mountains form
her shoulders and the stream forms the scarf around her neck.
A bronzed archer, at the center of the painting, represents freedom
and stands for those who loved and admired Tubman. Her story touched
Brown's heart, as it did most Americans.
"A Flower's Song" focuses on cultural exploration and
cultural revelation, and follows the same pattern as "Kiss
the Sky." Brown even includes a legend of 20 items, including
a Ghanaian Akwaba doll lying on its back and an Egyptian scribe
recording events, hidden in the illustration.
"A Flower's Song"
The visionary poetic tribute to Tubman didn't come by chance, but
as a result of Brown's intense study of the African-American culture.
He even had the honor of traveling to Egypt 11 years ago to apply
his research. He says that he was unaware of the grandiosity of
Giza; especially the sight of the Great Pyramid. "It's about
45 stories high the equivalent of the Washington Monument,"
Brown says it was amazing. I did my research, we are a great people."
"Kiss the Sky"
Other works including "Celestial
Child," which delicately captures the innocence of a
child, and "Olu, "also
known as "the brother," symbolize the beauty of
life. The child's locked hair, soft ebony skin and captivating
eyes her purity, and the light shining from her heart illustrates
the pureness that is found in children. "Olu" represents
the strength and spirit of the African warrior. Brown painted
"Olu" in hopes of rekindling the fighting spirit of
the Nuba people of Sudan.
Just as 40-year-old Brown chooses to bring the public inside
his work he also believes that people can learn from the essence
"When we can communicate nonverbally, at its best, art can
inspire," he adds. His live for art began as a youngster
when he began doodling in comic books. At 12 years old, one of
his teachers recommended that he attend an artists workshop for
high school students. Unfortunately, he was turned away and told
that he was to young. Then a year later, the same person who rejected
his application allowed him to attend the workshop. While in high
school, he received several artists awards and sold original landscape
paintings on the streets of Washington, D.C. He graduated from
the School of the Arts at Western (currently the Duke Ellington
School of Arts) and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Now some 20 years later, Brown, who without inhibitions of style
is captivating people worldwide.
"I do the opposite of what I was taught in school,"
says Brown, who explained that artists are generally taught to
have a framework for each piece of work. Also he disagrees with
the teaching that artists don't have to be good business people
to make it in the art market. "The art market is a business
," he says. "If you're a good business person (and an
artist), you'll be a good artist." Also he asserts that "art
students are failing students if they don't teach them that there's
more to art than painting and carving."
As a result of Brown's confidence and persistence, he continues
to challenge himself. He even began sculpting nearly three years
ago, and received a remarkable response from his most recent sculpture
"The Call of
Freedom," which make its debut at the New York Art Expo
in March. The attractive three-foot high structure is of an African
warrior playing a huge elephant tusk horn, which is leafed in
23 karat gold. The
sculpture traces the African experience from the building of the
pyramids, through sub-Saharan Africa, the middle passage, slavery,
the Civil War and emancipation.
"I'm happy to finally be sculpting," says Brown, who
also carves jewelry for four independent jewelers in Washington,
He says that black art is as fine as any art that has existed
and black artist make up only one-tenth of their white counterparts.
And in Brown's own words, "It's unacceptable!"
"The Call of Freedom"
Originally published in October 1998. Reprinted with the permission
of Upscale, "The World's Finest African-American Magazine"