MARIAN “CHICKIE” BROWN (1922-2021)
Born Marian Wagner in Pittsburgh in 1922, Brown eloped at the age of 18 and moved with her husband to Southern California where she became one of the few women in the early surfing culture. After relocating to Houston where she raised a family, Brown began taking painting classes in her 60s at the Glassell School of Art. She didn’t exhibit her paintings until 2017 when, at the age of 95, one of her teachers, Houston artist Francesca Fuchs, curated a solo show of Brown’s work at the Art League Houston. In 2018, Fuchs organized a second show of Brown’s work at Bill’s Junk, an art space Fuchs ran with her husband, artist Bill Davenport.
In her last years, Brown embraced a remarkable freedom in her art, gleefully combining different styles and techniques, drawing on popular culture (Hollywood movies, pop music) to create symbolist dramas and scenes from everyday American life. Brown’s figures, which are sometimes carefully modeled and sometimes depicted with rough, expressionistic brushstrokes, are always suffused with emotion: couples gaze at each other or turn away from each other, solitary figures study themselves in mirrors, a boy sticks out his tongue at some adults, a woman seems to be crying. In several paintings, Brown comments on art itself: in one work, a hand holding a paint brush hovers between a nude woman and a picture on the wall; in another she comments on the pleasure of seeing other people’s paintings. Nearly always collaged elements are present, usually with handwritten texts. Brown clearly enjoyed painting nude figures, male and female, and relished the act of painting itself, but what she cared about most, at the end of her long life, were human relationships.
Marian “Chickie” Brown died Feb 3, 2021, at the age of 98. The 2022 Outsider Art Fair is the first time Brown’s work is being shown outside of Houston.