Everyday Artist

Prolific artist Adrienne Brown-David’s childhood creativity was fostered by family. Today, she is inspired by her own daughters.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Anytime artist Adrienne Brown-David spies a set of nesting dolls, she buys them. A set consists of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another.

“I love them,” Brown-David said. “I collect them. I kept having babies when I was in my 20s, and this is what we look like.”

A tattoo, beginning near her wrist, shows the larger nesting doll, signifying the mother figure, followed around her arm by four additional dolls, each smaller than the one before. These signify the children she shares with her husband, Taariq David.

Daughters all, they are the inspiration for their mother’s art. Jena, 20; Ashni, 18; Bijou, 14; and Zion Sage, 12. From their very first breaths, these four have been their mother’s muses.

Perhaps it was unintentional, but Brown-David was following the wisdom of Mississippi writer Eudora Welty, who stressed “write what you know.” Likewise, Brown-David draws and paints what she knows best — her children. A quick glance or a lingering look at her work will deliver all the proof one needs: Her daughters drive Brown-David’s art.

“I’ve painted their development,” she said of her girls. “And through the years and the paintings, their outlooks, their faces and their attitudes have changed.”

Some artists claim to have a difficult time selling work to which they feel an attachment. Brown-David said she is the exact opposite.

“The art expression or idea starts in my head,” she said. “Once it’s out and on canvas, I don’t feel attached anymore. I’d say 95 percent of my work I have no problem selling. That other five percent I wouldn’t mind keeping in my house for a while, but just because I like the painting visually.”

On Jan. 1, 2021, Brown-David launched a new marketing plan. Every morning, she’s painted a 5x7 canvas, put a price on it and listed it on social media. To date, she’s sold every painting.

“I order canvases in bulk,” she said. “So I’d sketch out 20 to 30 every few weeks and pick one each morning. It’s certainly part of what’s been keeping me busy.”

She’ll continue painting a small work to sell on social media until Dec. 31 and will, by then, have painted 365 5x7 canvases in 2021. She’s already given thought to what she might do next year.

An Early Brush With Art

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Brown-David, now 42, said she’d always been that kid who decorated things and drew on things, including brown grocery bags her grandmother would bring home from shopping. She’d also draw on her clothes as a kid, so she was given Crayola washable markers that would wash right out.

“My mom and grandmother noticed this side of me and fostered it,” she said. “My mom took me to galleries and museums.”

In elementary school, Brown-David watched Bob Ross on television every day after school. In middle school, she took art classes, and in high school, all electives for Brown-David were art. She spent a year studying at the School of Art Institute of Chicago.

Back in St. Louis, she taught art to neighborhood kids and drew and painted her own work.

“I had a multitude of jobs,” she said. “Because the truth was, all I wanted to do was this — drawing and painting.”

Brown-David left St. Louis and moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands where, she said, it was the first time she’d ever lived in a place where she was not a minority. She married her husband there and had her first three daughters.

In 2008, while pregnant with their fourth daughter, the family relocated to Mississippi. Neither she nor her Washington, D.C.-native husband had ever set foot on Mississippi soil. But a cousin of Brown-David’s worked for Teach for America in Oxford and encouraged the family to head South.

“There I was, three kids, pregnant, picking up and moving to Oxford, sight unseen,” Brown-David said. “We had a hard few years in Mississippi, but clearly it’s where we’re supposed to be. We’re here until we’re not.”

Making Room for Art

Brown-David can add educator to her resume: She has home-schooled all four daughters.

“I didn’t sleep for 10 years,” she said with a laugh. “I’d tell the kids, ‘Bedtimes are for moms, not kids. And I need you to go to bed.’ Then I’d work. I might get into a groove with my painting and be up to 2 or 3 in the morning.”

For the past few years, home for Brown-David and her family has been just up the road from Oxford in Water Valley. While she patiently waits for the old garage behind her house to be transformed into her first-ever art studio, she often creates in a tiny room off the kitchen on the way to the laundry room. But, honestly, she said, she prefers to work wherever her family is gathered, so she often paints in the living room.

No matter where Brown-David has done her creating, she has ventured along with her art through a metamorphosis of sorts. Her methods have ranged from her early days of graphite and colored pencil drawings, to tiny houses and portraits in pen-and-ink, to oil paintings of her daughters and the Southern landscape. And somewhere, among all these, there were paper dolls.

The inspiration for the paper dolls was, once again, Brown-David’s daughters. When they were little, they loved paper dolls, but it was clear there was very little diversity in what was available. So, their mom stepped up.

“I began making paper dolls for my daughters,” she said. “Instead of settling for what was out there, I made sets for them. When I decided to make a set for my youngest daughter, I wanted her doll to really represent her, so I used her likeness to create her doll.”

What started as something simply for her family ultimately garnered Brown-David a Community Supported Artist grant in 2018 from the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. The grant promotes and funds local artists as they create an accessible product that could direct interests to more of the artists’ works.

“The grant was a really great jumping off point,” she said. “Once the paper dolls started getting promoted on social media, things just sort of took off.”

For much of this summer, Brown-David has stayed busy getting ready for a show of her work at Southside Gallery on the Square in Oxford. Taking place Oct. 5-30, it will be her first solo show at Southside. She’s created about 20 new pieces for it. But you’ll hear no complaints from the artist. She’s never stopped drawing and painting, even when finding time to do her art was difficult.

“Oh, it was hard to paint when I had an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old and a newborn,” she said with a wistful smile. “I was cooking, running errands, taking care of kids 24/7, but still, I drew in my sketchbook all the time. I focused on smaller things — pen-and-ink drawings or colored pencils. As the kids got bigger and more self-sufficient, I began to focus more on painting.”

Brown-David’s art has changed through the years, as has the artist herself.

“We don’t have the same thoughts or ideas or passions forever,” she said. “My work is going to change as I change. But I’ll always paint. Painting is not a hobby or a job or a paycheck. Painting for me is like air. I can go only so long without it before everything starts to shut down. I have to paint to maintain my sanity and a balance in life.”

See Brown-David’s artwork on Instagram @adriennemeschelle.

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