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