Brown: Creating a New Vision in Sedona
Last year, I was shopping
in a local store that displayed many artists’ work. The place
was fairly empty as I walked along the aisles.
As I was quietly looking around,
I came upon a group of noisy folks chatting and laughing,
surrounding an artist who was working on a painting. “So that’s
where everyone is,” I thought, and was magnetically drawn
to the crowd.
However, it wasn’t the crowd
that really pulled me in. It was the captivating personality
of the artist, Russ Brown.
Happily working and talking
to his guests, he continued on painting as if it was an automatic
response to some inner calling.
Encircled by his colorful,
vibrant art pieces, he greeted me heartily. I could barely
take my eyes off these beautiful creations long enough to
Some of the displayed art,
the Cosmic Portal Series, was of the red rocks surrounded
by water and, of all things, dolphins. Oddly, it looked perfectly
One of the portals, surrounded by
a softly curved border, encrypted with ancient symbology,
had a haunting full moon over Cathedral Rock. The vibrant
green of high desert foliage enshrouded a mountain that led
to the familiar platform of flat red rocks that appear like
beach sand. Here, mulling around, were animals from all over
the continent. Elephants, giraffes, panda bears, tigers and
penguins together in harmony.
This led to an ocean full
of dolphins, whales, sea turtles and other colorful fish.
A majestic bald eagle spread his wings above the scene, while
a playful dolphin jumped out of the frame below. The piece
was very three-dimensional. I found myself smiling broadly
at the feelings it evoked.
Now a full year later, I have the opportunity to meet and talk
with Brown on his own turf. A very special turf, called
the Sedona Artists Studio. Having started this new endeavor
just a few months ago, Brown has already come a very long
When sales had slowed down
last year on paintings of dolphins and red rocks, it was time
for Brown to paint other things. Having an interest in planes,
and having flown different types of aircraft while serving
in Vietnam, Brown began painting them. He’d painted one or
two in the past but never really went for it. Things were
slow and it was time for a new look. The aircraft paintings
were an immediate success.
Brown keeps his life and paintings
interesting by expanding on the themes he comes up with. When
one painting sells, he makes another and another until they
stop selling. That’s not happening yet, so he is expanding
the variety of aircraft he paints. He’s gotten much more serious
about these paintings and, as a result, much better at it.
Because of their demand, Brown is advertising them nationally.
He has created a niche and
is rather enjoying himself.
“I create affordable art that
is good quality and I offer it at a great price.” he said.
Even though he’s gotten better and is selling more, he isn’t
raising his prices.
Brown is adamant about not
making prints of his work - each piece is one-of-a-kind. While
he may repeat a type of aircraft or red rock scene, he will
always make it noticeably different. Perhaps a different time
of day or different angle. “My way is paint one then when
it sells I do another painting. I don’t want to spend time
selling what I’ve already sold.”
Brown’s aircraft paintings
have definite personalities. His B-17 Flying Fortress is his
best seller. “It is the penultimate spirit of America. It
represents America at its finest,” he said proudly. “Some
aircraft do not have personalities, then it’s my job to give
them one. But the B-17, no matter how you look at it, is a
thing of beauty.”
I wondered out loud what kind
of people buy these paintings, convinced it was solely those
who flew them. Brown surprised me by saying 30 percent or
more of his sales are to women. As Brown explained it, in
World War II, women built the planes the men flew.
Brown also sells to aviation
buffs. They could be the wife of a pilot, a stewardess, and,
of course, women fly planes too.
Brown paints many things,
most of which have nothing to do with each other. From cars
to dolphins, it’s hard to believe the same artist painted
the subjects you see in his studio. You simply can’t put a
label on him.
“You haven’t even begun to
realize what is in the back of my mind,” he grinned.
I prompted him to tell me
some of those ideas and this is what poured forth; a sixties
rock star series, including Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison;
he is exploring the world of ships; and there is a sunset
series around the red rocks. He wants to continue the Cosmic
Portal series, of which there are currently 34. His love of
birds will create the Raven series and Birds of Sedona. Then
there’s the Vietnam series of aircraft. And it goes on and
“Just when I think the plate
is full, I realize I can put more on it!”
Brown often refers to coming
to Sedona and how his life and art changed as a result.
“Lord knows, I had to suffer,
but I made my choice. I wanted to be a painter and make a
living at it. When I left Hawaii, life was very good. I painted
some in Hawaii, but not with the same fervor that I paint
A very successful businessman
there, he knew he had to leave to “just paint.” On some levels,
it was the ultimate mid-life crisis. He turned 50 and said,
“I’m not happy with what I’m doing, there is something inside
saying go paint. But, I have my Jaguar, I have the good life.
NO, the voice said, go paint. So, I’ve come to follow that
inner voice and many times the road has gotten a little rocky.
“Now when other painters come
to me and say ‘Oh, you’re so talented, you’re such a great
painter.’ I tell them ‘Do you realize that talent is just
a small portion of what you’re going to need to be a successful
painter?’ Focus, determination, using your brain. There are
so many great artists out there, but if you want to be a successful
painter that makes money doing nothing else, you’re going
to have to do some serious thinking and realize that you have
to do something out of the ordinary.”
Never Say Never
When he left Hawaii, he swore
to himself he would never start another business, hire an
employee or use a computer.
“I just wanted to be an artist
and do nothing else. I do however, like the good things in
life. If my friends in Hawaii could see me driving down the
road in LaBamba, they’d have a good laugh.”
LaBamba is Brown’s station
wagon, painted with various scenes of the red rocks. It was
actually the vehicle, in more than one way, that got him here.
After Hawaii, he found himself
painting in Colorado but it didn’t feel right. He went on
to Taos and that didn’t feel right either. He was leaning
on LaBamba looking at a map when some people came by and said,
“Hey you’re an artist, what are you doing?” He told them he
was trying to find his destination. “Go to Sedona,” they said.
On a whim he did. He drove
into town, then on to the Village of Oak Creek for gas where
he was hired for his first commission. Some people saw his
car and wanted him to paint their pickup truck. This was a
Brown is not particular, he
loves to paint anything. From propane tanks to gas tanks,
he’s done it all. He also loves a good challenge.
“My goal is to be an artist
that paints paintings,” he said. What he paints on is of little
When Brown came to Sedona,
he was a different person and for some reason, the first six
months in Sedona was a “blessing in disguise.” He found Sedona
to be a beautiful place. People were so friendly and he had
this feeling that Sedona was a perfect spot in an imperfect
However, after the six months
passed, he began to run into all kinds of strange attitudes.
Brown refused to buy into it, he was determined to be a happy
camper. He had a mission and a vision, and was not
going to be discouraged.
Working at a local art market,
Brown was disappointed and decided to leave. Switching his
focus, he ran ads inviting people to visit his home studio.
Brown wanted more though.
He wanted something very special and unique. He knew a regular
gallery setting would not suffice. The general consensus around
Sedona is that the artists are used and abused. He didn’t
want to be one of them.
Brown tries to inspire artists
he meets. That is one of the reasons Sedona Artists Studio
happened. A group of artists got together and said “we need
a place for artists.” Everyone was looking at Russ. So out
he goes with Gerry Quotsquovya, an awesome local Native American
artist, they see the space at Hozho, and he tells Quotsquovya
to “go for it.” Quotsquovya didn’t want the responsibility,
so Brown rented the studio.
Within a day he was already
looking at the next space. Before the ink was dry on the lease,
he was expanding. This was the birth of Gallery Row at Hozho.
“If I can think it, I can do it. This spells harmony.”
The vision he has talked of
from the beginning is to create something extraordinary in
Sedona and give the artists a chance to be a part of it. You
have to be a working artist to be part of the Sedona Aritsts
Since its inception, it has
attracted many artists. A number have come and gone, but the
right person finds his or her way and stays. These artists
don’t fit into the gallery mode. They want to show people
what they do as they are doing it. They bring their personality
and talent to the public eye.
Brown gives them a first-class
space at a price they’ll never get again. He vows, “I will
not make any money on this business and I’ve done this for
a reason. We’ve got 17 artists under a wing - let’s all go
fly. Let’s take a little trip.
“Some have resisted the vision.
. . it’s too new, too bold, too scary. I say build it and
they will come. Now the entire bottom floor is all gallery
space occupied by working artists. We’re already off the ground.
Personally my sales have doubled every month!”
He believes the best way to
do this artists’ studio is to lead by example. He works and
paints more than anyone else and thereby sells more than anyone
Brown started the studio with
very little money. The sign of a good idea is that it draws
people that want to help with that idea, Brown said. He is
grateful to have gathered so many fine artists together under
one roof. To have so many artists come together in harmony
is pretty rare. He has a certain grace in business and it
shows in the growth of Gallery Row.
What he has created is his
gift to the next generation of artists. It’s a legacy. Here
is a place where the serious artist can get started. A sort
of modified co-op.
“People love a bold, direct
vision. If you waiver, it won’t work,” he said. “We’re creating
something extraordinary in Sedona. People will come from all
over the world to see it.”
Brown has put Sedona Artists
Studio in a first-class setting. He’s working on having patios
out front, awnings, flowers, wrought iron. He’s creating a
mini-mall/gallery and eventually wants to take over the whole
building. He’s making a bold statement at Gallery Row.
He believes if you get the
right group of artists together, something magical will happen.
Every time a new artist joins, it’s another piece of the puzzle.
“We have some really great personalities. Not everyone belongs
here, but oh when they do!”
With a quiet confidence, devoid
of ego, he takes things one step beyond and creates his vision.
“I didn’t say we are out to
create the most money. I did say we were going to create something
extraordinary. Now, despite a few birth pains, it’s happening.
It’s here. The harder I work, the luckier I get. More and
more good things are happening.
“At 53, hell I want to paint
as much as I can. The power is in my head.”
Brown believes his challenge
is to paint a broad spectrum. He likes when people say “what
an unusual artist.”
“Instead of feeling ‘oh good
I reached this point, now I can relax,’ my work begins from
this point forward. There’s so much more to be done and the
only person I need to impress is myself.”
Working at Gallery Row in
Hozho is a great platform for his
showmanship. Brown is truly inspired by the interaction
of people with his art.
Brown paints space with a
three dimensional quality. He can paint what he thinks. With
his technical ability, Brown can literally put you in another
world. He can put you on the planet Mars with Cathedral Rock
in the background. It is quite an experience to stand in front
of one of his paintings and feel this other worldly experience.
“Sedona is a wonderful space
for an artist. You’re in a free-thinking zone here, you can
leave the city limits and create your own reality. Anything
an artist can think of here in Sedona, can be done, and its
accepted. And by the way, thank you Sedona!”
Brown introduced me to one
of his Triptych paintings - one imaged seperated in three
panels. He enjoys painting on different shapes, triangles,
portals and cut out images are not unusual for Brown. He paints
on masonite or canvas with acrylics. His love of bright colors
brings his paintings to vivid life.
Russ the inventor, likes to
exercise his mind. He envisions creating ceiling art and corner
art to name a few. “I want to get away from flat paintings.
I just want things to be exciting and fun!”
Every detail is important
to Brown. The flowers outside, gravel in front, the overall
“It’s the whole picture that
reflects on the picture I’m painting. When I paint I want
to be able to talk with people and bring them into my painting.
At least once a day, if I’m lucky I get to talk to a child
whose seen something they’ve never seen before. I give them
a brush and say here paint this. Suddenly they beam. They
are an artist. As synergy gets created here, it becomes electric.”
Look for a reception in September
featuring the new and stimulating fractal art of Kip Worrell.
Visit Russ Brown and the many
unique artists of Sedona Artists Studio on Gallery Row in
the Hozho Center on Hwy. 179. Call 203-0195 for directions