By Ted Waddell
LIVINGSTON MANOR January 3, 2006 Andrea Brown is white, but says she paints "black."
"I just love painting Afro-Caribbean culture it seems to feel right," Brown said by way of explanation. "I'm a white woman . . . but I don't feel like I'm white when I paint."
A few months ago, in the wake of deciding to move to the area as a full-time transplant from New York City, she opened up The Outsider Art Studio on Livingston Manor's main drag.
"I finally left the city after circling this earth for the last 20 years," Brown said of her travels to France, New Orleans, Boston and her last roosting place of Brooklyn, where she and her husband Jeff Lackey taught at a performing arts high school in the Bronx.
"Teaching for the past 17 years has greatly affected what I paint," she said. "My images are both real and dreamlike, they can be about memories or projections, and are definitely about the people, places and events that are a part of my everyday life.
"Like my students, my woven paintings have a quality akin to other cultural references the Caribbean and West Indian islands, Latin America and Africa," added Brown. "My color palette tends to combine the earthiness of African art with the vibrant colors of Latin America something that engages the beauty and complexity of human life."
When she was a child, her mother framed one of her 1st grade pictures and proclaimed her daughter "an artist. . . . It seemed to stick, and I wound up in the Rhode Island School for Design," said Brown.
In her final year at RISD, Brown started to develop a style of highly personal expression she calls "woven art," large textured surfaces created on a loom, painted with acrylics to form multi-dimensional canvases.
She weaves recyclable materials, linear in nature, such as hanks of yarn, strings of beads, wire, fabrics, measuring tapes or zippers.
"The weirder the better," Brown said.
Reflecting back on almost two decades of teaching in the inner city, she said art is a "special way to help kids who are really struggling with a lot of adult issues at a very young age, everything you wouldn't want your child to experience killings, murders, pregnancy at a very young age.
"What sounds like soap opera to people like us is everyday life to them," added Brown.
On any given day, folks can drop in at The Outsider Art Studio, a working studio and gallery space for Brown's varied artistic expressions: woven paintings, furniture or paintings on brittle sheets of vintage linoleum, "telling stories of personal woes or giving thanks to whomever has made small miracles occur.
"Using the tricks of my imagination which propel me to produce naive works of art, beckoning my child-like sensibility and the love I have for those things others might see as decay, I create a primitive house of furniture, characters and scenes right out of a set design," Brown said.
At times, she reads a set of tarot cards "to cast a spell in my work," as she explores the mysteries of religion, the supernatural and the mystic arts.
Brown works as the arts in education coordinator for Sullivan and Orange County BOCES.
"It's a part-time position that feels like a full-time job squeezed into 15 hours a week," she said.
The Outsider Art Studio is located at 41 Main Street in Livingston Manor. For info, call 607-498-4547 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.