Hill Center Galleries celebrates Alan Braley’s 80th birthday this fall with an exhibition of recent work by the Capitol Hill artist. 2019 also marks another milestone for Braley—his 50-year anniversary as a Capitol Hill Resident.
“Alan has been a critical part of the establishment of Hill Center Galleries and has been a strong voice for local artists on Capitol Hill during all the time that he has lived here,” says Nicky Cymrot, Director of Hill Center Galleries. Braley has assisted Cymrot with the curation of Center exhibitions and, according to her, has been “a critical part of the installation process.” Braley has a long-standing history of arts advocacy in the neighborhood, supporting local artists through mentorship and teaching. His exhibition at Hill Center Galleries, on view through December 1, with an opening reception on Monday, November 11 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., hangs in Benjamin Drummond Hall and in the east wing of Ammi Young Gallery.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1939, Braley’s interest in art began at the age of 12 when he saw his first image of Van Gogh’s work. Three years later, at age 15, while visiting New York City, he attended a Van Gogh exhibition at the Guggenheim and saw the work in person. Energized by what Braley describes as the omnipresent “emotion” in Van Gogh’s paintings, Braley understood that great art need not limit itself solely to draftsmanship as a form of expression, but could convey so much more through form and color.
Inspired and filled with youthful exuberance for what he just he experienced, Alan proclaimed to his older brother Richard that he too could do what Van Gogh did! “Draw my hand,” Richard insisted and Braley obliged. Impressed with his younger brother’s talent, Richard encouraged Alan to continue practicing. Richard told Alan to “draw like Raphael, paint like Renoir and think like Picasso.”
Richard tried to persuade his mother to allow Alan to set up a studio in the burgeoning New York art scene so that he could experience and learn from the nascent American Expressionist Art movement. However, she sought a more practical and remunerative path for her son. So, rather than spending his youth as a bohemian artist in SoHo or the Village, Braley joined the US Army.
After three years of service and an invitation to attend Officer Candidate School, Braley chose to discharge honorably and enroll at the University of Cincinnati. Here, Braley took a Bachelors of Art in Fine Art with a major in advertising. He learned traditional fine arts methods and learned commercial art skills, a trade now called “graphic design.”
In Cincinnati, then later in Lexington, Kentucky, Braley moved his way up from designing department store window displays to working directly in department store ad divisions. He then moved to DC in the late 1960s to work as an Executive Art Director for the now defunct DC-based Woodward and Lothrop department store. Then Braley directed what we would now call a “start-up” ad agency which had won a very large contract WMATA’s business. The selection of the smaller company caused quite a stir, making headlines in the Washington Post as larger agencies bidding for the business did not expect this outcome.
Capitol Hill Years
During his career as a commercial art director, Braley settled into his new community on Capitol Hill and continued to perfect his talents as a fine artist. Classically trained in college, Braley mastered figurative and landscape paintings and in particular watercolor which he favored as his medium for many years.
He and his wife Claire spend summers in Maine at East Boothbay, a major hub for artists. The town also has a thriving gallery scene where he exhibits his art. Here, Braley networks with other artists, finds inspiration in nature and continues to practice his oeuvre.
After retiring from their respective careers, Claire and Alan bought a building around the corner from Eastern Market and began “The Village” in 1997, a retail enterprise where Claire managed a clothing store at street level and Alan sold artwork upstairs at a gallery. Alan sold many of his watercolors directly to collectors over the years at The Village. The couple closed the business and sold the property in 2012.
Over time, Braley’s representation of subject matter has become increasingly abstract. As he describes it, “I no longer paint what I see.” Braley has embraced mixed-media in his canvases using acrylics and other mediums, including found objects, giving his work a textured, three-dimensional look. He has also begun using his finds, in particular discarded wood, to create three-dimensional works, a departure from the two-dimensional work for which he is known. Despite a lifetime of creating work, Braley continues to learn from others, embrace new techniques and explore his process anew with each of his series.
Alan Braley exhibits a new body of work at Hill Center from September 12-December 1, 2019. An opening reception will be held on Monday, November 11 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Hill Center Galleries are located at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington DC 20003.
For more information about the retrospective visit www.hillcenterdc.org/artist/alan-braley-a-50-year-collection-of-braleyart
For more information about Alan Braley’s work visit his website online at braleyart.com
Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, DC’s alternative art source. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.