My life is a lot like any other guy’s. I play ice hockey, attend University, and live in the Canadian Prairies. I was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. . . .
In the fall of 1948, Canada’s first golf major was held in Winnipeg. Twenty-one-year-old Jack Newton shot a 9-over-par 290 to take home the Canadian Amateur Championship.
In the early 1950s, a young man from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan found himself far from home in Augusta, Georgia. At the time, Canada was still just an emerging nation, with only one province. But this young man, often referred to as the Canadian Harry Vardon, was the proud winner of three Masters titles at Augusta in 1953.. Read more about when is the masters 2023 and let us know what you think.
The artist’s self-portrait.
When Harley Brown was seven years old, his father showed him pictures he had created, including a portrait of actor Ronald Coleman. Brown recalls, “He drew it for my mother when they were courting.” “That particular piece has influenced my future for the rest of my life.”
That future would take the kid from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on a meandering path through the art world, from academia to practical application and top honors. After studies at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary and London’s Camberwell College of Arts, as well as sessions with Gustav Rehberger at the Art Students League of New York, Brown took to portraiture and selling his work door to door. “Yes, actually door to door,” he sheepishly admits. But acclaim lay in store for the developing artist, including notice in the Prix de West at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and in the Masters of the American West at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles. Since establishing his name, Brown has given workshops and demonstrations around the world, illustrated magazine covers and published books, including the aptly titled Confessions of a Starving Artist and Harley Brown’s Inspiration for Every Artist. He has also earned entry into both the National Academy of Western Art and the Cowboy Artists of America.
Brown describes his life path as “obsessed with generating life on paper.” “Even in school classes, all I did was doodle. One of the best parts was that my teachers recognized my passion for art and granted me some leeway with my schoolwork. That fixation has continued unabated to this day.”
First Nations women collaborate on a basket in Brown’s “Mother and Daughter.”
He began painting First Nations people in Calgary in the early 1960s. He recalls, “We lived just a few blocks from a reserve.” “I went there as frequently as I could since they were wonderful people to be around. And when they wore their traditional attire, my desire to draw was always present. This continued on for a long time, and we visited a lot of different reserves in Alberta and Montana.”
Brown began his career as an artist by playing piano—“sometimes in eccentric nightclubs”—and participating in workshops all across the world. He stayed in Mexico for months at a time. “I was often so busy that days and weeks flew by,” he says. “I’m starting to question where I got my energy from. But it was unmistakably present. The proof is in the stories I’ve told and in the stories others have told about me.”
Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George, a well-known actor in Westerns like “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” was one of Brown’s subjects.
Brown relocated to Tucson permanently in 1995, after a ten-year summer-winter split between Alberta and Arizona. He had a studio and numerous art community friends and colleagues in Tucson. It also helps since Arizona borders Mexico, where he’s discovered several of his favorite subjects.
Brown describes a typical day in his studio as follows:
Brown explains, “I search through a lot of photographs to see what will inspire me.” “I’m not sure where my work will end up,” says the author. Also, I’m not concerned about whether or not others will approve of what I’m doing. I let my instincts guide me in deciding what I want to achieve and how I’ll execute it. I turn on some music, gaze out the window at Mother Nature’s works of art, and then sit and stare at a blank sheet of paper or canvas, allowing myself to spontaneously begin.”
And what about an out-of-the-ordinary day?
“A truly unusual day would be when I’m not in my studio and instead painting someone on a beach in the Fiji Islands,” he says. “In my earlier traveling and workshop days, that was very usual. When I’m feeling eccentric in my studio, I’ll make something that bends and stretches the mind—and I have a lot of those extremely personal works. Offbeat and semiabstract at times. When you’re doing things, you have the impression that no one will notice them. Still, when I’m done, I get that rush of gratification from creating something with my mind and hands, a feeling I receive no matter what I’m working on.”
Brown’s traditional subject, Stoney-Nakoda Chief Walking Buffalo (1870-1967), is one of his most well-known works.
Brown is best renowned for painting American Indians in traditional clothing, but he’s also painted everything from buildings and boats to Hollywood characters. He acknowledges, however, that “I’ve never painted a landscape.” He now primarily works with pastels.
What does the 82-year-old have planned for the future?
Brown predicts that “what comes next will most likely be a surprise.” “A lot has been built on serendipitous events and my forays into unfamiliar area. To put it another way, I’m prepared for anything comes my way. Whatever it is, I’m ready for it, despite the fact that I’m older than the good ol’ days.”
His father’s drawing from all those years ago still serves as a guide. Brown explains, “It’s currently in my studio.” WW
This piece first appeared in the Wild West magazine in August of 2023.
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