Star Player

Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame portraitist Chris Brown captures the state’s athletes in top form
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Artist Chris Brown

As long as Louisiana keeps producing world-class athletes, Chris Brown has a job, and what a job it is. He is the portrait artist to stars — Louisiana sports stars, that is.

Since 2009, Brown has been the official portrait artist for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Natchitoches. During those past 14 years, he has painted 158 portraits of hall of fame inductees, including stellar athletes such as Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, as well as Shaquille O’Neal, three-time Super Bowl champion Kevin Faulk, eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, four-time world champion steer wrestler Steve Duhon, and — among others — the incredible champion basketball player and coach Kim Mulkey, who recently coached her LSU women’s basketball team to the NCAA National Championship. The impressive list goes on.

“Getting to paint some of the most famous athletes in the world is inspiring,” says Brown. “Being able to start with nothing and create something absolutely new to the world is intoxicating.”

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Ronnie Coleman

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Actually, Brown, who was born in Nebraska and now resides with his wife and son just north of Fort Worth, had a pretty good run as an athlete. He played college baseball at Cowley College in Kansas before moving on to play at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, where he studied art and art education. He also chalked up a fairly successful six-year career playing for minor league teams owned by the Chicago Cubs and the Texas-Louisiana/Central Baseball League.

Brown, however, walked away from baseball in 2003 when he traded in his glove, bat and ball for paints, brushes and a new career as a professional artist. Slowly building up a portfolio of commissioned paintings, Brown got his big break in 2009 when Northwestern State University’s basketball team slam dunked a sound-of-the-buzzer first-round tournament playoff win over Iowa State University. The university commissioned Brown to do a painting to celebrate the victory. As luck would have it, Doug Ireland, chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, was present when Brown presented the painting to the university. After the ceremony, Ireland asked Brown if he would like to apply for the position of official portrait artist for the hall of fame. Brown jumped at the opportunity, sent Ireland a sample portrait, and got the job.

Ireland speaks highly of Brown’s work and his relationship with hall of fame inductees. He gets these new members personally involved in his work. Not only was Brown a respected college and professional athlete, Ireland says, but he also was an accomplished artist whose style has contributed significantly to the hall of fame’s identity.

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Jahri Evans

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Phil Robertson

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“Chris was very good when he came on board as our official artist,” says Ireland. “The growth in his artwork, and the expansion of his repertoire, has been so impressive to watch. There’s no decision I’ve made since becoming chairman in 1990 that I am any more gratified by than selecting Chris to be our artist. He has become an invaluable member of our team. His emergence as one of America’s premier sports artists is well deserved.”

When painting portraits, Brown works mostly from photographs of the inductees, especially long past hall-of-famers. Though some portrait painters prefer their subjects to be physically present during the process, Brown says the new photographic technology works well for him when new hall-of-famers choose photographs that are composites of all the teams they played on during their careers, or when they select an image that expresses a special moment when you can see “the emotion in their faces.” He wants them to relive that moment again in their portraits, and only a photograph taken at that time captured that expression. In addition, photographs enable him to show inductees exactly what the portrait will look like before he starts.

“Portraits are the toughest form of art simply because you have to be exact, especially with someone that is world famous,” says Brown. “Literally everyone knows what they look like. For me, the person in the portrait needs to be thrilled with it. It’s not enough for them to be happy with it. That keeps the pressure on to make sure I do the very best I can. I used to get nervous when the hall of fame inductees saw their portraits for the first time. Now I get excited to show it to them. I suppose confidence comes with experience.”

Painting portraits to please, however, has its challenges. Each person has unique facial features and that’s why he never gets bored painting them.

“Studying faces can be fascinating,” says Brown, whose studio wall is covered with 8-foot-tall paintings of Louis Armstrong, Poseidon and Jesus. “If you are ever talking to me face to face, I’m probably studying your features and working through them in my mind.”

Next year a new crop of athletes will enter the hall of fame and Chris Brown will be at his easel.




Martin Payton
Found-object art constructions by New Orleans musician and artist, through Jan. 13. Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette.

Connected Visions: Louisiana’s Artistic Lineage
Overview of Louisiana’s artistic heritage, permanent exhibit. Alexandria Museum of Art.

Art in Louisiana: Views into the Collection
Overview of art in Louisiana, ongoing. LSU Museum of Art.

Photogenic: Photographs from the Collection of Cherye R. and James F. Pierce
Featuring extensive private art photography, through Sept. 10. New Orleans Museum of Art.

Christiane Drieling
Artwork by German-born Ruston artist Christiane Drieling, through Oct. 21. Masur Museum of Art, Monroe.


Categories: Artist-Gallery Spotlight, Sports, Theatre + Art