Rob BrowningWalking through various areas of Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, one is struck by the artwork and the varying levels of the artists’ work. The art ranges from surrealism to realism to whimsical to abstract. Among the artists is Lake Monticello resident Rob Browning.

Successful artists are often very reflective, searching for life’s answers through their work. Browning embodies these traits, including being shy, gentle and gifted. Like other artists, he becomes energized when talking about his work or the work of others.

“I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t interested in art,” said Browning. “I don’t know where my interest came from. There weren’t many artists in my family or artists I knew in the area.”

Browning grew up in Fluvanna and is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond with a degree in communications art and design, and has won numerous awards for his work. He started out in advertising doing illustrations.

Among his work in his studio is a portrait of a cat. “I did animal portraits when I was hungry,” Browning said, laughing about the starving artist syndrome one so often hears about.

His work is included in many public and private collections and has been used commercially by clients, including General Electric, ITT Technical Institute, Federal Pacific and American Airlines. He worked for Disney Enterprises, and from the mid to late ‘90s he had the opportunity to work with illustrator Eric Binder. They worked mostly on movie spin-off children’s books for Disney. Browning worked on Hercules, Beauty and the Beast and others.

“The Disney work forced me to develop an attention to detail that I hadn’t known before. I’m a better painter now because of it,” Browning said. But when Disney’s artists were required to go digital, spending nearly $3,000 on the newest software and training anywhere from six to nine months, Browning left Disney and struck out on his own. 

Browning exhibits his work in many galleries, including the Nichols Gallery in Barboursville, McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville, District Fine Arts Gallery in Georgetown, Arcadia Gallery in Los Angeles, and the Glave Kocen Gallery in Richmond. He is currently working on gallery paintings and will soon begin working on two commissioned pieces.

Browning’s work is graphic with bold colors and simple lines, but there is a subtle realism about his work. Lighting is pivotal in creating the mood in his pieces. One can see the influence of artists like Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, and Thomas Hart Benton. Browning discussed his amazement at the work of some of his contemporaries.

“Controlling my hand and the paint to make a successful painting – one that’s handsome and communicates an idea efficiently and creatively – is such a challenge,” he said. “I see paintings that I think are successful and they inspire me and make me jealous. What the artist has done is amazing.”

The simplicity in his paintings is misleading because Browning’s work has impact. The onlooker lingers to thinks about what Browning has painted. Browning peers into the human psyche. He explores the human element not only with his figures and portraits, but even his landscapes take on some form of human emotion.

His figures are not perfection in beauty, but have interesting features that give his paintings an unexpected look. The viewer looks further at the subject, trying to understand the allure. Browning doesn’t try to pretty up his figures and make them more than what they are. He uses the raw emotion they reveal rather than turning them into the norm of cultural perfection.

“I’m trying to incorporate the figure more often into my paintings in an effort to strengthen the narrative of any given piece,” he said.

Browning has a system for beginning his paintings.

“When I get an idea for a painting, I make notes and sketches. If things look promising, I’ll do a small color study, maybe a 4x6 to work out the bugs. That part of the process is fun,” he said. “I begin the actual painting only after I’m happy with the study. So, painting for me is actually copying my study, which is usually boring. I do get excited near the very end of a painting when I see how it has all come together.”

Browning works mostly in oils but dislikes the toxicity; but the medium’s supple qualities outweigh its less admirable qualities when it comes to getting the painting right. He agrees that the less toxic acrylics are an easy alternative but they dry out too fast and don’t blend as well as oil.

“If I have time this year, I’d like to make some monoprints,” he said. “I’ve done them in the past. They’re fun mainly because I never know exactly what’s going to be on the paper when I pull it from the printing plate.”

Browning lives at Lake Monticello with his wife, Brenda. They have two adult children: Lindsey and William.

For more information, visit his website at robbrowningart.com.