Archives For February 2013

Mr. Soul

Ish Holmes —  February 22, 2013 — 4 Comments

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Grey day. It’s raining. I want to sleep in. But I can’t. Because today—today—I’m meeting Mr. Soul. Yes, Mr. Soul. What should I expect? I have a mental picture—like you get with deejays on the radio. I’m picturing someone really cool from the mid-seventies—complete with afro—someone who wears sunglasses indoors. I head west of Midtown to meet Mr. Soul and find out. The door to his apartment opens… I’m greeted by an African American man in his late thirties wearing a Thieveland tee. His stocking cap is tilted sideways. He’s wearing grey sweats. We shake hands. His arms are heavily tattooed. On the left arm I see Harriet Tubman smiling up at me and also an eyeball collage. On the right arm—the portrait of a friend. This is Mr. Soul—also known… on occasion… as Kevin Harp—Art Director and CEO—so reads the brass plague on top of his fully stocked bookshelf.

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First thing’s first. Before we talk art—I have to know about the name. How did Kevin Harp (formerly of Cleveland Ohio) become Mr. Soul? “I went through a lot of stages with the names,” he says. “I started out as Clue. Maybe because I had no idea what name to give myself.” Next? “Skript—it was a cool name—dope—something I could tag. Then I hooked up with DJ Centipede. He was a client in Cleveland.” At the time, Soul was putting out fliers for the popular Hip hop DJ. All the fliers were tagged with Kevin’s business name—Visual Soul. “Whenever Centipede would call up to talk business, he’d say, ‘Soooul.’” Kevin pitches his voice lower—in imitation of Centipede, holding out the name for a couple of beats. It stuck. “It was a way to identify me and my business at the same time.” It also ties in music, too. Music has provided a vital and lasting inspiration in Soul’s life as an artist and as an individual. His favorites? Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Outkast to name a few. “I like for my visuals to match the sound—soul, ghetto, gospel. I’m really inspired by funkadelic. It’s the type of feel I want in my art—that sort of movement and energy.”

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Now we can talk art. There’s a poster on Souls’ wall. Three eyeballs stare down at me. They have arms. They’re floating above a shadowed, urban landscape beneath a mottled orange and yellow sky. The left eye wields a spiked mace and a spray can. The right eye—a stick. The central eye holds an unfurled parchment in its hands. Emblazoned on the scroll in ornate, red script are the words, ‘Creative Problem Solver.’ All three floating eyeballs are rocking Kangol hats. The bottom of the poster is emblazoned with the name ‘Mr. Soul’ in an ornate, Gothic style script. “That’s one of my classic eyeball pieces,” Soul says. I’m getting a sort of mystic feel from the eyes—maybe it’s all the Hindu mythology I’ve been reading lately. “They represent the three pillars of life,” Soul says. “Mental. Spiritual. Physical. Without all three you get off balance. The center eye represents the third, all seeing eye—the ability to have visions—to see more than what’s perceived by your ordinary senses.” Cool. I wasn’t so far off after all.

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“I love to work in layers. For me, that’s one of the draws of Adobe Illustrator.” I look at the poster again. Literal layers. Metaphorical layers. An inner eye rocking a Kangol hat. He shows me the original eyeball sketch. The final piece is super smooth. It’s a crisp, deftly handled graphic work. It looks effortless. “That’s because you’re seeing the final product,” he says. “You didn’t see the times I punched the wall in frustration—the times I hit ‘undo’—and the two hundred pieces of paper I wadded up to get here.” So how does he get from the initial sketch to the final, poster sized image? “I take a picture of the sketch with my phone and then dump that into the computer. I used to use Photoshop; but I’d say I’m 90% Adobe Illustrator now.” Why? “I love the clean lines—the scalability. You have to have a certain skill set to use it. Not everybody can. Every piece is a challenge. I have a vision in my head; but then I have to hash it out in Illustrator terms. There’s four or five ways to skin a cat—sometimes you just have to combine a few of those ways to get the cat fully skinned.”

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How early did Mr. Soul get into art? He laughs. “I came out of the womb with a box of crayons and a pack of construction paper.” Talk about being prepared. “I remember my first grade art teacher—Alice Cooper. She showed us how to create intricate scenes out of primitive shapes—circles, squares, triangles. I was fascinated.” There was no going back. He has another childhood recollection. “I also had an older cousin. He was into comic books and kung fu—Spider Man, Batman and Bruce Lee. I lived in his shadow from about first to fourth grade. Mom said I used to cry because I’d get so frustrated that I couldn’t do what he was doing.” Nowadays, of course, Soul gets to do what he wants. He’s out of the shadows. But it was a long road to Atlanta. So how did he get here?

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“By sixth grade, I knew I loved art. But I didn’t know what direction I should take. In high school I did a lot of airbrushing on tee shirts and jumpsuits.” He and a few friends also had plenty of encouragement from a gifted, local graffiti artist—Sano. Sano? It stands for Super Notorious Artistic Outlaw. “Well, that was one of the meanings,” Soul says. “He was a big brother, a father, an uncle to me. I used to ride the Red Line. I’d see his pieces out the window and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I remember I’d cut school and go to Sano’s house. We’d go steal art supplies from the store.” Fear not, gentle reader—the purloined goods were put to good use by Soul and his mentor. “He taught us how to use markers, airbrush and computers. He helped set me on my way.”

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Before Atlanta, Soul spent some time in Pittsburg. He’s a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburg. He stops me before I can ask about his major. “Don’t ask what degree I got—I haven’t ever used it.” But the sojourn to Pittsburg wasn’t a total bust. He linked up with some notable graffiti artists. He rattles off a whole list of names—superstars of the graffiti world. I’m totally lost—scribbling down names—trying to keep up. Does he notice? Yes. Soul’s kind enough to stop and give me a brief spelling tutorial. He’s patient about it, like an adult teaching a little child to sound out a new word for the first time. It’s then I realize—there’s a whole artistic movement I’m barely aware of. My graffiti name would be ToWS—Total. White. Suburbanite. I am Clueless. But not for long. He pulls a book off his shelf—The History of American Graffiti by Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon. It’s all documented here—the long, rich, innovative history of graffiti art. Mr. Soul turns up in the pages, too. There’s hope for me, yet.

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“I’m coming up on year seventeen here in Atlanta.” He came for the art. “In Cleveland, outside of the steel industry, there was no means of survival.” Back in Cleveland, Soul worked on a hip hop newszine—The work brought him to Atlanta in ’95. “It was the last Jack the Rapper convention,” he says. “We were going to take that energy we felt here back to Cleveland. But in the end, we still got the lights shut off—the rent was still late. There was just no infrastructure to do it.” So in November of 1996, Soul came to Atlanta. The early days were slim. “A partner and I came to Atlanta to look for a place to live and for work. We stayed at the Days Inn for a week, eating Waffle House for breakfast and dinner until we got leads and secured a place to stay.” But Soul stuck with it. He looked with his inner eye and found his way. “Everybody’s got a purpose. But most people just don’t know how to find it. I was lucky. The light was shining in my direction. It was destiny.”

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Aside from his art, Soul does a lot of work with students in the community. “I get calls from my friends—‘Kevin, help, my son’s scribbling all over the floor—what do I do?’ Art is intriguing to every child. So I go to local schools and talk to the kids. I have to. Arts funding is being cut everywhere. It’s ridiculous. We’ve got plenty of money to bomb other countries—but we can’t have art class in schools?” He’s trying to give these kids a chance he didn’t have as a kid growing up in Cleveland. “On career day, we’d have a lawyer come in, a police officer and—” he laughs, “ a dentist.” No artists with tattoos. “When these people come in to talk to kids they fall asleep. There’s a big disconnect between them and the police officer who comes to talk to them.” But with Soul they get a different perspective. “I come in—hat to the side, tattoos—looking like what they want to be. But at the same time, I articulate how important it is to be in school—to stay in the books—to listen to their elders, their parents, their teachers. We show them that they can still be themselves—you can have tattoos, even—and still be a productive member of society. Because, let’s face it—at the end of the day—these kids want to be like us.”

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At a local Castleberry Hill gallery, Soul challenged parents to let their kids put down their own ideas concerning the execution of Troy Davis. “Too often we don’t listen to kids. We don’t let them speak their minds about a situation. We tell them, ‘You can’t say this. You can’t do this. You can’t know this until you’re this age.’ But, by then—it’s too late.” Soul encouraged them to speak. And they did. Each child drew a picture of his or her interpretation of the events surrounding the Davis execution. Then they wrote paragraphs explaining what their pieces meant to them—in their own words. “The event went beyond race and class,” Soul says. “It was about the kids. Letting them speak their minds—and us listening.”

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Soul’s also active up at City of Ink—the urban tattoo shop located at 323 Castleberry Hill. There’s a lot of great art being produced up there. His arms bear witness to this. He’s fervent about black tattoo artists getting the respect they deserve. “There are a lot of up and coming artists there—some as young as twenty two and twenty three years old,” he says. “Very talented. The tattoo industry as a whole can be very racist. Most people don’t realize it, but there’s an art and a science when it comes to tattooing on black skin.” He gives me a closer look at the Tubman tattoo. It was done by legendary tattoo artist Miya Bailey, co-owner of City Of Ink. “For me, having tattoos is like collecting art.” Soul has a pretty good collection so far.

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Currently, Soul and some other artists from the Castleberry Hill circle are also working on a newsletter. He calls it a guerrilla grass roots effort. “It’s a diverse group of artists. Nobody comes from money. But we all come together. Makes us stronger—” he laughs, “like Voltron—it’s really a chance to try and professionalize our movement.” As for the near future, Soul’s artist’s plate is pretty full. He’s got a cancer awareness project lined up for the end of March. In April he’ll be working on a 420 show for the stoners. And in June—a black pin up show. Cool. He’s also got some personal projects, too. He shows me a sketch he’s been working on. It’s the text for a memorial piece in honor of one of his friends. It’s a collaborative work. His fellow artist, Goldi Gold, is working on the portrait to go with it.

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With his current success, what does Soul have next in mind? “I’m sort of going backwards,” he says. “I started out exploring life through Fine Art. With Graphic Design, I’ve gotten a little off track. I want to work on some more personal expression. But you’ve got to keep the lights on. It’s a Catch 22—business versus purpose. But I’m finally at the point in my career where I can say, ‘No.’ Early on, I took every job I could get. I’m not everybody’s creative savior anymore—only those with a budget to be saved. I’ve finally got time for more personal work.” And if Soul could be anywhere he wanted—where would he like to be? He answers so fast, I know he’s already been thinking about his escape. “I wouldn’t be on a phone. I’d disappear for four or five days to some cabin in the woods—come back with a shit load of art—One with the earth again.”

From the wall behind him, the wise inner eye—half veiled by an orange kangol hat, looks down approvingly.

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You can visit Kevin ‘Mr. Soul’ Harp at www.mistersoul216.com

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David Gaither

Ish Holmes —  February 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Stars. Eagles. Clouds. The rays of the sun. I’m soaring—moving forward through space—sailing past a backdrop of stars. Totem eagles are winging past me. I try hard to keep up. A red shooting star flares overhead. I’m lost for a moment when I enter a cloudbank. But the rays of the sun break through and I’m soaring once more through space and time. But my feet haven’t left the ground. I’m looking up at a mural by Atlanta artist, David Gaither. He’s stopped by Sam Flax this week to talk about his work.

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David is a self taught artist. “I’ve been painting since I was three or four,” he says. “Early on, I drew mostly buildings and people, but over time there was a gradual evolution into my own style.” He’s definitely come into his own. Looking at his murals, it’s easy to recognize David’s love of exploration, of journeys, of progress and innovation—all depicted through experimentation with different shapes and bright colors. It requires an ability to balance themes—which is sort of appropriate—David runs a full time strategy business—Gaither and Co. “There’s definitely a connection. I’m always using creativity in consulting and in my painting process also. It goes hand in hand, really.” Even with his business, he still manages to create art on a large scale. “I try to work on a few pieces a week. You just have to make time for it.” A balancing act—a time for business—and a time to take artistic journeys. And his murals are definitely journeys.

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The first thing I have to know about his work—the eagles, the wing emblems—is there an Inuit influence? He laughs. He’s been asked that before—twice by me. “I travel a lot, so I’ve been inspired by a lot of different cultures. I blend that inspiration with my own past experiences.” We’re looking up at Star Mural—the one I just took a spirit journey with. Looking at it, I get such a feeling of momentum—not a dangerous and blind rushing forward, but the sublime soaring of the spirit as it heads into an unknown but inspired future. His mural, Phoenix Rising, speaks to this theme. In the center of the painting a phoenix rises up, wings outstretched—“Onward and forward,” David says. “With its back to the past, its anticipation and faith is in a brighter future.”

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That theme of “onward and forward” parallels David’s own artistic process. “I want to keep pushing forward with my own style.” For inspiration he’s looked to a number of artists who have done just that. “I like Jean Miro, Picasso, Warhol and Basquiat.” Definitely guys who pushed the envelope. “I love the idea of pushing the boundaries—Warhol went through that when they were establishing the Pop Movement. They were all innovators and risk takers. I’d love to create a new genre. I like to be at the forefront of creation.”

Soaring with the eagles. Moving forward. Anticipating a brighter future.

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David works big. You’ve got to have a big canvas for such big flights—it’s hard to take a spirit journey on a scrap of paper, I guess. “Working large I can get different levels of depth and color,” he explains, “a lot of contrasts, a blending of matte and gloss. It’s definitely a fusion.” But it’s more than a fusion of techniques. David’s works represent a synthesis of past and future, a blending of organic, free flowing concepts with carefully organized patterned pieces. In his mural Spatial Travel, the natural world is juxtaposed with technology—I see shapes like feathered wings forming cycles and jets—eagles soaring with spaceships.

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The sun rises again and again in David’s works—primordial, powerful, life giving and sustaining. In Brand New Day it rises from behind a dark mountain to shed its light on the waking world. In Sun Mural, it takes center stage and we witness the full intensity of its power. At its heart burns a red furnace heat. All the other shapes in the mural are burnished with orange and yellow—no piece is untouched by the sun’s radiance. In Star Mural, its rays reach out across space, shedding its light on the mystic journey of eagles. “It shows the unity of all life,” David explains. “It expresses a sense of continuous growth.” After all, all life—that of men and eagles, is nurtured by the warmth of the sun, the touch of its rays.

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“I love to experiment with shapes and colors but with each piece, I try to go deeper,” David says. “I don’t want to use the same methods again and again.” His drive to push forward—to explore new territories in art reflects the essence of life—which is constantly evolving, changing, pushing on to new destinies—just like his eagles. And David’s destiny? “Right now I’m talking to galleries in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. When I was on the west coast I saw a lot of murals in the Los Angeles area. There’s a sort of mural culture out there. I think my work would do well there.” His work is already doing well here in Atlanta. He’s building a presence for himself here in the city with its rapidly growing arts scene. Early on, his wife told him, “You’ve got to get you work out to galleries.” She was right. So far he’s been trading art with both Beep Beep and Zucot Galleries.

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But he hasn’t stopped there. He’s also been working on a new concept—moving in new directions with his work. His piece, Mosaic Mini Murals is made up of six individual canvases—each 14”x14”. It’s what he calls his “free form method.” No eagles that I can see. It’s more about an improvisation with shapes and color. “It’s like a puzzle,” David explains. “There’s no limit to the size—the whole process becomes very organic—the mural can grow and grow in its own unique way. I can add as many panels as I want.  It’s deft, freeform—not bound to any particular pattern—sort of like improv.” Sort of like life—the piece can expand in its own natural way—unrestrained, without borders. Limitless.

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When it comes to viewing his art, it’s all about what he calls, “the high touch experience.” He prefers for people to see his work in person. “It’s more personal that way,” he says. “It’s a firsthand and individual experience. These are large, intricate pieces—with different depths and levels of color. I don’t think you get an adequate representation of that online.” If you’re in Little Five Points, stop by Mood’s Music. You’ll get a chance to have the high touch experience yourself. David also has four pieces on display this month at Sam Flax—including Star Mural. You can find the largest collection of his murals on permanent display at the Stuart McClean Gallery located downtown at 684 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.

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It’s really a good way to see his work—in person. You get an appreciation of the play of rich, vivid colors—red, yellow and bronze set against deep purple—the fusion of shapes—multicolored, mandala-like circles embraced by eagles’ wings—all illuminated by arcs and rays of color emanating from radiant suns. Seeing them up close gives you time to ponder—to take a journey of your own—to fly with eagles—to see the stars—to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays. I’ve made a lot of speculations about the meanings of David’s paintings—things I see in them—or just things I think I see. But that’s the personal aspect afforded by these mural journeys. He welcomes the idea. “It’s open to individual interpretation.”

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That’s good, because I’m looking at another of his pieces and I’m seeing a new story unfold. I’m most intrigued by something I notice in David’s piece entitled Grand Mural. I see the familiar eagles. But there’s something different. In the other murals the movement predominates from left to right—in Grand Mural it’s the other way around. The eagles swoop in from the right in a descending trajectory heading towards a single, red star. They’re moving fast—with an aim and a purpose. I can’t help but think that the outgoing journey has brought them full circle. They’re heading back from places unknown, having traveled far in spirit—a journey across the cosmos, which, in the end, has brought them back to their point of origin. A return home—to the bright star within.

Take time to check out David’s murals around town.

Take a journey of your own. 

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Stacey Brown

Ish Holmes —  February 11, 2013 — 3 Comments

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Peace.

That’s the first word I notice. It’s tucked away on the right hand margin of the acrylic on glass painting. Then I see the figures—one in red, the other, blue. They are exuberant—leaping forward, hands in the air. How did I miss them? They look—Happy—that’s the next word to emerge from the daubs of red, blue and yellow. The dancing figures, the play of light on glass—the whole piece is imbued with a sense of—Hope. Yeah, Hope’s there, too. Just look below Peace.

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Hope.

It’s a common thread running through Stacey Brown’s work. I got a chance to see that first hand when I visited he and his wife Michelle at their home in Atlanta last week. We talked art—and saw a lot of it. It’s all over the house—sculptures in the living room, paintings on every wall—even a handmade xylophone on the coffee table. There’s more in his downstairs studio. Two glass collages lay in mid progress on a table. Framing supplies are laid out nearby. On the floor—dozens of neatly stacked paintings—wrapped in plastic, ready to ship. There’s more. Stacey’s second studio is upstairs in the attic. He works on bigger pieces here. A large piece of watercolor paper is laid out—waiting for inspiration. He even does a little sketching while I watch. Every inch of wall space is hung with art. More paintings are propped along the floor. This is the home of a fulltime artist. No doubt. When did it all start? Way back. “As a ten year old kid I used to watch Tom Lynch on PBS. I was hooked.” He started painting—and hasn’t stopped—loose, interpretive watercolors, glass collage sculptures and abstract acrylics fill their home.

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For many of his urban pieces, Stacey heads out into the community to find inspiration. He keeps his eyes open until he sees an intriguing scene—someone sitting in a café, a lonely teen walking down the street. Ordinary people. Ordinary days. Something you or I might not think to notice. But Stacey does. Sometimes he snaps a quick photo. Sometimes he only takes a mental picture. Then he heads back to his studio—the fresh image providing the impetus for his next painting. “I try to capture everyday life and then give beauty to it through my use of color and interpretation of shapes.” It’s a great relationship. He borrows from the world around him—daily life in Atlanta—and then gives back to the community in the form of his work. Everyday life, when filtered through his artist’s eye, undergoes an amazing transformation—like a butterfly emerging from a shabby chrysalis—day to day life becomes art.

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There’s one painting I really want to know about—about his process. It’s different than some of the jazzy watercolors I’ve seen. It’s hanging in the Brown’s living room—another acrylic on glass. But unlike the first one—this one is shattered. Dozens of painted fragments have been patiently pieced back together to form a picture of a cabin by a lakeshore. The impetus for his technique—acrylic on glass—came after a visit he took to Africa ten years ago where he saw local artists painting on glass. But the broken bits—that’s all Stacey.

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“It was an accident, really. I painted one—and then I stepped on it,” he says ruefully. But instead of throwing it out like most of us might, Stacey pieced it back together, bit by bit. He found a new technique and saw a new message emerge from the process. Stacey decided to give a name to his shattered works—Broken is Beautiful. “We’re all beautiful in God’s eyes,” he explains, “but we’re all broken at some point, in some way. But we’re better when we’re mended. We’re stronger when the pieces are put back together. It reminds me to keep my head up, stay focused and at the same time to share that message with the world.”

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Does he? Yup. Stacey has shared his message of hope through art all across Atlanta. He’s thinking big now. Stop in at Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint in Buckhead and you’ll see what I mean. 200 Peachtree Street is home to his largest work to date—a 6’x18’ mural. It’s a vibrant jazz scene pulsing with life in true Stacey style. Want to see more? Check out another of his commissioned works at Farm Burger (also in Buckhead). You can enjoy a burger—and Stacey’s art as well. His work has been featured in a number of galleries and exhibits across the country including the Zucot Gallery here in Atlanta, the Arsenal Gallery in New York, the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and the Arts in Harmony Gallery in Indianapolis. Articles about Stacey have appeared in numerous publications including Jezebel, The Panatgraph, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution and Décor Magazine.

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I ask how he’s come so far—how did he get to the point where he could be a fulltime artist. Stacey’s answer is pretty straightforward. “You’ve got to get your work out there. There have been times when I’ve done two or three shows a month. Remember, for every person that takes home a piece of your art—ten or twenty of their friends will see it. Build a relationship with every piece you sell. Build your own following.”

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Hard work? Sure. But he couldn’t ask for a better business partner—his wife Michele. While Stacey paints, frames and ships his own work, Michelle takes care of the social media aspect of the business and spends her days documenting and promoting her husband. She’s been snapping pictures of him all throughout our talk. I ask Michele if it’s a full time job. She’s already nodding before I finish the question. Smiling. She knows. “Yes,” she laughs. “Yes.” They’re in total agreement here. “You’ve got to have family support,” Stacey says. “Got to.”

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And his inspiration? No hesitation. His late brother, Michael. One of his paintings hangs in the hallway of the Brown’s home. It shows an African American woman’s face, half hidden in deep shadow, a single tear staining one cheek. She’s haunted. Determined. The work bears witness to Michael’s talent. “Michael never got to be a fulltime artist,” Michelle tells me. “Stacey has finally gotten to realize that dream.”

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As a fulltime artist, he and Michelle keep on top of the thriving arts scene in Atlanta. They’ve kept in touch with a number of artists through the years—attending the same shows and oftentimes trading art together. The Brown’s have an expansive collection—pieces by Debra Shendrick, Pancho Brown and Charles Palmer. “These relationships are inspirational in many ways,” Michelle explains. “They grow creatively from being around each other. It’s also helpful for us to see how other artists conduct their businesses, how they’re received by supporters and how they’ve been able to sustain themselves as successful artists—some for thirty and forty years.”

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What advice does Stacey give aspiring artists? First off, you have to see through the “biggest lie,” as he calls it. “You can’t make a living as an artist.” Not true. Stacey started out as a Graphic Designer having graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1988. But he always felt he was being pulled in a different direction. He wanted to pursue a career as a full time artist. But the ‘biggest lie’ was always hanging around. Then he decided to challenge the lie and test the waters. He showed his work in a Chicago African Festival of the Arts in 2000. It was a success. “That’s when I saw that people were really interested. I could do well with it.” He’s never looked back. For Stacey, the life of an artist—with all its hard work, is its own reward. “You can be a fulltime artist. It’s the best life,” he says, “with the freedom to create and share with others. But most important—do what’s true. Paint what you feel. Do your best—the world will recognize that.”

Hope.

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Learn more about Stacey Brown and his art at www.sbrownart.com

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The great people over at Steelcase has donated TWO amazing Think Chairs to be raffled away at Sam Flax! The proceeds from the drawing will benefit The Assistance League of Atlanta which does a lot of great things in the community, plus they help with The Shepherd’s Center. Learn more about each of those fantastic organizations by following the links to their websites:

http://assistanceleagueatl.org/

http://www.shepherd.org/

To enter for a chance to win one of these fabulous chairs is simple:

Step 1: Come into our Atlanta store at 1745 Peachtree Street NW, Atlanta, GA

Step 2: Go to the Furniture Department

Step 3: Fill out a very brief Raffle Entry Form

Step 4: Donate $1

That’s it! And you can repeat those steps up to 10 times a day, every day until our two drawings take place on February 12th and February 19th. If you don’t win on the 12th, you’ll automatically be entered into the following drawing.

Did I mention that the chair is valued over $1100? Come on in today!

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