KU professor made art personal

Robert Brawley pressed his students to look inward. Success, he believed, comes from a deep understanding of one’s own ideas and sensibilities.

“He was a man who encouraged people to listen to their truest self,” said Tanya Hartman, a colleague.

Brawley, 68, a renowned painter and Kansas University art professor, died Friday after a six-month battle with cancer.

He left behind a body of work that includes paintings on display in the National Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and elsewhere.

Friends and loved ones on Friday recalled a constantly inquisitive man, always searching and learning, with a dynamic world view.

He wanted to learn about the universe and how it worked, religions and spiritual paths, said his wife, Judith Brawley.

“He was a seeker of knowledge, and he never let that run dry,” she said.

Robert Brawley received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1963 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1965 from the San Francisco Art Institute. As a student, he was an abstract expressionist painter.

Robert Brawley created this still-life painting, I

After school, he did postgraduate work through a Fulbright grant at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy. There he scoured the museums, taking in the works of the great painters. His painting would later turn toward various forms of representation.

In 1988 Brawley came to KU, where he was chairman of the art department for five years. He loved the students and gently coaxed them to find themselves in art, colleagues said.

In his own work, his still-life paintings juxtaposed odd objects – such as a seashell atop a Mason jar, depicted in his 2000 painting “Sacred Geometry: Merkaba.”

His time-consuming painting technique created a jewellike effect.

“His paintings would appear to emanate light from within,” said Judy McCrea, chairwoman of KU’s art department.

Brawley’s compositions reflected his own journey for understanding, McCrea said.

“You can see the range of intellectual inquiry through the choice of objects in his work,” she said.

Brawley spent hours in his basement studio. It was not unusual for paintings to take several months to complete.

“He had brushes with hardly any hairs on them at all,” recalled Jeff Ridgway, a former student. “He was just so meticulous. When you look at his paintings, you see that the world is a very special place.”