"It finally got to a point where I said, 'If I'm going to work this hard and be this broke, I at least want to be happy.' So I started struggling to get back to my artwork."

The artist calls his 1991 circular oil on canvas a "tranquil, lush landscape" with a waterfall that gently flows into a pond. Delicate fuchsia orchids in the foreground, and a woman playing a lute-like instrument sits upon a rock.

The painting, however, is laden with a multitude of different images, masterfully concealed."It's layered with 21 different historical and culturally significant African-American images that are hidden throughout the landscape," Mr. Brown says. "The face of the first Pharaoh of Egypt is present, along with praying hands and an Egyptian sphinx, to name a few."


Stars and Stripes

Another example is displayed in "Celestial Child." The painting is a colorful mosaic celebrating the innocence and purity of children. In this 1994 painting , the prominent image is the face of a little girl surrounded by a rainbow of animals, birds, fish and flowers.

A light emanates from her heart, and she holds what Mr. Brown describes as a "new world" in her hand.

The scene, he says, was taken from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. Passages talk of a time of harmony among all creatures and the leadership of a child.

Inside the folds of the girl's dress, he explains, the wrinkles form the words "A Love Supreme." The design, he says, is based upon the yin-and-yang symbol of balance and harmony.

An avid reader who is something of a history buff, the 6-foot-5 artist draws inspiration from black history. His mentors aren't other artists but black historians, such as Yosef Ben-Jochannan, J.A. Rogers and Cheikh Anta Diop

Perhaps his most controversial painting came in 1992: "Stars and Stripes." It salutes a slave named Gordon who escaped from a Mississippi plantation to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War.

One of the pictures in a series of three photos that appeared in Harper's Weekly on July 4, 1863, shows the escaped slave's back riddled with whip marks.

"That image struck me; it stayed with me," Mr. Brown says. "I got the idea to rearrange the random whip marks on his back into the American flag, and then above the figure I added part of the Declaration of Independence, which fades as it reaches the figure," he says.

In Mr. Brown's painting, the slave Gordon wears a shackle with four links on his left wrist.

"Each link represents 100 years that Africans struggled against the institution of slavery," Mr. Brown says. "Even though this man has the whip marks on his back, he is still a strong figure.

"He still holds his head high, and there is an overwhelming air of dignity and grace."

Mr. Brown says he's gotten mixed reactions to "Stars and Stripes." Some have cried viewing it, while others back away from his historical interpretation. He sold the original 4-by5 foot oil to a local collector.

 

In his spacious Northwest studio, Mr. Brown is painting "Kiss the Sky," his romantic tribute to Harriet Tubman, who conducted the underground railroad before the Civil War. The artist plans to weave 300 figures into the painting in recognition, he says, of the slaves Tubman helped escape.

"She risked her life and her freedom to emancipate other people, and those actions must not go unrewarded," he says.

"This is may way of paying tribute to her courage and self-sacrifice."

When he's not painting, Mr. Brown is exhibiting his artwork. Since February he has exhibited at the Artist's Salute to Black History Month in Los Angeles; the biennial National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta; the Education of the Black Child National Conference in Manchester, England; and Bahia '94, a jazz and arts festival in Bahia, Brazil.

"My artwork is so far paying the bills," Mr. Brown says, "and it's taking me around the world."

"Copyright @ 1994 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of The Washington times"

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A Flower's Song

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