On Monday, Feb. 25, Troy Brown inspired students and faculty members alike through sharing his story of personal growth as an artist with charisma and enthusiasm.
This was only the first event of Brown’s stay at Maryville College as the week-long artist-in-residence, and it surely left all wishing he could stay a week longer.
Brown currently works as an art professor at the North Carolina Central University and illustrates his own children’s books. He and his wife own their own publishing company, Brown Sugar Press Books, and have experienced much success.
“It’s so nice to be your own publisher!” Brown said. “You can print your books exactly how you want and when you want.” Brown has published four books thus far, which have sold in Indie book festivals all around the world. He wrote his first book, Lois and the Red Balloon, about his mother.
“My mom made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today. I felt like she deserved to be the subject of my first book project,” Brown said. Personal, sentimental connections like these can be found in all of Brown’s art.
“Everybody is walking around with their own little worlds of memories and experiences and emotions,” Brown said. “I want to look for stories of people everywhere I go and put them in my work.”
His earliest freelance professional works were promotional posters for the Fifth Third Bank Jazz Series Collection, which all depicted jazz musicians with distinct character and energy. These posters used vivid colors and exaggerated the musicians’ hands and lips and feet, giving the work a dynamic, unexpected impression—much like the impression that jazz music leaves.
“I really liked the response I got from these posters,” Brown said. “People were even stealing them right out of bus shelter advertisement bulletin boards all over the city! I knew I must’ve made those people feel something.”
A later series of paintings were reflective of Brown’s experiences while on a trip to Brazil, and, again, his goal was to reveal some level of the subject’s character and evoke a personal emotional response from the viewer.
For example, in the painting Renato, a Brazilian man opens his shirt to reveal a scene from a favela, or a ghetto, which indicates that the experiences he’s had in this certain area has shaped who he is on the inside.
Brown continued to play with this kind of pictorial storytelling when he moved to North Carolina. He was intrigued by old wooden Appalachian barns and homes and often drove around town just to take pictures of the rural structures.
He later photo-transferred these images onto materials such as aquaboards, and then combined them with snippets of old poems salvaged from an antique book store selling the works of regional writers.
Harley White, a junior psychology major, enjoyed this series of Brown’s work the most because they themselves write poetry and felt that they were able to connect better with the art that had words accompanying the images.
“It was an amazing experience to actually meet the artist; I felt like I appreciated the art even more after hearing the thoughts of the guy who created it,” said White. Brown dedicated his time on campus to meeting with students for individual art critiques and hosting workshops. He did, additionally, have some wise words he wanted to share with the general audience of Maryville College.
“Accept your personal story. Be open to it, let it shape you. And then share it with others. Because when people share themselves through their art or even just through a conversation, they contribute to this sea of rich stories that gives people the chance to connect with each other.”
Brown reminds us of how many opportunities for learning from and connecting with the people around us we have, especially because we as students live our lives day in and day out with each other.
“Maryville College is a special place. I felt welcomed by this nurturing environment ever since I set foot on this campus,” said Brown. “I hope you can take advantage of your time here—learn a lot from this community and contribute to it even more.”