Local artist Michael Brown shown here in his Northwest studio, weaves cultural, historical and spiritual images into his works. The in-progress "Kiss the Sky" (above) is his tribute to Harriet Tubman, and "Celestial Child" (below) is based on text from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah.
The history behind the art

By Denise Barnes
The Washington Times

Artist Michael Brown draws you into his paintings, creating serene and tranquil scenes -- crystal-clear waterfalls cascading over massive rock formations, lush greenery and azure skies.

But look closer. Beneath the vibrantly colored compositions lie myriad cultural, historical and spiritual images.

"My work is dedicated to the preservation of a rich legacy of African-American culture." The artist says. "Images come through us, not necessarily from us.

"My images flow from clear pools of pride and self-knowledge in hopes of waking the greatness sleeping in us all."

The D.C. native's work is the epitome of what he describes as "Afro-Surreal" -- a combination of realism, abstractions, and historical and cultural images.


Celestial Child

 

Recently there's been a renaissance in black literature, dance, film and the visual arts, including drawing, printmaking, sculpture and painting. Increasingly more attention, as in recent "Time magazine story, is zeroing in on the contributions of black artists. And Mr. Brown welcomes more to join the parade.

"Do not let anyone tell you that as an artist you can't make a livelihood creating artwork -- that artists are starving," Mr. Brown says with emphasis. "That may have held true at one point in history, but that's no longer the case. One's path is seldom smooth, straight and downhill. It usually twists and turns and rocks. But it's worth the trip."

 

Mr. Brown who grew up in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast, knew from an early age that art was his life. In elementary school he drew colorful dramatic comic-book heroes such as Thor and Superman. (It gave him and his friends something interesting to do with their time, he says.)

He went on to graduate in the first class of the School for the Arts at Western in Northwest (now the Duke Ellington School of the Arts).

"It was the greatest experience of my life," Mr. Brown says of his high school years. "We not only loved what we were doing, it was as fertile an environment for an aspiring artist as one could imagine.

'There is an old African proverb that says, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will do' I was fortunate -- I knew early exactly what I wanted to do."

He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and then did graduate work at Howard University only to cut those studies short to go professional.

To make extra money while pursuing his painting, he started several businesses -- including Cultural Circles, an artsy enterprise in which Mr. Brown make pin-on buttons and badges.

Finally, after an "arduous" three year period, he completed a painting , "A Flower's Song."

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