LOCAL FOLKS: Artist finds himself in his paintings

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Brian Crockett is 6-feet-4-inches tall, and he weighs 300 pounds. People can jump to conclusions.
“If you saw me at a gas station, you wouldn’t know,” the 38-year-old said. “‘Whoa. Whoa. I’m not that person. I just want to paint. I’m a big ol’ teddy bear.'”
His natural habitat is a metal outbuilding behind his New Albany home. With an electric heater at his feet and one a little higher, Crockett often works until 2 or 3 a.m., following his dream to be an artist.
“I come out here all the time. Winter? It doesn’t matter,” he said. “July? I paint when the sun goes down.”
He categorizes his work as “neomannerism.” He wants to fuse emotion into his work, and doesn’t mind exaggerating his subjects’ expressions to bring out those emotions.
“If you look at my picture of Isaac Hayes, he’s about to say something to you,” Crockett said.
If you attended the 2011 Junior Auxiliary Charity Ball at the BancorpSouth Arena, you might have noticed Crockett’s paintings of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra hanging on the walls.
Throughout the month of February, his work is on display at the Caron Gallery in Tupelo. There will be a closing reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.
“I’m a nonconformist artist. I went to college and had training, but I flunked out of all the classes,” he said. “When I got serious, I had to go back and remember everything those professors said.”
His drive to create goes back to his childhood in Milwaukee, Wis.
“I learned to draw by lying on the back of a car and watching kids play in the streets and just drawing,” he said. “I had my first job at 13. I drew pictures of G.I. Joe and sold them for a quarter. I would mass produce them and people would buy them.”
On the road
His father, John, is a truck driver, and Crockett logged many miles in the passenger seat. He saw Flagstaff, Ariz., Long Beach, Calif., Harlem, N.Y., and so many other distinctive places that make up this country.
There came a time when he couldn’t take the travel anymore, but those trips have become invaluable as memories.
“I’ve got no more trucking in me, but I still see all that in my mind,” he said. “It comes back to me. Sometimes, I’ll paint something and not know where it came from, then I’ll remember: Flagstaff. ‘Hey, Dad, remember that time in Flagstaff?'”
His mother, Lillian, was always in her son’s corner. Crockett worked many hours in his shed to prepare for the Caron Gallery exhibit. In reality, he was pushing against two deadlines.
“Mom died on Jan. 4. She got to see the picture of her fishing, but she didn’t get to see them all. I tried to get as many pictures done as I could,” Crockett said. “My brother was here when I finished my last painting. I said, ‘I’ve got to show Mom.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Maybe not.'”
At home, Crockett still has an extended support system, that includes his wife, Cassandra, and their six kids.
“I had two girls and a boy. She had two girls and a boy. We tried to be a black ‘Brady Bunch,'” he said. “They’re great. They always support my shows. They go to every festival with me.”
‘Time to paint’
It’s usually just Crockett out there in his studio. He has some drawings of a skeleton stuck to a wall. It’s near a Dilbert cartoon, where one of the characters says, “It’s not really art if no one likes it.”
An artist friend who works with Crockett at Oil-Dri in Ripley gave him an easel, which is next to a homemade drawing table.
It’s a cramped space for a “big ol’ teddy bear,” but that’s where his dreams are.
“In here, it’s time to paint and to have fun,” he said. “That empty canvas, it’s like a movie screen. All I have to do is put something on it.
“Each of these pictures has some part of my life on it. You can see me there.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.

Check it out
– What: “A Day in the Life” exhibit by Brian Crockett

– When: Through Friday

– Where: Caron Gallery, Tupelo

– Info: (662) 401-1828,
www.thecarongallery.com

– Extra: A closing reception will be 5-7 p.m. Friday