A few words on Stacy Brown

I have watched the evolution of Stacy Brown's painting for several years now. We have become friends and I have several her paintings, mostly faces of children she has lured into her studio. They were most often the friends of her sons, who for some reason thought posing with toys or underwear (clean, of course) on their heads for a woman in a paint encrusted bathrobe would be fun. To complete the picture, she smoked heavily in the days of my paintings and was hard pressed to locate a hairbrush before late afternoon.

They did it anyway…posed for her.

Those kids, like the rest of us, could never know what would come of the sessions. Things and people filter through Stacys head like the smoke that used to swirl around it, and coming to rest on the sharp points of her imagination, they get deflated of all of their convention and filled with her own particular forms and meanings.

One hears the words "playful" and "wistful" used a lot when people try to describe Stacy Brown's work, and I suppose to some extent that is true. It is not what I saw in my Stacy paintings when I got them.

It was the humans trapped behind the glass-like surface that spoke to me of souls not fully formed under their new skin, strong but uncertain and not quite hopeful. Curious without being believers. One thing common to them all is they trusted their observer and you see it in their faces.

Atop the head of one of these children is a toy alligator, painted in the gaudy Santa Fe tourist style that has become so popular. The alligator is balanced above eyes that are deep dark pools, and though the mouth on the little girl is slightly smiling, the eyes are not. The colors are muted, and one gets the sense that there is more beneath that surface, but the clues don't take you far unless you know a little of Stacy's history. It is all so personal. And the writing is there on the walls...

When I first met Stacy, she and her husband Tom Sharpe had a houseguest that had been living with them for some time. When I met him, he told me Tom and Stacy were the most generous people he had ever met. Later when he had moved on they each thought he was someone the other had invited to stay. If you want something from the refrigerator, you get it. No need to ask...

Their home has a cadence, a flow of community regardless of the number of occupants, be they extended guests, returning adult children, cats, salamanders, other artists, or parties. Lots of parties. And all around are the stuff of the paintings, odd toys and pieces of wood, parts of strange things, bones, and living things. In the window of the kitchen is a little glass globe with a spinning solar fan in it. It is always spinning in the relentless New Mexico sun that fills that room.

Her subjects are simple compositions, often a single object or person, isolated or surrounded by a only a few clues of her interest in them, written in a personal language that invites you to study them. Strange hieroglyphics and comics, seemingly unrelated objects or symbols of something that stuck in her head years ago...perhaps from one of her own past battles with life...pasted into the painting like a road conditions sign.

Symbols and cartoons, toys and bones. The origins of creation and the remains. "remember thou, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return".

A good life requires that we celebrate each moment as if it were a gift, and then pray not to forget it. You can only hope to move through your life with abandon, giving where possible and taking only what you need. Humility and strength, curiosity and joy, keep your heart on your sleeve. You play the cards you are given and do your best with them. This is Stacy Brown if you are lucky enough to get to know her.

And she is in her paintings. In the nuns and asparagus, the smiley faces, the donuts, and the portraits of her friends and family. There is a connectivity in them, and an understanding of the wordless humanity that artists often fail to translate into the visual tale.

The personal stories are not easy to spot. She told me one time that she paints things she is afraid of. Most would think this was some sort of contradiction what with all the wistfulness and humor most people seem to see in those paintings.

In one of her recent paintings there is a young boy poised to jump from a chair, and I am left to wonder why? What might the painter be afraid of there? She used the word "rapture" somewhere in her thoughts about the painting, and there was a joke about Icarus whipped into the mix leaving me with more questions than answers.

One painting that is not so obscure is a painting of one of her sons. When I last spoke to him he was in town on a break from his evangelical studies, clearly uncomfortable with us agnostics and barely containing the impulse to preach to all of us about our waywardness. Stacy talked him into sitting (or standing) for her to do some studies before he got away. No small feat, I'm guessing... When he came by for her he was on his way to church, wearing a tie and with Bible in hand.

Later when I saw the painting, she had painted a nametag on his shirt which read "Hello, my name is" and the space was blank. Now, it is not my place to speculate too much on what reasons she has for leaving that out, or if a larger statement or universal sentiment is present, but I do know something of the things she misses about him.

If that aforementioned humanity is defined by the gift of choice, then the choices we make are the container of each individual soul. Every response to the world becomes a contribution, every expression brings the person into better focus, and the process of adding lines to the story is never ending.

With Stacy, as with her paintings, it is a more interesting story if you make the effort to read between the lines.

Marc Bohne, painter
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