"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."
Another example is displayed in
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
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,"
"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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