All of the art featured in this issue is the work of Jan Brown, an abstract expressionist painter from Detroit, Michigan. Following the images below, our editors ask Jan a few questions.
Interview with Jan Brown
Border Crossing: Much of your figurative work shows people in fractured states, their bodies deconstructed, shattered into columns, or superimposed over other bodies, combining the abstract with the figurative. What inspires you to depict the human figure in this manner? How long have you been working in this style and how did you come upon it?
Jan Brown: The figure will always be open to interpretation by artists and, as a result, will always be a valid study. Where else can one study perspective, shadow, emotion, and intensity all in the same object?
In the beginning of 2015, I wanted to get back to some of my figurative work, hoping to find a way to blend it with the abstract that I’d been working on. I started simply drawing from the nude with ink on raw canvas. Drawing after drawing would pile on top of each other. I would then take them home, unstretch them and start playing with how I wanted them to act on the canvas. This began the “abstraction” and would lead me to so much more. Vertical and horizontal lines, formed by torn canvas, work their way into some of my compositions. I didn’t want the painting to be just the figure, but something more, so I kept pushing the limits.
In 2016, I had a happy accident using silver gesso, finding that the ink image, glued down with polymer medium and then ripped off when dried, would leave a partial image in the silver gesso. I began playing with the actual image and the “mirror” image. Which opened up another connection where I try to blend the figure into the abstract. The use of harvested string, first used to echo some of the ink lines, has become almost its own entity in recent canvasses, alluding to, but not literally showing the figure.
BC: Are there any artists whom you are highly influenced by?
JB: I have always loved Michelangelo and his figures, Pierre Soulages for his use of black and textures, and Antoni Tapies for his abstracts. One taught me to love the figure, one taught me to play with black tar in some of my work, and one just made me love abstraction!
BC: In addition to your figurative and abstract work, you also do landscapes, such as the below painting, Pierian Springs. How are your landscapes different from your figurative and abstract work?
JB: I haven’t painted an “official” landscape for decades. But what I find amazing is that almost every abstract becomes a landscape when it’s turned horizontally. And that’s the only way I get to a landscape these days. Take for example, Pierian Springs. I actually painted it as a vertical but when I brought it upstairs to look at it, sipping from a glass of wine, and rotated it (which I do often at some point in a painting’s creation), I saw that it worked beautifully as a landscape. Then I had to search for just the right title. I love Greek mythology and I came upon Pierian Springs—where the Muses went to get their inspiration.
From her beginnings in Detroit, Michigan, Jan Brown has always showed an inclination for art. She has been working within the realm of abstract expressionism since 2010. Her work has appeared in juried shows, exhibitions, and galleries all around Detroit. Brown has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Michigan State University and a Master of Arts degree from Eastern University. She has also studied with the Birmingham/Bloomfield Art Association.