Browning Artists…and All That Jazz!

Play video to learn more about how the art department utilized the concept of "The Mellow Pad" to influence the boys’ artworks.

Every year Art Department Chair Nik Vlahos, along with art teacher Zack Davis, choose a central theme such that all boys enrolled in an art class in the fall will create art focused on that particular topic. Some works are collective and others individual. Mr. Vlahos explained, “The collective works are stretched canvas reproductions of the artists’ work we are studying. The trick is to find an artist or artists who can engage a Pre-primary boy and also challenge a Form VI student. This year the boys studied painters influenced by jazz. The artists span from the early 20th century to the contemporary time period, including Stuart Davis, Alma Thomas, Romare Bearden, Jackson Pollock, Elizabeth Murray and Stanley Whitney.

Mr. Davis noted, “We have a space here at Browning that is our ‘Mellow Pad,’ to borrow a term used by The Wall Street Journal’s Judith H. Dobrzynski. Everyone comes in and works on using the same materials and process, studying the same artists but accomplishing totally different goals.” Ms. Dobrzynsk describes the Mellow Pad as follows: “In jazz-talk, a mellow pad refers to an emotional state, a sweet spot experienced while giving a sizzling performance, say, or listening to one—and that’s the feeling [artist Stuart] Davis was striving for.”

Mr. Vlahos was pleased that the timing of this year’s theme coincided with a show by Stanley Whitney at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Of the artists the boys studied this fall, Mr. Whitney is the only one who is still alive and painting. “I took the Form VI drawing and painting classes to see his work in person,” said Mr. Vlahos. “The boys were able to gain a very different understanding of what his work looks like. After seeing the actual artwork they were reproducing, the boys weren’t as fussy about painting the surface at Browning and were able to paint more liberally, like Whitney, in reproduction.”

Many of the artworks are now displayed in the Cafeteria and were unveiled to boys in all divisions the week of January 18. A Form VI boy (a talented artist) was on hand to explain to the younger boys the process of creating these wonderful works. Headmaster Clement proudly stood by as Mr. Vlahos and Mr. Davis remarked that Browning is extremely fortunate to have a Headmaster who supports the arts as a vital part of the curriculum.