February 14th, 2014
The Art Style of A.J. Brown
It is unique. A.J. Brown’s style has always been uncommon, unusual and remarkable. Her style draws in the perceptive viewer and rewards him or her with insights hidden in her image: joy, wonder, forgiveness, curiosity, fear, even understanding of some of life’s eternal dilemmas such as the soldier’s need for peace and comfort on a battleground
An example: For her piece, Soldier and 2 cats … The original of this was sent to A.J. as part of an email. A.J. then drew the original and then from that, painted. She added a second cat on the right side of the diptych. She also added a plane and a big bomb being dropped on a house. She thought this might hopefully say this is overkill. To keep improving technology to the point that maybe in the future a bomb the size of our fingernails will destroy a city. “Eek! Well, I hope not!” says A.J.
A.J. describes her painting style as primitive. This is an old word deriving from the Latin, primitivus: first of its kind. In painting, it is used to describe a style that is direct, that rejects convention, a style that is unaffected and is unique, not derived from anything else. Primitive is not used to describe her style as uneducated or rough. Instead, her paintings are the opposite; sophisticated and urbane without being embellished and complicated. A.J.’s work is full of oxymorons: It is simple and complex at the same time. It is sarcastic and humourous. It’s fun and realistic and always has a message of the spirit of the animal. It’s sweet and profound and shows the spirit of the artist. It also has a whimsical flair. Her style is sort of eclectic, with some elements of impressionist, or abstracts. It has an unhindered raw energy and vibrancy. A.J. likes to surprise her viewers. She likes to try to keep her cat in its natural environment, but maybe one day one of her cats will be in outer space or living in the water as a mer – cat, or fairy.
Another beloved painting is the Wedding Cake piece. A.J. cut out a photograph from a magazine many years ago, before she acknowledged herself as an artist. She did collage back then, a little bit. She hung onto this without knowing why. Then in 2006, she thought to try and tackle this as a subject for a painting. A.J. took a painting course at the time and I was encouraged to try new approaches. She drew out a very rough drawing of it to work out how to do it. She didn’t like the Dalmatian in the original photograph. She added 2 cats from her imagination to the drawing, but it still seemed to be missing something. She had the calendar from the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society that year, and in that, was a puppy in boots. She had what she needed!! She thinks she pitched that calendar since.
In a way this is somewhat like describing personality traits, being direct and unaffected, and very much her own person, that is, unique, ready and willing to meet the world head on. A.J. treats everyone and everything she meets, with respect, even if that respect is not reciprocated. She knows respect comes from exposure to a wide variety of experiences. The more we are exposed to different things, the more we learn of different things and can understand things better, and therefore, earn and give respect.
For some of her artwork, A.J. just created straight from her imagination, like the Purple Cat and Between Friends. She didn’t plan these out. Though, for these two, she used her hands to get the sky just right. For an element of fun, she added the squirrel and the owl for a bit of wisdom.
Art is a new way of looking at things. When we look at someone’s work, we see through their eyes for a short time, sort of like borrowing “A.J. Brown’s spectacles” for the current moment.
A.J. practiced drawing out the Cat Sled Team. She “borrowed” a picture from the movie Pinocchio, because its cat, Figaro, is perfect! That was a challenge to get it just right, when its tongue was coming out. She froze her VCR at that second and took a picture of her TV. She hopes whoever did that original doesn’t mind! But she doesn’t see the art police coming …. to arrest her for borrowing the image. She practiced the cat standing. She used her favourite fairy tale book for a reference for this. This was her favourite fairy tale book because its pictures are alive, vibrant and they support the stories. She thinks this fairy tale book is a big influence on her art. It’s too bad the artist isn’t given credit for his or her work! The work is conceptual and inspiring. She has re read this many times since her childhood. She will read it again and again in the future.
A.J. thinks her disabilities influence her style. Because A.J. is deaf, she takes care to watch her environment carefully. She looks for subtle clues as to what is going on, and what people are talking about. So the lift of an eyebrow, a single frown line, a glance, all tell her a bit of what is being possibly said.
For one painting, she took a photograph of two cats. She enlarged this photo to the painting size, 15 x 20. She really wanted to be accurate. So, she traced around the cats, and then put this tracing onto canvas. Then she painted it. This one is called, My Foot’s Clean!
A.J.’s art is alive with insight that she uses to interpret with sensitivity of her subjects.. A single brush stroke for a whisker can show impudence or sorrow. The angle of an ear shows interest or boredom. The line of a mouth shows mirth or fear. The simple lines of an eye can show laughter or naughtiness.
A.J. caught her cat in the act of drinking from the toilet. She took a photograph of that. She then tried to draw that out to practice for getting her hands used to the hand positions for painting this. Then she painted it from the photograph and from her drawings.
Her cerebral palsy in some ways limits her abilities. But she uses her CP limitations by being prudent with her brush strokes. The direct, simple forms of her animals highlight their physicality. The curve of a tail says so much and she gets across each animal’s point of view with a few subtle strokes. In a way her disabilities limit her and empower her at the same time to tell an entire story sometimes with a minimum of brush strokes.
A.J. creates paintings, using acrylics. Her art is conceptual, meaning it has the potential to tell a story. Her art shows movement and has an element of fun. Some of her influences are from Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and even the ancient Mayan, Egyptian and Greek cultures. She also likes Monet. She has seen the work of Mary Michael Shelley, who does whimsical folk art. A.J.’s art might go in the direction of Louis Wain in the future. He painted cats, wearing clothes and attending tea parties. She uses a wide range of colours, from muted to vibrant. She likes to include a bit of humour in her artwork. But, like Picasso, her style is constantly evolving.
There is a corner in A.J.’s kitchen that is open to the wall. She cannot get at that space, but her cat can. From this space, Rumbles brought A.J. two mice. A.J. caught her cat coming from that space. She thinks she just worked straight from the photo for this one, titled, Thirsty Feline.
Most of A.J.’s art is of cats. However, she has done other subjects as well. She also studied the human figure, from a terrific book, Anatomy for Artists. This is to help improve her skill. Another teacher she had, from the Vancouver School Board, James Picard, said that if we can draw people, we can draw ANYthing.
A few examples of how A.J. approaches her work: She approaches her subjects with sensitivity and respect. This is because we don’t speak each other’s languages. A.J. doesn’t speak cat, and her cat doesn’t speak English or sign language.
For others, she uses photographs that were sent to her by email, or from her own photography. For some of these emailed pictures, she drew on canvas, using charcoal, sometimes chalk, then as she painted, she covered over the charcoal or just rubbed off the charcoal. The Cat with the Magician‘s Hat is an example of that. A.J. really thanks Rachael Hale for that photograph! Such an endearing kitten! She also drew this out, because when she first saw this, it was from a friend’s book, titled, It’s a Zoo Out There. A.J. just HAD to do this!
So, she approaches her work in several ways. She uses many resources. Hopefully, her art will always be a treasure. She hopes to continue to evolve as she matures as an artist. She has only been doing art since 1999. The well was her first image. She used this as a start to get some of her demons out. In the future, she hopes to make the transition to watercolour and egg tempura because she learned that acrylic does not last very long. On all of her more recent work, she includes her signature, which is a butterfly. So, now you know all about A.J., or at least her artwork. Thank you for sharing in this journey!