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Library hosts ‘Edge of the Street’

Paula Pitman Brown’s work, which includes large pieces on the wall and smaller ones in the library’s display case, is available for purchase.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

As COVID-19 lockdowns swept across the world, suddenly the internet was flooded with videos of animals retaking city streets, sidewalks and even canals. But while most people didn’t think about the collision of people and animals in developed areas until confronted with these images, artist and MFA professor Paula Pitman Brown has spent the last year and three quarters studying, thinking about, and painting images of the interactions between wild animals and urban areas. Those paintings, known as the “Edge of the Street” collection, will be on display at the Needham Library until August 31.

“I call it 'Edge of the Street' because over the last couple of years my paintings have been about the relationship of suburban and urban life with animals coexisting with us, and the edge between wild and cultivated," she explained. "Which is why I have street markers, sidewalks, construction equipment and train bridges: all those human elements that the animals are living with, too.”

Brown could have made the images photorealistic, but explained that on top of being a narrative painter whose work has many subtle details that take a while of observing the images to fully appreciate, she has always been drawn to expressionism for its ability to bring out heightened emotions.  

“I’ve always had an expressive tendency. Even when I was younger I gravitated toward German and Austrian expressionism because I like emotions a lot, and I think heightened color brings out more feelings for me.”

Brown’s work has many subtle details that aren’t immediately obvious upon first viewing.

Still, Brown researches her images thoroughly so that they are scientifically correct when it comes to the plant and animal life. And because Brown wants to express ideas like nature and man coexisting and the idea of continuation - that nature will continue over generations - many animals are seen with their children. Within her vivid and bright color schemes animals and nature are painted "with bright colors as a symbol of a life force, and then I usually paint the man-made things, like buildings and cars, in blues and grays, because they don’t have the same kind of energy.”

With the library open again, Brown’s work could be displayed for in-person viewing.

With her work largely taking place at locations she has been, Needham residents may recognize locales in her work like Cutler Park or the cul de sac at the end of Valley Road - which because of the graffiti and the wild plants provides “a little bit of wildness in the suburbs.”

And because she has recently become intrigued with graffiti as it relates to people’s needs to express themselves, currently Brown is working on a piece inspired by the Quincy Quarries and its unique juxtaposition of graffiti, plants, animals and city views.

While that piece may become her favorite someday, in the Needham Library exhibit, Brown pointed to an image of a graffiti-tagged tunnel with a train on it, with a deer in the background.

But to see that one, you will need to venture to the Needham Library to see Brown's work in person.

And on your way home, you may just look a bit differently at the animals you could see along the way.   

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