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Alumni Profile A J Brown 1990

February 14th, 2014

Alumni Profile A J Brown 1990

AJ Brown, ’90

It takes some artists a lifetime to develop a distinct style and gain renown. For others, fame doesn’t come while they are alive to enjoy it. But for AJ Brown, ‘90, it’s taken just 10 years of painting to hone a distinct concept for her work and to draw an adoring fan base.

Brown grew up in Vancouver, B.C., and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She ventured down to the States in 1985 to attend Gallaudet, studying English literature. No art courses made it onto Brown’s class roster during her time at the University, nor for several years after. But she did find friends and mentors in several professors, including Joe Grigely, a retired English faculty member, and Diane Merchant of the former Music Department. “They were genuinely interested in me,” Brown recalled. “They were role models for me, as well.”

When she returned to Vancouver with her college degree, Brown discovered that as a deaf woman with cerebral palsy, there were barriers in the job market that she had not anticipated. She went back to school, taking music and business courses. She considered becoming a musician, a dancer, and a model. She worked at an income tax agency and at the post office. Ultimately, a muse came into her life that changed everything.

Brown began taking art courses in 1999 and found that painting was the right medium for her. The subjects of her artwork also became clear. Brown enjoyed using her first cat, Panther, and photos of other pets to create her pieces. Her paintings continue to incorporate furry characters. Although she often works from photos, Brown’s works employ abstract techniques like bright blocks of color and skewed angles. She calls her style “conceptual,” and said that each of the pieces tells a story.

The specific animals vary from painting to painting, sometimes fluffy and black like her current companion, Rumbles, and sometimes a fanciful blue; sometimes seated and obedient, other times prowling and mischievous. Secretly, though, like Marc Chagall, who always added a rooster to his dream-like watercolors of people and animals, Brown sneaks the spirit of a certain character into each painting. “I put my cat in each one,” Brown revealed, “and a bit of myself in as well.”

Some of her paintings feature a scene familiar to pet owners, like a cat pawing at a running shower, while others imagine a world in which daffodils communicate from their vases. She sometimes incorporates words, like Panther’s name in the Pablo Picasso-inspired piece “Panther Comedy’s Eye Colour.”

“Her themes have expanded and are bold and fun, as it is with her use of color,” said friend Lisz Keallen, who met Brown as her interpreter and has been following her work from the start.

In 2004, Brown released her first book. Through poetry, art, and stories, My Voice: A Journey of Creativity, Courage and Hope describes the brushstrokes she has used to become an artist and the challenges she faced as she filled her life’s canvas.

As Brown continued to paint and gained self-assurance, she formed the idea for a business. “It started as a natural evolution from my creations,” Brown said. “I wanted to develop a business of artwork, paintings, greeting cards, art prints, and my book.” In 2005, on the advice of a job counselor from the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Vancouver, Brown went to a self-employment program. Within two years, she had learned enough to start her company.

Since starting her business, Hands, Paws, and Purrs, Brown has created a website—handsandpurrs.ca—and wrote a second book, Room in my Heart: A Book of Cats Galore. She has also participated in several art shows. News stories about her have appeared in artistsincanada.com and Contact Magazine, and she has been interviewed on two Vancouver television shows.

In November of 2008, Brown hung her first solo exhibit, “The Ultimate Gift,” in Vancouver. “I felt proud, joyous, and like I was 10 feet tall,” Brown said. The exhibit drew enthusiastic comments, and several people paid her the compliment of buying her work. “That was the icing on my cake,” she said.

In addition to painting, Brown is active in the community. She sits on the board of directors for the Society for Disability Arts and Culture and The Voice of the Cerebral Palsied of Greater Vancouver, and she is involved with two other arts organizations. Brown is proud of what she has accomplished as an artist who happens to be deaf and have cerebral palsy. “A double disability, so to speak,” she said, but not a major barrier—not a barrier to creating art, nor to sharing her oeuvre with friends, colleagues, and the community. Indeed, she has participated in more than 20 shows since 2002.

As she looks ahead, Brown wants to continue learning and developing herself and her business. “My plans for the future are to keep loving my cat, keep reaching out, keep learning, and keep painting,” she said.

This profile originally appeared in the spring 2009 issue of Gallaudet Today Magazine.

The Primitive Style of A.J. Brown, by A.J. Brown

February 14th, 2014

The Primitive Style of A.J. Brown, by A.J. Brown

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!

A Bit about Circles Cat

September 12th, 2013

A Bit about Circles Cat

Hello,

I guess I am not sure what I can write in this blog. This is because this website's host only wants posts about art. I'd love to write about my disabilities and how, sometimes it is SO frustrating. Frustrating to relate to very different people from myself. But I think if I put the word, "art" in my posts somewhere, then posts will be accepted.

I just finished my large painting, 24 x 36, Circles Cat, last week. I will post another photograph of it to my cat paintings gallery. Right now, though, I've posted it to my "Ajs Atelier studio gallery". This website is eccentric. It doesn't like punctuation in the titles of my artwork, or the names of galleries or the titles of blog posts. (eyes rolling)

In a few days, I plan to start to edit my video that I took during the process of creating Circles Cat. Circles Cat took me six months to complete. I usually can finish a painting in a month. This is a large painting for me. I am not sure I will do another large painting, unless I'm asked. I enjoyed the process of making this painting. However, Rumbles, my cat / muse / best friend died during the process. So, finishing the painting was very difficult. My approach changed during the process. I could only work on this for maybe a half hour or maybe 15 minutes at a time. This is my most detailed painting thus far. So, to show my process, I thought it would be interesting for some of you to see the work and love I put into my paintings.

I will hold onto this painting for a while. I mean, I'll mark it as not for sale.

Til my next blog post! If you want more current information, I'm more comfortable with posting on my Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/AJ-Brown-Hands-and-Purrs/84194221410

Hugs to all of you.

Life with Rumbles

February 22nd, 2011

Life with Rumbles

Rumbles is my darling princess. Though sometimes she can be the queen! Cat lovers will understand this attitude. She never fails to remind me when she wants to eat. That is about every two or three hours. She will lead me to the bathroom for brushings. She initiates play. When she wants More attention, she will open the closet door in the bedroom. She's getting older now too. So, she now goes timber at about the same time. She prefers that I'm in bed before her. Probably she likes the bed warmed up from my body heat?

Why is the Cat a Central Theme in my Artwork?

January 5th, 2011

Why is the Cat a Central Theme in my Artwork?

Growing up, I had all sorts of other animals as friends: gerbils, hamsters, bunny rabbits, a guinea pig, a budgie, and a dog. It wasn't until I was adopted by a very active black kitten that my life started to change. There was a twelve year gap where I had no animal friends. I happened to visit the farm of a cousin. My cousin plopped this black kitten into my left hand. I had NO experience with cats before that time. This kitten crawled up my arm to my shoulder and stayed put. I walked around with this kitten on my shoulder for about a half hour. Then it was time to return to my aunt's house. My aunt tried to pick this Panther off, but he dug into my coat. So, I had been adopted! So, I took him home. Over the years, Panther taught me to live in the Present Moment, or at least he started that process! The process of letting go, that is. They say a friend reaches for your paw, but touches your Heart. May Panther Rest In Peace. I have another almost all black cat now, named Rumbles to continue to teach me to live in the Present Moment. Cats are beautiful, graceful, independent, loyal and so very Loving. (Though you have to earn that!) Rumbles lets me know when the phone rings or if there is someone at the door. She is muscular and dainty. She brings gifts of mice, moths and birds. She is my inspiration. So, how can I not have cats as a theme for my artwork?

 

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