Oak Park artist awakens to new passion, displays paintings at Maze Branch in February

By Kristen Romanowski, Staff Writer & Editor

“No harm in trying.” That’s what Oak Park resident Chris Brown told himself last fall when he put in a proposal to exhibit his paintings at the library.

A relative newcomer to painting, Brown says he first tried his hand at it “in the depths of the pandemic,” when a friend brought some supplies over. He’d never tried painting before then, despite a longtime interest in the visual arts, especially photography.

“It was kind of love at first sight,” he says. “I instantly fell in love with it.”

Proposal accepted, Brown is now showing his first-ever exhibit, Awakening, all February at Maze Branch. It is his first time showing his work in public.

‘I can fall into that flow state’

Brown says that moment when his friend first put a paintbrush in his hand was life-changing.

“I wish I would have tried painting much earlier,” he says. “But I’m glad I found it now.”

With no formal training, Brown mainly creates abstract paintings.

“That’s where I feel I can fall into that flow state,” he says. “I’m able to let go and let the paintbrush take me through the process. It’s really gratifying.”

Working out of his dining room in the early morning and later in the evening (“My dining room is effectively my studio now,” he says), Brown almost exclusively paints with oils.

Because oil paints take a long time to dry, he can keep working at the canvas, morphing and blending and adding more colors over time. He also finds satisfaction in the viscosity of oil paint, the way it feels on the brush and canvas, with everything “flowing very naturally, very smoothly.”

“My Babe,” pictured in middle

Influences & inspiration

Brown says he’s influenced by modern and contemporary artists in general, and especially abstract expressionists, including Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and Robert Motherwell.

But above all, he finds “joy in the discovery process, learning as I go along,” and seeing his skills build. “I can just feel myself getting more comfortable,” he says.

As he works, he listens to music, and some of those songs have found their way into his work. One painting, featuring two interlocking arms representing a couple, is titled “My Babe,” after the 2022 song by Spoon.

Another series of paintings (“dust conquests” nos. 1, 2, and 3), is named after his son, Cooper’s, music, which he calls “very abstract, dense, and beautiful.”

“dust conquests no. 3,” pictured in middle

‘Don’t limit yourself’

In his artist statement, Brown writes that he is “proof that it’s never too late in life to take on new endeavors, creative or otherwise.”

“I try not to overthink it, but there is a lesson here I learned,” he says. “Don’t limit yourself. Open yourself to trying new things, because you may find something that’s totally rewarding. In this case I have.”

You can follow Brown on Instagram at @chrisbrown631.