There are a lot of artists whose work I love, but there are a few that draw me into their world so completely that I could pore over them endlessly. Romare Bearden is one of those, Roger Brown is another. To me, his work's magnetic quality has to do with the narrative woven through Brown's work, the americana comic book style and yet it looks like nothing I've ever seen. I think Roger Brown invented something truly unique, which is rare, and he did it at a time when it was practically in defiance of everything that was happening in the art world around him.
I'm affected by the combination of nostalgia, invention and cultural commentary in his work. I'm taken in by the dramatic cloud shapes and landscapes that have a mesmerizing rhythm and a forbidding cast. I love his buildings and houses with their yellow-lit windows and tiny people in silhouette.
Roger Brown also has a great story, and it was a bit of legend when I was in school at Auburn in Alabama. The very idea that someone from from the next town over, whose dad owned the James Brown Family restaurant where we used to get our meat-n-3 over in Opelika, could move to Chicago and become a famous painter.
I've had my eye on him since then, from the tail-end of the 80's and into the 90's when he did a couple of Time magazine covers, while his paintings were hanging in so many museum collections I could visit them in my travels. Sadly he died at the age of 56 in 1997, but he left an incredible body of work and a few houses full of collectables (he was a voracious collector) to the Art Institute of Chicago where they are available for those who are inspired by the life and influences of a great American painter.
So on my recent trip to Auburn, I felt especially lucky to run into a show of Roger Brown's paintings and collected artifacts at the Jule Collins Smith Museum. If you are anywhere near there, go take a look. The show will be up until January 5th. Some of the artifacts are from a collection that resides in his house museum in Beulah, AL, which is nearby, but we didn't have time to investigate that. If you go, or if you've been there, let me know!
And I can recommend a little bbq spot between Auburn and Atlanta called Sprayberry's in Newnan, GA. Be sure to go to the original Sprayberry's (converted gas station circa 1926) and not the new one next to the highway, yes it's the same food, but atmosphere counts too. Their sauce is something to behold - it's the tangy vinegar style I prefer - and the slaw is sweet and sour and goes right on the sandwich - perfect! Get some brunswick stew too, okay? Ahhh, this is what I love about the south, bbq and fine art all in the same afternoon.