From photo, to sketch, to a visual narrative, with fine artist: Michael F. Brown
I was born into ART, exposed to it since my earliest memory. I have 10 siblings, six brothers and four sisters. A great deal many of them were artist. They created their own toys, paper dolls and car replications of my mother’s station wagon, created comic books starring their friends & them and just a very creative bunch. I was inspired by all of the artistry I was exposed to the start of my childhood. I was hooked by it, overwhelmed with visual beauty and creativity like I had ever known, and WOWED by my brother’s and sister’s imagination for telling stories vocally as well as visual.
I was raised in this imaginary world or bubble, you may say, where I could believe anything I wanted and had an idyllic childhood. I was protected by my family fiercely so I knew no abuse. The older siblings were not so lucky, they knew too much about sexual abuse within the family, therefore, comedy was our other way of dealing with the harsh realities of life. Generally, the bigger the family, the more likely there is some kind of abuse taking place. I was born at the right time and in the right order with the right family. I was given a rare gift where I was allowed to grow up naturally without any undue interferes from the outside world. No child knows that kind of innocence anymore. I stayed ignorant to the darkness and sexual deviance of the world for as long as humanly possible. My brothers and sisters, each of them showed me some different aspect of art and how to express myself with it. The sisters sang around the house and exposed me to music of all kinds and one sister aspired to be a fashion designer made all these drawings of women I saw and loved.
When I was a boy, because my mother and sisters had such a strong influence on me, I drew women first and only! Wonder Woman I was fascinated by, obsessed with, actually. I didn’t get into the manly stuff and drawings until much later in my career as an artist, I drew the exact opposite of the things that were expected of a boy to draw, so early on, my sexuality was questioned. Sadly as children, we are forced to live out our gender roles in a very strict and cold way. Think about it, from the minute we are born, we are put in blue colors for boys and pink for girls, immediately we are conditioned to conform to society’s gender constraints. Boys play and draw guy things like soldiers and manly things like trucks, cars and footballs, soccer ball shit. While girls were forced to focus on girly things like dolls, jewelry and pretty things. Well I never followed the rules on that crap, which made me an odd ball and ripe for bullying! I learned how to use my art to not only get people’s attention but as my main voice for expressing myself. Soon, I wanted nothing else than to be an artist. My later high school years, junior and senior year was spent at a trade school called South County Tech where I took up commercial arts and graduated top of the class. By my senior year, my teacher felt he had nothing else to teach me so he allowed me to run a business out of the class room where I filled out art orders for students and teachers. I got the taste for running my own business as a freelance artist early, so I have been in business since high school 90′ to 2017′, that’s over 27 years now, professionally! I had my first professional art show in St.Louis about 20 years ago called Portfolio Gallery.
This January (2018), I have a retrospective show there along with 20 other artist to celebrate Portfolio’s almost three decades in the art business and all the artist it has featured over the years. It will be a full circle moment for me, going back to my roots. Portfolio Gallery sold the building it did business at some years back so the celebration and exhibit called the ALL COLORS will take place at the St.Louis Artist Guild 12 North Jackson Avenue, Clayton, Missouri 63105. The owner of the Portfolio Gallery, Robert A. Powell who gave me my first shot at a professional gallery art show is best friends with my brother Sylvester Brown, Jr., they are founders of a charity that supports and mentors at risk youth in the urban communities of North St.Louis that teach young folks how to raise sweet potatoes and market them for a self-sustainable community called the Sweet Potato Project. I will have three art pieces at this exhibit where a portion of the sells will go to that project.
My older brother Sylvester Brown, whose most of the family calls Jr., was the biggest influence on me in the ARTs. He was the family’s first entrepreneur who ran his own paper called ‘Take Five’! I didn’t understand at the time why he didn’t want to work for someone else until later on when I had the taste of being my own boss, now I know no other way to be. Jr. is a successful writer and motivational speaker living in St.Louis, but before he was book an author, ghost writer and columnist for the St.Louis Post… he was an extraordinary visual artist. I wanted my art to look like his — realistic and spectacular! Out of all my brothers who were all excellent, natural visual artist, Jr set the template for the career I follow now. Truth is, I don’t remember when I started creating ART because as far back as I can remember the self, ART was there!
My Artistic Process:
I always start with a complete sketch, I call it a ‘bone sketch’ because it’s basic lines before the details are put in, that’s the fun part. Without the bones of the drawing, the rest of the piece will not hold up, proportionally or otherwise. How long it takes to complete a piece depends on the size and my mood. I generally take no more than eight hours on the average to start and finish a piece, broken up over a day or two. The bigger pieces take a week or two to complete.
My style of art is taken from photos. As a kid I always tried to make the drawings i did as realistic as possible. It was a game I played with myself to get the most realistic rendering i could possibly get the ‘Draw What U See’ game. In the beginning it was about copying and duplicating what I saw in magazines and other artist’s work, but like all things, I evolved into something more than copying other artist’s ideas on paper. That gets boring after a while and then like all true artist of being inspired by other’s work, seeks to find their own voice in the art world, to arrive at a point where he/she has to look within and be inspired from the inside out to properly express oneself as an artist should. A great quote by the amazing Nina Simone I love to remember is: ‘You can’t help it, as far as I’m concerned, an artist duty is to reflect the times.”
What I Look For — The Story:
The root to all my drawings is there has to be some element of reality in the photo or I won’t draw it. There has to be some basic truth to every photo I decide to draw from or what’s the point? One of my biggest influences, outside of family, to my art… is Norman Rockwell. I was in my late 20’s when a close friend brought over a thick book of Norman Rockwell’s masterpieces over the decades of his art career. I stayed up all night looking through this book documenting all of his pieces and I was transfixed and then transformed as an artist when I finished looking through that book. He told such stories through his illustrations that were masterful yet it seemed so effortless for him to have done, so simple in concept and his delivery of the subjects he drew.
The Influence of Orlando’s:
I got into photography and started taking photos of some of the kids that were servers I used to work with at this catering company called Orlando’s, it was the last legitimate job I had for six years before I started to grow in a different direction, career wise. The Orlando’s will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary, I was their main dishwasher back in the day. It was a nice cushy job and I was able to work on ideas for my art effortlessly because the job was simple to do and I was isolated in my own section which was my dish station. Since sites Facebook has exploded on the scene where people share their personal photos and stories online, it is the ideal place to get inspiration and ideas for countless drawings. For instance the drawings at the bottom are of a friend named Jerome who made a film of his journey through addiction and getting clean. He sent me still frames of some of the pics I requested to draw from. Jerome was able to stay clean but passed away in his sleep some years ago. The drawings of him and his story remains! That is what I LOVE about ART…it is able to immortalize a moment in time that life can not!
Next few drawings are of some of the kids at Orlando’s that I drew and based the photos I took on their personal stories. Toby, the boy in the center of three, was only 17-years-old when I lost him through a car accident. It’s because of Toby that I came to Kansas City. His sister and I became real close and when the tide was changing in St.Louis for me after my mom passed away in late 2003, she provided a fresh start for me in 2004, I took it and rebooted my life in Kansas City, best decision I ever made! ‘How Fragile We Are’ is the name of Toby’s piece.
The Inspiration of Nina Simone:
Nina Simone was another big influence…her music and passion for what she sung about. I learned about this musical icon through a movie called ‘Point of No Return’ where the character talks about Nina and plays some of her music in the film. Her haunting voice mesmerized me. Her battle with bi-polar as well as the overwhelming racism in her lifetime that she found to be stifling to her. Her and anger and down right rage she expressed so eloquently and volatile at times too. She could be unpredictable and moody, you got what you got from her when she wanted to give it to you, great, excellent, bad and down right ugly behavior, but always HUMAN! One of the most personal pieces to date was the ‘Enough We Matter’ piece that inspired me to draw after the murder of Mike Brown, HE HAD MY NAME, you can’t get more personal than that without experiences it first hand! This troubled black boy that was shot several times by the police (over kill) and left for dead on the streets of Ferguson like a piece of rotten meat. A dog would have gotten more respect than that boy had. It sparked a rage in me about decades of brutality and racism by the system toward black folks. Still one of my favorite and most personal of pieces.
‘UR Not Alone’ is another great piece that I dealt with LGBT matters that need to be addressed in our society. A talented kid who shot himself, Luis Shmoo came up with the photo but I wanted to address the sexuality coming of age thing, so I made his shirt into a rainbow, a familiar symbol to the pride of the LGBT community. A friend that passed away in his sleep from a heart condition purchased that piece and was proudly framed and displayed in his home till his untimely death. His name was Jack Freedman. He was a Warner Brothers lawyer turned writer whose story went viral some years back when he famously came out to his father in a letter that was later published. His book is due to come out sometime this month. He was working on the editing and rewrite process before he passed. A drawing I did of his grandmother who he refers to as Baba will be featured in his upcoming book ‘The Heart Thing’. She unfortunately has outlived Jack, she is 102 yrs old. He was also into collecting clocks so as a tribute to him, I drew him as such.
Both Prince and Chris Cornell had untimely deaths, and their music and voices were unique as artist. There will never be another Prince nor another Chris Cornell.
My Latest Work:
The latest and most recent drawing I just completed and posted up was shot by this famous photographer, Mike Ruiz, whose husband photographed him at the beach with their beloved Oliver, a rescued dog. Oliver is the one constant in Mike’s life. Martin who shot the pic that I drew passed away a year ago during Christmas. The title of the piece is ‘Martin’s View’.
My time and experience being homeless off and on in an eight-year period is also something I recently drew about and the many characters I met along the way. No one beats the man that showed me the ropes being homeless on the streets and living under a filthy bridge which he fiercely protected, through a veteran named Bill. Two degrees in literature, served as a medic in Vietnam and a raging alcoholic that lived under the bridge in the Plaza area of KC until he got a case of frost bite in both feet and had both legs at the knee cap amputated. Never to be heard from again.
There are hundreds and hundreds of stories I can tell you through my art and writings but I’ll stop there. In the end, all we are is OUR STORIES we live and tell to others to remember us by. Being an artist is the greatest privilege and honor because our work well outlives our lives and our own personal stories. No matter what happens to me now or in the future, I was able to leave a rich legacy of stories behind through my art. Life is very short and soon enough, we will just be memories that live in the stories that others will tell about us, if we have lived well and lucky enough to be remembered.
~ Michael F. Brown
Fun fact, my first poster as a preteen was of Lynda Carter who played Wonder Woman in the 70’s TV Series. My sister Barbra bought it for me. A few drawings of Wonder Woman I’ve done over the years, still obsessed with that super hero
ALL COLORS Exhibit January 13th — February 28, 2018 at the St.Louis Artist Guild 12 North Jackson Avenue, Clayton, Mo.63105
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Produced by/in collaboration with Jeff Gorra