Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 29, 2011

Art around the world

Palo Alto painter often finds inspiration for her bright oils on other continents

by Joann So

Alice Brown's Palo Alto garage looks like a little room that Monet would have painted in when he created his famous Impressionist paintings. Her intimate space of creativity is nestled in a backyard resembling a flower field.

The sun provides ample light, enough to inspire the brightly colored oil paintings that Brown creates. An unfinished canvas stays put on an easel alongside a palette filled with glossy smidgens of paint, waiting to be painted again.

The small studio will be open for visitors soon, when Brown takes part in Silicon Valley Open Studios the weekend of May 14-15. (See separate story.)

During a recent visit, Brown sits comfortably on a stool wearing a faded denim button-down shirt layered over a pink one — a clothing ensemble fit for an artist. She's surrounded by paintings that line the walls as snapshots of the places she's traveled to. "You see better when you paint. ... It makes traveling more interesting," she said.

For Brown, art serves as a way to connect with the local people of the many places she's been to — Antarctica, Cambodia, Africa and New Zealand, among others. Brown takes inspiration from the scenery, such as the Botswana marketplace depicted in her painting "South African Market." She has also started working with small organizations to provide art supplies to poorer countries.

"Art came before the traveling but they go well together," she said, smiling.

Brown and her husband, along with six other couples, started distributing poster paints to children in Cambodia at Phnom Krom Primary School in the city of Siem Reap. Every couple of years, a couple makes a trip holding duffel bags stuffed with poster paints to give to more than 900 children.

Brown got into oil painting after she painted a mural for her daughter's first post-college apartment. There was an empty wall just asking for one, Brown said, and she painted a Costa Rican jungle.

She then started to paint a year later — this time on canvases, in a much greater number and frequency. She took classes at the Scottsdale Artists School in Arizona, studying with Ken Auster, one of her biggest inspirations.

Brown's oil works are based mostly on pictures taken while she's traveling. Sometimes she goes out for some plein-air painting in locations around the Bay Area and her Carmel house. Variety is evident in her oil paintings. Ocean scenes in Hawaii or Panama are vibrant with more green. She also paints at the Mission Ranch hotel in Carmel, which is "more subtle and has more nature colors."

Brown's multitasking carries over to her art. A painting takes anywhere from nine to 12 hours, but she sometimes manages to work on two or three at a time. Inspiration comes as she's working: "I'm thinking of what to paint next while I'm painting."

Brown describes her style as typically French Impressionist, noting that she would rather "do it instead of read about it in books."

"I like the quiet time because I have a big family," she added. "You forget what ails you, what worries you. You lose yourself in the art. I'm thankful for this outlet at this age."

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