On a browned and aged piece of paper, the drawings by a 4-year-old child seem to simply show people working, hammering and smiling.
But for Charlene Brown, the works reveal an analytical nature that has defined her artistic career. The rough sketches show the curiosity of a young child who was examining how people’s elbows bend and then figuring out how to draw that.
Brown never lost that curiosity and sense of experimentation in her artwork, and it’s served as the foundation for a successful art career.
Her portraits and landscapes are rooted in the hallmarks of representational art — the challenge of making something look like what it is. But carefully woven through each composition is a glimmer of the ethereal, a dream-like quality that only amplifies the effects on the viewer.
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Brown has brought a collection of her work to Greenwood for an exhibition at the Southside Art League. She calls the show “Drawing Conclusions,” and it will serve as a snapshot of her journey as an artist.
“Drawing is my anchor. It’s my meditation and prayer. It’s a calm sea in the turbulent storm of creative process,” she said. “And more than anything, it’s the place I go to find answers to the questions art is continually posing.”
In the narrow hall in Brown’s Carmel home, dozens of faces peer out from mounts on the wall.
The drawings and paintings capture bright smiles, pensive glances and knowing eyes. Some are warm and inviting, others more serious in tone. Many of the pieces reveal nature at work on the periphery — wind blowing, sun shining, leaves rustling.
The works are just a small sliver of Brown’s work, but do a good job of at least introducing the story of her art.
“I tend to go for natural things, but especially people, and especially faces,” she said. “My favorite things is a close-up face looking at you.
Art has been central to Brown’s life for as long as she can remember, and even before she can. She has a scrap of paper saved from when she was 20 months old, with a chain of circles that spreads across the top and down the side.
It’s the earliest evidence that she was an artist.
“I remember spending hours as a child lost in the process of drawing, fascinated with the stories I could tell with pencil and crayon,” she said in her artist’s statement.
Brown’s formal artistic education continued through high school and college. Brown spent six months apprenticing with Marjorie Strider — a major contributor to the pop art movement — in New York City.
The experience was invaluable, learning about the rigors of professional art and using her representational skills to contribute to Strider’s projects.
But in the galleries and shows that she frequented in New York, Brown didn’t find the realism that she cherished. As she emerged into the art world in the mid-1970s, she found that her preferred style of drawing and painting was passé.
Conceptual art was en vogue at the time.
“I’d walk into galleries and see things, like a pillar of dirt with household appliances stuck to it. That was the whole thing. I wasn’t that interested in that,” she said. “So after college, I basically didn’t do a lot of art. I poked around with it, but I didn’t want to do what was being done.”
Still, Brown found ways to satisfy her artistic instincts. She homeschooled her five children, including teaching them art.
As her children grew older, their friends found out about the art classes and wanted to take some lessons themselves. Brown put together rigorous lesson plans and found ways to help them get better. Since that time, she has used her own skills to teach others.
Her studio is a former workshop in the back of the house, and Brown has converted an office into a classroom where she teaches art lessons two days each week.
“I think I’m a natural teacher. It’s something that’s easy for me to do,” she said. “People always come to me and say they don’t have any talent, they can’t draw even draw a stick figure. But no one ever taught them. Anyone can learn; you just have to have the desire.”
Teaching also invigorated her own creations. Brown resumed drawing, doing both portraiture and figurative pieces, capturing both pure representational art and more soulful interpretations as well.
“I want it to look like the person, and I try very hard to get the likeness. But, there’s more of an artistic concept behind some of these others, doing things with the texture and trying to create a mood,” she said.
She also eventually added oil painting to her repertoire. Portraits make up a majority of her focus, but she also loves capturing landscapes in her art.
Dense forests awakening in the spring, dreamy clouds drifting the sky and the jumbled whitewater of waves crashing at the shore come to life with thick oil paints on canvas.
The show at the Southside Art League gallery blends these two aspects to show both halves of Brown’s career.
“My background, what I’ve done all my life, is draw. I got good at drawing, and I never really learned painting. Someone just gave me some paints and I played with it,” she said. “Drawing is this expressful, meditating thing that I do in between painting, which for me is wrestling with all of this pigment and mud and stuff.”
Brown’s works regularly hang in the Hoosier Salon Gallery in Carmel, as well as the Brown County Art Gallery in Nashville. Coming to Greenwood is an opportunity to introduce her art to people who have never encountered it.
Her plan is to include about 30 works in the show, giving a good representation of what she’s done.
“I haven’t decided how broad I’m going to make it. I’m going to do almost all of the drawings I have here, and then include some of the paintings that show that drawing influences,” she said.
What: An exhibition of drawings and paintings from Carmel-based artist Charlene Brown
Where: Southside Art League Off Broadway Gallery, 299 E. Broadway St., Greenwood
When: Through Jan. 31
Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Reception: Brown and the gallery will host an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 13. Light refreshments will be served.
Information: southsideartleague.org or charlenembrown.com