Stroke and Recovery, 1976-1991

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This page discusses the artwork by Reynold Brown after he suffered a massive stroke and heart attack in 1976.
For samples click here. / List of  Paintings completed after 1976

In 1976 artist Reynold Brown suffered a massive stroke and heart attack. The right hemisphere stroke left his left side, his painting side, totally paralyzed. The doctors said he would never recover, that his art days were over. Mary Louise, his wife, felt otherwise. Working with her husband each day she took him through a long and difficult recovery which allowed him to relearn to at first draw and then paint. He would never be able to draw or paint with the ease he had been used to, and once commented that he finally recognized the difficulty many of his own students at Art Center had had in learning to draw.

At first Brown could barely do simple scribbles as he regained some control of his skills. Emphasis was on teaching him to draw with his right or good arm. Besides the physical handicap of paralysis there were considerable changes in visual perception.

The lower right quadrant of Brown's visual field had been lost. Not only could he not see what most people see in the lower left area of his vision, but his mind could not tell him to look, to move his remaining visual field into this space. In eating, he would look at his plate and see as empty the area of the lower left portion of the plate. The plate would have to be rotated for him to see that there was something there. 

In his painting, he would tend to leave the lower left portion of his canvas unpainted. He tended to start each painting session from the right side of a painting and work his way to the left. This resulted in canvasses which tended to be heavily worked to the right, and thinly painted on the left.

There was also difficulty organizing details, a noticeable distortion was present in his portrait work. At first portraits were incomplete, with things seen on the right side present, but things on the left absent. As recovery from the stroke progressed, Brown was able to make more complete faces but there was a stretching effect present from upper right to lower left. This stretching effect also decreased with time.

Brown also had difficulty holding his tools, pencils and brushes and performing the physical act of applying paint to canvas and charcoal to paper. He had limited use of his left hand but a very reduced tactile sense. He might squeeze paint out with his left hand and then become unaware that there was anything in that hand. He thus sometimes might continue to hold a paint tube and continue to squeeze it, getting its contents spread around himself and the work area. This of course was a source of considerable frustration for him. 
The result of these and other problems was that Brown could not do the finely detailed representational work he loved to do. Yet as his recovery progressed he executed some fine works, first in pencil and charcoal and later in oil. Despite the differences distinguishable from his earlier work he executed some portraits which do for some carry a greater emotional impact than the more realistic work of his earlier years. His landscapes became looser and more painterly. He also seemed to see the world in different, more intense colors.
Reynold Brown loved to paint despite all the handicaps . He would do some sort of art work almost every day until his death in 1991. For the fifteen years after his stroke he demonstrated that with passion he could battle his disabilities and bring forth from his soul art which was moving, beautiful and meaningful. The doctors, like his teachers in grammar school, failed to understand how important art was to Reynold Brown.

Post Stroke Thumbnails - Click on some for larger image

List of Post Stroke Paintings

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