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Life and Work with Janine Brown

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

Janine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My journey to becoming an artist has been a path of twists and turns. I grew up on a farm in Iowa. Instead of joining the Girl Scouts or Brownies. I joined 4-H. It was through 4-H that I started to explore photography and fashion design. While in high school, I started designing my own clothing – sometimes staying up at night to make an outfit for the next day. Because of my interest in fashion, I attended Iowa State University in Ames, IA for Fashion Merchandising and Design. After a year, I changed my major to Fine Arts with an emphasis in Craft Design.

This is where my love of art began. All of my art assignments related to fashion. In woodworking, I would create a sculpture of a knotted piece of fabric; a ribbon with a needle piercing it or a wearable dress made of wooden shingles. In my fiber classes, I created Cyanotype printed dresses by using stitching techniques as a resist for the photographic process rather than a photo negative. For me, college was a chance to explore and see how I could take a medium or material and use it in a non-traditional way, but still maintain my love of fashion and design.

After Iowa State, I continued my studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City graduating with an Associates Degree in Fashion Design. I worked as a designer for Liz Claiborne Inc. (NYC), the Associated Merchandising Corporation (NYC), and Hartstrings, Inc. (PA) While working as a designer, I would paint and draw for fun at night and on the weekends in addition to taking art classes at Pratt for paper making and FIT for textile design and computer graphics.

ISomewhere along the way (and after I got married), I thought it would be useful to get a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. I can safely say that I was the only Fashion Designer in my MBA class at New York University’s Stern School of Business! My major was in Marketing and International Business which has been helpful in my current career as a full-time artist. For a brief period, I worked in Direct Marketing until 2001, when my husband and I moved to Connecticut and my twin boys, Max and William, were born.

I had previously been a workaholic – so being a stay at home Mom was foreign to me. As a result, I started creating art again. Nap Time for my kids was Art Time for me. When my art started to take over our living space and the boys went to pre-school, I rented a studio in the Remington Arms Factory in Bridgeport, CT.

The first few years, I was trying to find my “voice” so I explored watercolor botanicals, abstract acrylics, still-life oil paintings, and soft pastels. I found a signature style in diagonal stroke and abstract compositions. Layering 10-20 layers of soft pastels, my abstract pieces had a “wool blanket” or “blurry” look to them. My first full series using this technique was called “The Remington Disarmed”. All of the artworks were created using reference photographs that I took of the Remington Arms Factory. I would intentionally move the camera as I took the pictures creating a blur of color and an abstract composition that I used as a starting point for my pastel pieces. All of the pastel pieces needed to be framed behind glass – so, I explored the same signature stroke and technique in acrylic paint on canvas. During this time, I started showing my work at alternative art spaces, art centers, and in Juried exhibitions throughout Connecticut.

After several years of using this technique, I began using oil paints with a similar abstract composition – but the diagonal stroke would not work in oil. This new body of work became the Mad Mags series. My source material was the blurry backgrounds of mail order fashion catalogs and fashion magazines. I started to redefine and recolor the blurry shapes in the backgrounds to create whimsical landscapes that took on a life of their own. I continued to show my work – landing solo shows at local Connecticut galleries and library galleries.

The turning point in my art came in 2010, I was at an art opening and I had introduced my husband to another artist. When my husband left our conversation, my friend who was 70, turned to me and said, “Your husband is really good looking. My husband was good looking when he was his age as well.” She continued by saying, “I always hated when we would enter a party and all of the attention was on him when I am much more interesting.” This conversation stayed with me all night because I had had similar experiences. I went home that night and started to think about how I could turn that feeling into art. The word “Wallflower” came to my mind and I started an internet search to find out more about the word. My research turned into an 8-year exploration of the social stigma of being a ‘Wallflower’, called: The Wallflower Project.

For the project, I turned to pinhole photography using a $15 cardboard pinhole camera kit that took 35 mm film. I hadn’t worked with pinhole photography – but the concept of letting light expose the film was similar to my experience using the sun to expose my cyanotypes on fabric in college. I asked friends and other artists to be my “wallflowers” for the portraits. During my research, many people referred to wallflower as someone who fades into the background, so I took that idea to literally have the model fade into a background of wallpaper. All of the effects in the portraits were created in-camera which allowed for an element of surprise as I couldn’t tell where the wallpaper pattern would fall on the model’s face until I developed the film.

After several rolls of film in black and white and color, I started thinking about other ways to portray the ‘wallflower’ which lead to printing a pinhole portrait directly on the discontinued wallpaper.

About 3 years into the project, my husband started a business in the Los Angeles area and we moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles. The move prompted another exploration of the wallflower theme – this time taking the wallflower off the wall and turning her into a room-sized installation called “The Wallflower at the Dance”. I started the installation, which is a combination of crocheted wire and yarn, sound, lighting, and custom designed wallpaper in 2013. After crocheting several hundred white flowers and over 100 droplets, I finally finished the installation in January 2018. (See pictures.) I premiered it at the Santa Monica Art Studios’ MORE ART HERE event in my studio. The wallflower dress is wearable, so I hired a dancer, Nicole Powell, to wear the dress and choreographed a dance which I am currently turning into a video.

I find it amusing that my work has come full circle with The Wallflower Project by using photography and fashion in the installation. But my journey continues with two new projects – one related to fashion using the paper pulp and the other inspired by Los Angeles and my lifelong obsession with changing the shape of my nose. You never know where inspiration will come from!

Has it been a smooth road?
It has not always been a smooth road being an artist. As a married woman with kids, I have had to balance family life with work life. It’s not always easy to make time for exhibitions and openings.

In addition, there are so many talented artists out there – both men and women – that when you submit to shows – there is a high likelihood of being rejected. I have come to embrace being rejected and use it as a learning experience. If I’m rejected from a show, I will go to the show and see what work got accepted. I tend to analyze the work in terms of quality, concept, originality to see what that juror or curator was looking for when they selected the work. Sometimes it’s obvious why my work wasn’t selected and sometimes it’s not.

Luckily, I have had the fortune of running Juried shows and sitting with Jurors as they select the work. Sometimes it boils down to the other pieces that were entered and which pieces “speak” to the juror and how each of the pieces “speaks” to each other for a cohesive show. That’s why I try not to take it personally when my work is rejected from a show.

My advice to other women (or anyone for that matter) – find work that you are passionate about. Don’t let failure stop you, if your an artist, keep entering your work in shows even if it gets rejected. We all grow – even from rejection – so embrace it and embrace failure – it helps shape us for future success.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Janine Brown Studio – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am a multidisciplinary artist and freelance designer. In addition to being an artist and showing and selling my artwork, I have also been a freelance fashion and textile designer. Since 2003, I have exhibited my work throughout the United States, in France and this summer in Italy.

For the past 8 years, I have been working on a project called “The Wallflower Project” which explores the stigma of being a wallflower through the use of pinhole photography portraits, as well as, a installation called “The Wallflower at the Dance” that was created using crochet wire and yarn over a 4 1/2 year period.

I am most proud of raising two terrific boys – although they are still in High School – both of them have found their passions. One as a social media marketer and influencer and the other as a writer for technology blogs and avid gamer. In addition, I am proud of the work that I have created and the growth that I have achieved as an artist.

The thing that I hope sets me apart from others is my creativity and continued interest in using materials in non-traditional ways. However, there are so many talented artists working right now – that it’s hard to get noticed. I thank Voyage LA for giving some of us the opportunity to share our story and work.

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
I think that one of the biggest barriers today is too much focus on one’s gender. I would love to see a world where there was gender blindness. A world where everyone regardless of their gender or color or religion or political affiliation were treated equally. We all have one common denominator and that is being human.

That said, I would love to see more female leadership in the arts and other areas as well. There are some wonderful role models out there. Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Michelle Obama, Helen Molesworth just to name a few – but we need more – to show the girls today that there are no boundaries for women. If you want to do something – you can do it if you work hard.

My father died when I was just 7 years old, so I mainly grew up in a single parent home run by my mother. From my point of view, she stepped in and started to run my father’s farm business without missing a beat. A great role model for a young girl growing up. She always gave me good advice: “You can be whatever you want to be. Just work hard at it.”

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Image Credit:
Eric Minh Swenson, Janine Brown

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