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Conversations with Ryan Brown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Brown.

Hi Ryan, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in West Valley City, Utah. Since grade school, I had an interest in drawing and painting but had no real guidance. I studied at BYU, graduating in 2002 with a BFA in Illustration. This course of study, although enlightening in many ways, did not provide me with the skill development I needed to create the level and quality of work I wished to emulate.

After taking time to work closely with the portrait artist William Whitaker, I then moved to Florence, Italy to study at the Florence Academy of Art in 2003. Within six months, I had run out of money, and my second child was on his way so I was forced to return to Utah. At that point, I had the option of either finding a job to feed my family, or going all in to try and make a living as an artist.

Stubbornly, and ignorantly, I chose to devote all my time to being an artist. It wasn’t a fiscally responsible idea, as I really had no idea what it meant to be an artist, and I still wasn’t very good at painting either. But for the next three years, I just painted, and taught (BYU, UVU), entered competitions and approached galleries, and made hundreds of paintings, a few of which were good. I’m not sure how I made it, but I did.

In 2006, I became incredibly dissatisfied with my level of skill and lack of efficiency in my method of painting, so I decided to return to Florence to finish my studies. We took out a terrible loan (the only one available) and moved our family of 5 back to Italy. I graduated in 2008 winning the ‘Painting of the Year’ and the President’s Award.

When I returned from Florence, I wanted to try and recreate the community of dedicated artists and students that I had just experienced, as well as offer to others the same clear, organized, and structured curriculum that I had just graduated from at the Florence Academy of Art.

So I opened the Masters’ Academy of Art in Springville, Utah. Since 2008, we have added two more children to our family, and I have spent my time teaching and painting. I also have a podcast called The Unvarnished Podcast that can be seen on Youtube, in which I travel to different artists’ studios and record some great conversations with their studios as a backdrop.

I also began filming a television series in Paris last October called Art City.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has been a constant effort to be a successful artist, in part because it has taken so long to learn about the art world, and also because my expectations for myself keep expanding. I should also be clear when I use the term ‘successful’, that my version of success lies more in how well I execute my artistic vision, rather than how much money I’m making.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for me is somewhat self-imposed. Coming from a sports background, I enjoy the meritocratic order that sports provide. Art, however, is subjective and has no distinguishable standards. I hold myself up against the past masters whom I admire and wish to fit next to in this grand tradition of classical painting. But the art market of today has no concern for the quality of execution or the display of hard-won skill.

Winning in a competition or selling in a gallery is really not reflective of what work is good, better, or best, because those terms don’t exist in a world that has no standards. And that can often be frustrating for me. Of course, the inconsistency of sales was difficult at first, but I, with the help of my wife, just had to become more clever at budgeting.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
As a fan of Michael Jordan growing up, there was a phrase I heard constantly, and that was that he had no weaknesses in his game. The painters I admire most throughout history were similar in that they could paint anything, any subject at the highest level.

I wanted to be able to do the same. Also, it is important for me that I be able to pursue any subject that I find beautiful or interesting. I never wanted to shackle my creativity by limiting my subject matter. As an artist, this can make things far more difficult because the wider your subject matter, the harder it is to have a distinguishable brand. But this is the choice I made.

So I paint everything from classical portraits to nude figures, landscapes, still life, and religious and narrative paintings. What I hope I am achieving is a distinct purposefulness in my work.

I’m trying to create works that are beautiful and well-executed but have a purpose beyond beauty that can serve to feed an audience indefinitely. I am trying to paint the human experience as I understand it, in a way that can transcend race or culture and be understood and felt without borders.

I believe what I am the proudest of is that I’ve been able to successfully live a creative life on my own terms. I have not succumbed to the pressures or fears of daily subsistence in a way that has prevented me from living my passion.

What were you like growing up?
I loved sports growing up and I excelled in some of them. I didn’t have the discipline or guidance to go too far with sports, however, although I was an All-American in water polo as a senior in high school and I started as a freshman on my college water polo team.

I did well in school, although that is not necessarily indicative of my effort. I enjoyed making people laugh. I found music as a sophomore in high school (my parents rarely ever listened to music), and I became a huge fan of music. I was always driven to achieve something.

I wanted to stand out. I secretly felt destined to do something special on a much bigger stage than that of my provincial upbringing. I’ve always had an endless curiosity for experiencing, seeing, and tasting in new places and cultures.

Pricing:

  • My paintings sell in a range from $1,200 to $150,000 depending on size, subject matter, and complexity.
  • I do accept commissions – pricing depends on subject matter and complexity.

Contact Info:

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