“Be playful and let go.”

Christopher Brown talk at the Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CA.
Christopher Brown talk at the Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CA.

Artist Christopher Brown likes to play with the idea of commitment.  On Saturday December 3rd at the Berkeley Art Center, Mr. Brown discussed his figurative paintings that flirt with abstraction by using sentimental symbols that with some luck might stay on a finished painting.

Brown obsessively works over again, again, and again on his paintings.  He’ll cover up a layer, paint over another, scrape, or sand the oil off the surface until satisfied to move forward to the an “elusive” finish.  It was torture to my ears, listening to his art practice struggle.  According to Brown: “If a painting doesn’t sell at an exhibit, I’ll just paint over it.”

Mr. Brown “appears” to have no attachment to his art even though the subject matter is reminiscent of Americana themes.  His paintings include snapshot images of the Civil War, movie scenes with snow, and life near the race track.  Like his subject matter, Brown’s artist influences are diverse like Susan Rothenberg, Kiki Smith, William de Kooning, Mondrian, Manet, and Velazquez.

Christopher Brown was born in 1951 in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to a military family.  He attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and went to art school at the University of California at Davis.  This is where he met faculty members and artists such as Wayne Thiebaud, Roy De Forest, and Manuel Neri.  According to Sam Whiting of the San Francisco Chronicle: “At age 42, painter Christopher Brown resigned as the chairman of the department of art practice at UC Berkeley because he wanted more insecurity. Now 59, he teaches one day a week at the California College of the Arts.”  Today he works and lives in Berkeley, CA.

At the end of the talk, Brown proudly declared that he recently turned 60 and said “be playful and let go.”  His art is part thrill seeker that searches for comforting memories while creating new ones.  A tension, no doubt he’ll continue to play with for his next sixty years.

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