By MCKENZIE MORGAN, August 2020
Sitting in her Manhattan apartment, contemporary artist Margaret Zox Brown is surrounded by things she has seen thousands of times before, but they now have new meaning. Prior to the current pandemic, Brown found herself inspired by the people and things around her. Since then, the artist has had to learn to find new inspiration for her work within her new confines and change up her process. “Because my world is smaller, in a way it’s bigger,” she tells me.
Brown, born and raised in Manhattan, is a contemporary oil painter who has had work featured in galleries around the country. Her previous series, titled New York Characters, featured over a dozen portraits of New Yorkers that she met in her hometown in Manhattan. Even from a young age, Brown has always been drawn to human connection. As a child, she drew pieces of her family and friends around her and even sought out a degree in psychology. “Human connection has always been incredibly important to me...loving and being close,” she says. This connection is on full display in her work, which is optimistic and, while being rooted in specificity, is still relatable to those of us even outside of New York.
Brown’s work is brimming with her inspiration. The New York Characters series features an eclectic mix of the people of New York City, each telling a different story. Inspired by the connections she felt with her fellow New Yorkers, Brown beautifully translated each of their stories into paintings that we can all feel on an emotional level. “I really was celebrating their magnificence,” she says, “and then also highlighting the connection that we shared by being New Yorkers.”
Then the pandemic hit our shores. Like most of us, Brown was forced into isolation and her process was upended. Her new series, titled The Lockdown Paintings, brings a renewed meaning to human connection as Brown learns to find peace in her own home with work that is fuller, brighter, and more timely than ever before.
As the New York Character series was forced to a halt due to the pandemic, Brown’s subjects were taken away from her. The artist went from meeting people on the streets and subways to being secluded to her apartment. As someone who thrives off of human connection, Brown felt lost.
In The Lockdown Paintings, Brown depicts her exact surroundings in her Manhattan apartment, from her dining table after dinner to her favorite chair which has become her solace. While we all encounter these relatively mundane experiences, Brown imbues them with her own particular kind of energy.
In the series, Brown draws our eyes to the beauty of the mundane aspects of our quarantined lives. It’s easy for us to pass over and not appreciate the little everyday things, but Brown shows us the true beauty of it all, how everything is worthy enough to be the subject of art. Even naptime with our beloved pets—as depicted in one painting with her husband and their dog—is so energized by the use of colors, and innate detail, that we instantly recognize this warm, homelike feeling.
In a time where we are all disconnected and distant from one another, Brown brings us together by painting very relatable images. It’s not an accident that one might feel at home looking at these paintings. In a way, we all are experiencing the same chair with the same pair of socks on the floor and messy dinner tables, but perhaps in a slightly different way. These common images bring us together in a time where we are forced apart, which was Brown’s subconscious intention all along.
“The environment that I had been, you know, forced into was my home,” says Brown. “In that way, we all are connected because we all have an idea of what home should mean...And so I felt that my connection with other people was even more present. It wasn't as direct, but in a way, it was more profound.”
The Lockdown Paintings provokes us to look at our surroundings and appreciate them in a new way. Since having to adjust to the “new normal,” Brown has found new admiration in the little things in her life, from the flowers on her balcony’s garden to the beloved chair in the corner of her apartment. “It's kind of like lifting up a rock and finding something beautiful,” she said. That sense of discovery fills her series with the comforting anticipation for what corner of her world she might share next.
Wanting to chronicle her experience throughout the pandemic, Brown intrinsically titled each of her paintings with a date. “I thought that would sort of mark where I was emotionally when I was painting it since it’s rooted in a specific time and place. Dating all the pieces shows the different places I have been in, emotionally, and they're not all so far off. But they move along chronologically, to a place of more and more gratitude. It’s all about good feelings,” she says.
From past work to her new and growing series, Brown expertly finds ways to connect us, even in isolation. From telling the stories of people that she meets on the street to painting a scene that we are all looking at from inside of our homes, Brown tells stories that we can all feel and relate to. Brown explores the complexities of both human connection and the current state of isolation that so many of us are in. “This series I feel is much more evolved, much more tended to, much more connected within each other,” she says.
Brown leaves us with a newfound appreciation and perspective on our everyday lives, helping us to be more comfortable with our “new normal” but also the role of art during times such as these. In a time where we are all forced apart, Brown brings us together again. WM
For more, please visit her website: https://www.margaretzoxbrown.com
And follow her on Instagram: @margaretzoxbrown
McKenzie Morgan is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA.view all articles from this author