Catherine Porter-Brown and Jeff Brown have created entire bodies of work for which they are both indirectly responsible. With pieces in the permanent collections of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, N.M., each one produces artwork that in no way resembles the other's, but what the spouses do share is an interest in using everyday objects as inspirations for waking and expanding the consciousness of the viewer.
Brown, a 63-year-old artist in residence at the Fountain Valley School of Colorado, takes the direct route to found art. He says he's inspired by the folk art of poverty-stricken regions of the world he visits. "These people cannot afford fancy art materials, so they use what is laying around to express themselves," he says.
He's drawn to discarded objects because in their days of heavy use, they often acquire their own anthropomorphic personality. His piece "Chemistry" uses '50s-era plastic dolls, holding hands around Dick-and-Jane-esque cut-out illustrations. This creates a tongue-in-cheek exploration between two severely different types of relationships. Is it the convoluted, constantly changing mating dance of the present, or is it the extremely rigid and formulaic American dream of the past?
Oil paints and pastel are the primary media that Porter-Brown, 64, uses upon canvas or linen. Her approach is figurative expressionist realism reminiscent of the early American scene paintings of the '30s. She prefers to call it "magical realism."
Her "Ovum ad Mentum" depicts a shirtless man outside on a semi-cloudy day, holding an egg to his head. It's nothing supernatural, yet the juxtaposition of the three subjects, presented in somewhat dramatic detail, creates an illusory feeling of surrealism without the distorted forms.
"The work is referentially abstract but not truly abstract," she says.
She gets such imagery from her spiritual work of meditation and awareness exercises. She says everyday acts like pouring milk into a glass stir her concentration intensely — she follows the form it takes while being poured, and while it settles into the glass. "Pick up a rock and hold it, smell it, feel the weight, imagine its origins and travels," she says, "and in doing so you will have a greater respect for the earth."
It's heady, yes. But with 32 years of partnership under their belts (10 of which was spent in Connecticut before coming to Colorado), the artists have had plenty of time to hone, and critique, their deep messages.
"We rely on mutual respect," says Brown. "We are each other's best critics." Porter-Brown agrees wholeheartedly. "We support and sustain each other," she says, "while being sensitive to the processes of art and the dire need to have the support of love and opinion."