"Olu"

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 of art.

"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, DC

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"
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