Scattered across weather-worn walls in Chapel Hill are the murals of Michael Brown. From massive abstract sea turtles to starry town landscapes, Brown has painted a variety of subjects in his 31-year career — garnering a reputation as an artist.
However, Brown said he didn’t set out to become a mural painter for a living nor intend to please the public — things just fell into place.
“It wasn’t really a conscious decision,” Brown said.
In the late ’70s, as a studio art undergrad, Brown painted houses with a fellow student for about a year. Brown said the mixture of his artistic abilities with the tasks of climbing ladders and carrying ten-gallon paint cans aided in forming the skills he would need to paint murals a decade later.
While Brown's undergraduate degree and house painting side job developed his skills, he said a hitchhiking trip to Mexico in his 20’s nurtured his interest in mural painting and solidified some of the conceptual desires he carries in his work today.
“It's the nature of the work,” he said. “It was not difficult. It spoke directly to the conditions and the attitudes of the people and the artist.”
Brown said the murals in Mexico were socially concerned and very direct in their political meanings and concepts — free of the elitism he had grown to dislike about postmodernist work.
He said the communal accessibility of the murals resonated with him.
“My work is generally not near so political and meant to be more generous and fun,” Brown said. “Easy enough that people can say, oh, I get it. That's cool. That's fun. I try to keep them open and loose.”