Cultural Quarterly Magazine Online

Down the Rabbit Hole:
Artist Leah Brown Goes Beyond the 'Borderland'
By Rachel Galvin

Artist Leah Brown's The Weird Sisters, on show at the NSU Art Museum
"One observation I made about dream content was that if I engage for much of the day in a repetitive physical activity, as I often do as part of my sculptural process, that I am likely to continue perceiving that action while asleep. I use this phenomenon to my advantage by creating labor-intensive, life-size tableaux of remembered characters and events in order to induce them back into my nightly dreaming. These works begin as illustrations, but become artifacts of invocation, and I regard them almost as magical objects."

LEAH BROWN
Recipient, 2013 South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Artists Fellowship

Demure and innocent, troubled and frightened, curious and lucid: these are the eyes of a Leah Brown creation. Seemingly self-aware, these melded objects combine human and animal in one fluidly constructed object. The natural world and the subconscious merge   leaving the viewer to question if the figure is an object or simply an illusion. Could it be a construct of the mind? Is it a symbol of something profound and deep, buried in the background, hidden between some synapses in the brain?

The dreamscape Brown creates is otherworldly, at times looking menacing, other times passively waiting for interpretation. This unusual world isn't far from what Alice must have encountered in her wonderland   a mysterious realm to explore, at times unsettling, but always intriguing.

"I create work about the borderland between what is considered real and what is not," said Brown. "Within a dream, shape-shifting is a common experience. One person becomes another; one space dissolves into the next. This is the experience I am attempting to recreate: this multiplicity of object-hood and its transformation into metaphor."

Brown, a recipient of a $15,000 South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship for Visual and Media Artists in 2013, has been working her artistic magic for as long as she can remember.  She started on the path toward becoming a professional artist at age 16. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004 and a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from the University of Miami in 2014.

She grew up in a creative family. Her father was a professional luthier since before she was born and worked at home in his workshop. Some of her earliest memories are of him making musical instruments. Her mother was a stained glass artist; and her grandmother was a dollmaker, teaching her early on about how to glue in eyes and hair.

 Leah Brown in the studio
 Catalina Jaramillo
Hair has become just one of the unique materials that she has employed in her pieces, whether she is adding it into sculptures or using it to illustrate her designs on a painting.

"Some of the materials I use, I do so for their symbolic properties or for their connection to place   such as the cotton I used in Lavinia and the Birdman, which was created on-site at the exhibiting museum in Sumter, S.C., at the height of cotton season," Brown said. "Oftentimes, I'll use bulk materials that I can find for free, or very inexpensively, so that the scale of my work isn't limited by the cost of creating it. I think nearly everything can be used as an art material, and I really enjoy experimenting with the physical properties of non-traditional art materials."

Her pieces all come under the umbrella of what she calls a "meta-narrative" called "The Story of the Hunted" utilizing the characters that often are found in her dreams. The process of creating this story has taken more than 10 years.

Brown, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, received much inspiration from nature in her North Carolina home, and also from wildlife in Florida.

"When I started creating art, the wooded landscape and native animal species of the Appalachian Mountains of my childhood were the primary source of my visual knowledge base. I've lived in Florida for six years now, and I have to say that that the landscape here has had a profound influence on my work. This is not the soft, hospitable wilderness of my childhood. The forests here are close, sharp and tangled and ill-suited to human travel, but there is a vastness of the skies and the ocean. This place is full of mysteries that I'm only beginning to understand how to explore," explained Brown.

It takes her generally between one and three months to create a piece. She begins each with a blueprint.

She said, "I do sketch out my ideas before creating a sculpture. In fact, I'll often write out a list of instructions and create a sort of blueprint to work from before I begin. I do this for two reasons:  First, the process of mold-making that I use to unify the disparate elements of my sculptures and installations is multi-step and requires a thorough plan to create a useable mold and a structural/balanced final sculpture. Second, having already established the what of the work allows me to focus on the why."

Artist Leah Brown's Borderland - view through fabric and mirror.

LEAH BROWN
Borderland - view through fabric and mirror
She works in her studio, which she shares with her husband and collaborator, Peter Symons, in FAT Village, of which they are the curators. The couple plans to have a baby in November.

FAT Village (Flagler Arts and Technology Village) is made up of many individual artist studios, alternative gallery spaces, creative businesses and an art school (the FAT Village Center of the Arts).

"[We] manage the curation of the large warehouse exhibition space, The Projects. We co-curate many of the shows that are seen during Artwalks, which are always held from 6 to10 p.m. on the last Saturday of every month. We also invite independent curators to propose exhibitions, and help them with the installation process. The Projects at FAT Village is a very unique space because it is so very large and raw and open. We generally exhibit work that works with this challenging space, such as site-specific installation, video projection, large-scale sculpture and experimental new media works," Brown said.

In December, The Projects at FAT Village received an $80,000 challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation - one of four projects in Broward County to receive funding.  Plans call for the funds to be used to cover the overhead for the space for two years, which will allow them to have weekly hours and expand programming.

To find out more about Leah Brown and her projects, visit www.leahbrownart.com. To find out more about FAT Village, visit www.fatvillage.com.

Borderland - overview




About the South Florida Cultural Consortium
The South Florida Cultural Consortium, formed in 1985, operates under an inter-local government agreement to coordinate projects and share resources for the growth of South Florida cultural activities, organizations and artists.  It provides regional cultural planning, new project development, statewide cultural marketing, information sharing, regional arts education training and support for ethnic and rural audience development. Read More...

 

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