Working with cardboard, scissors and inexpensive paint, Brent Brown of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, has created a sizable repertoire of movable figures and objects that encapsulate and honour the lasting impressions of his childhood through television and movies. Recalling his own innocence and the need to re-invent his memories and heroes, both fictitious and real, his marionette-type characters move their limbs and bodies in an imitation of the images he grew up with, and the things that left a lasting impression on him.
Brown was born 41 years ago in Indiana, and was deprived of oxygen at birth. As a learning-disabled child, he spent much of his time at the Riley Children’s Hospital, Indiana University, Indianapolis. He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and now lives in an assisted-living apartment complex near Reading, Pennsylvania, with help from the Mosaic House Clubhouse, a psychiatric rehabilitation service for people experiencing mental health challenges.
He says his talent was recognised early on when he was asked in school to draw a stick figure. He drew a fully-detailed person. As a young boy he was inspired by Bible stories and comic books, then by television and movies. Aged ten he won an art contest, which further encouraged his interest in art, especially puppetry and ceramics. He had always made art in his spare time – images of monsters from movies, clay masks of faces seen in print from all over the world and more.
Having no formal or continuing art education, he credits his Wilson High School art teacher, Robert Chapel, with instructing him on how to make stained glass, and how to work with terracotta clay and other mediums. After high school, he was employed in a factory run by a local organisation that helped people with specific learning disabilities while he made his artwork at home.
Later, in his twenties, a few of his pieces were displayed in the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts at the VSA (Very Special Art) Gallery, Washington, DC. His work has since been shown at several galleries and exhibitions across Pennsylvania. He keeps himself creatively busy, but does not make a living through art.
Brown’s parents have always been supportive of him. When they divorced a few years ago, he began to make his articulated cardboard puppets. His influences are many: he admires film directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for their imaginations and storytelling, and portrays characters from their films in his work. He also loves and appreciates the
paintings of Van Gogh and Rembrandt.
Image caption: Bottom Drum Grem, cardboard and acrylic paint