The other day I had a chance to sit down with one of our new studio artists at The Rumriver Art Center, Wou Browne. Wou is a young man in his twenties with a lot of wisdom and is working out his questions of the world we live in with paint and canvas. Wou started his life in the Ivory Coast. After his father died, his mom moved them to a refugee camp in Ghana to live with his aunt. His family then moved from Africa to Coon Rapids, MN when he was 7 years old. Wou told me he spent a lot of time drawing as he grew up, but he never really thought about being an artist, he aspired to be a football player.
So how did Wou Browne end up at the Rumriver Art Center? Wou told me he drove by the art center all the time and had no idea what it was. He kept telling himself he needed to stop in and see what was going on here. Then he saw the murals that were put up over the summer and that inspired him to stop and check the art center out. He was greeted by Susan Yee, one of the directors of Rumriver Art Center. Susan has a way of welcoming everyone who walks in and gets to the point of why they are there. She then tells them everything they need to know about the art center and how they might fit in. Wou told me that he thought maybe he could get some free art supplies, instead he landed himself a studio. That is the magic of Susan and the Rumriver Art Center.
Wou painted “King James” to commemorate LeBron James, who is his favorite basketball player as well as admiring him for the work he does for his community.
Wou was living in Minneapolis when George Floyd was killed and he decided to use his voice and went to the streets to protest. He was on the 35 bridge with thousands of others, peacefully sitting and waiting for Mayor Frye to speak. The next thing he knew there was a semi heading his way. This experience caused trauma within him. He told me he needed to find another way to protest and he decided to use his art as a form of protest. He wanted his art to share his message of how he felt about the world.
Prior to the protests Wou mainly created drawings and after he started painting with acrylic paints. This painting represents his 3 idols. Kobe Bryant, Nipsey Hussle and Chadwick Boseman. He admires these men for their work in their community and their morals.
He uses his art and meditation to keep him grounded. His mom is his rock. He said “my mom humbles me and tells me things I don’t want to hear as I am stubborn.” He likes to hear how his mom sees things as she can look at both sides of a situation.
Wou also does commission work. A friend commissioned this piece of his dogs.
I have enjoyed getting to know Wou. He is an artist who paints from his heart. He works out issues of the world he lives in on the canvas. He knows he has a gift and he wants to share that gift to the world, hoping it might inspire others.