ENCINITAS — From a young age, resident Greg Brown, 69, showed artistic promise. But he hasn’t always been able to devote major time to his own creative endeavors. Since retiring, though, he’s honed his craft and let the intuitive part of his mind take the wheel.
For years, Brown was an architect by trade, designing local buildings and homes, even parks and town halls in Iran while he was in the Peace Corps in the late 1960s. He found architecture to be fulfilling. Yet it required constant attention to detail and analytical examination, not exactly the most right-brain friendly work. The antidote? Unleash his spontaneous side.
“By nature, I’m a cerebral person,” Brown said. “I tend to think too much. I’m trying to tap into more of the unconscious, the whimsical.”
To do this, Brown has been experimenting with a kind of printmaking called cyanotypes, which entails placing photosensitive chemicals onto watercolor paper and exposing it to sunlight. The result: stark blue and white images, many of which have an eerie quality.
“Unlike painting, I can quickly pick and choose which photos I like,” Brown said. “There’s no pressure to commit to one thing.”
As well as a newfound passion for cyanotypes, Brown can paint everything from traditional oil portraits to impressionistic takes on nature. His artistic skills go back to elementary school, where he developed a knack for drawing.
“That became my way to excel,” Brown said. “I was not good at sports because I had polio at the age of 4. Although I could participate, I could not excel.”
His sixth-grade teacher spotted his talent and told him he should go to art school. His parents insisted on a more practical path, which Brown said he doesn’t regret.
“Architecture takes a synergy of quite a few talents,” Brown said. “I was happy doing that. But I later decided to really see what I’m capable of as an artist.”
Right now, his attention is focused on perfecting cyanotypes.
Possibly his most striking foray into cyanotypes is a complex work titled “Samsara- Impermanence.” The work features shape-shifting bubbles juxtaposed with a Gustave Dore illustration depicting a scene from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
“The organic shape of the bubbles and the similar shape of the bodies in the illustration fascinated me,” Brown said. “I’m making a visual comparison between the flimsiness of human life and the flimsiness of the bubbles looked at from a perspective of hundreds of thousands of years.”
The work, along with another of Brown’s, won an honorable mention award at the Del Mar Fair. Brown’s work has also been displayed at the Del Mar Art Center and the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park.
“Samsara-Impermanence” also has personal meaning. Brown said it may have been his way of dealing with tragedy.
“I lost my wife 11 years ago and I’ve never really been able to express it in my art,” Brown said. “This may have been something I unconsciously came up with reflecting on it. That seems like a possibility.”
“We were married almost 25 years, she was a wonderful woman,” Brown added. “She was a great mother and we raised one son together.”
Cyanotypes also allow him to manipulate light and shadows, a major component of nearly all his work. But his interest in shadowplay hasn’t always materialized on a painting or print. About a decade ago, he put on several sound and light shows at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, where he is an active member. The show involved coordinated light bouncing off of shallow water and onto a projection screen, and all the while, live and recorded music played. He dreamed up the idea about four decades prior.
“I thought of it while I was back in architecture school,” Brown said. “In college, your mind is excited about a lot of different things.”
It appears as though Brown’s mind is as excited as ever, and he keeps pushing himself in new directions.
“It takes an awful lot to find your way as an artist, and I’m still on the path. I feel I’ve achieved some things, but it’s not just a question of just suddenly discovering your genius. There’s a lot of hard work. I’m happy to be where I’m at, though.”
For more information on Brown’s work, contact the Del Mar Art Center.