This Artist Brings A Regal Sensibility To Her Portraits Of Black Women


Portrait of Chicago artist Rhonda Brown.

Portrait of a black woman with obscured facial features in colorful dress and hat on a blue and orange background.

Artist Rhonda Brown grew up surrounded by art—her father was a painter, and her parents opened the first for-profit, black-owned art gallery in the country in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “I fell in love with art from the beginning,” she says. “It’s always been part of my life. Every trip we took when I was growing up was to an art show for my father to participate in.” When she started graduate school, she focused on art history and curation. A decade into her career, her mother asked her to show her paintings at the family’s gallery. She did and sold every piece. Since that show in 2005, her works have been included in exhibitions at museums and galleries, including Martha’s Vineyard Museum and the Art Center Highland Park.

Where do you find inspiration? I paint what I know, and the women I paint have a universality in that they come from my historical lineage. That doesn’t mean that all my work has a connection to a specific ethnicity, but they are all strong women.

Tell us about the settings for your portraits. Being an art historian, I’ve always been taken with royal court painters from Italy and Europe and how they created a façade of wealth and power. I applied those ideas to my community and employed the same techniques: confrontational, almost blank stares; carrying an orb or iconography connected with wealth or importance. In my portraits, I’ve created a relaxed but regal sensibility for Black women and men. 

What’s next? Right now, I’m painting. I have a good problem in that when I make art, it sells. I’m working on several series so that when someone asks to see the breadth of my work, I have pieces to show them.