Cincy is Creative: Monique Brent finds inspiration in melodies, translates music into painting

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati and the greater Tri-State region are home to people who excel in artistic and other creative disciplines. Each week, we’ll focus on a creative individual who is bringing new perspectives to our lives and enriching our cultural diversity.

WHO: Monique Brent
WHAT: Visual artist
WHERE: Home studio in Avondale
LATEST: “Sacred Instruments” series, acrylic on canvas
GREATEST: “My Song” mural, acrylic on canvas (pictured below)

“I don’t compare myself with other artists in terms of what they do, but in the quality of what they do. Then, I ask myself: Is this work my best?”

Monique Brent paints because she loves bringing her ideas to life. And her head is full of ideas. She sketches them out along with notes about what she is feeling, then waits until the right time to bring them to life.

Sometimes the painting itself will come together in a few days. But this only happens after she has spent months or years thinking about the best way to execute the idea. Part of the process involves collecting dozens of images she can use as possible references.

This process isn’t as slow or laborious as it sounds, because Monique seldom works on just one painting. At any given time, Monique might have a dozen different paintings at various stages of completion.

From now until March 28, you can see several of her works at the Gallery Salveo exhibition “Common Surprise.”  The gallery is operated by Interact for Health , a non-profit health and wellness agency that serves 20 counties in the Tri-State region. 

At home with art

After Brent was laid off during the economic downturn, she spent several months finishing and selling more artwork. That experience gave her the confidence that she can succeed as a full-time artist when she’s ready. She currently works at Humana in a job that enables her to own a lovely home with an expansive studio in the basement.

The home is bright, airy, and decorated with her paintings and furnishings she has created herself. For example, she topped a credenza with a collage of acrylic tiles salvaged from a Zero Landfill Cincinnati event. Originally given to interior designers as samples, the tiles feature different designs or leaves, bamboo, and other elements inside.

The 6 x 9 ft. canvas mural that hangs in the stairwell near the foyer makes a powerful visual statement that this is the home of artist. Ttitled “My Song,” the painting depicts the figure of a woman at the piano surrounded by snippets of songs. It was the first time Brent had ever incorporated words in her paintings. So she decided to make the painting big so the words could be read.

A similar style is executed in Brent’s “Sacred Instruments” series of acrylic paintings that promotes the idea of treating women like precious instruments.

Many of her paintings are musically inspired.

“Music is what moves me, encourages me, lifts my spirit, and makes me cry,” Brent said. “So it is very easy for me to use music to help show passion, emotion, and expression.”

She gravitates toward rich, live, and daring colors, but “The colors I select depend on the mood I was in when I thought of the piece.”

Experimenting and learning

Brent grew up in Mansfield, Ohio and came to the University of Cincinnati in 1999 on a track scholarship. She graduated from UC’s Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning (DAAP) program, where she specialized in Applied Digital Design. Although she is proficient on the computer, she loves the hands-on messiness of painting.

She started drawing and painting when she was a child, but was inspired to take art more seriously by her high-school art teacher.

“She was awesome,” Brent recalled. “She taught us, but she didn’t restrict us. She encouraged the talent she saw in us but pretty much let us go. I was able to finish the projects she gave us, then work on other projects. I was always working on other things.”

“I am still learning, and am always looking for something new to achieve and to challenge myself,” she said. While her style is recognizable, she enjoys experimenting with different techniques and mediums.

“I use tile, tissue paper, dry paint, and even fabric to set my work apart.”

The paintings in her “Textured Women” series incorporate paint chips, to add texture to the women’s hair. For one project, she cut a canvas into strips, re-wove it, and gave it undulating dimensional curves before painting it.

At first, Brent tried painting what she thought people would like to see and buy. But she soon realized that, “It’s more fulfilling to me to paint what I want to paint.” She noticed that people also respond to the art more when they know that it’s coming from you, and it’s

a part of you.

Because of the demands of her full-time job, Brent mostly sells her work at events in Cincinnati. She hosts an art show in her home each year, and recently took part in the Art on Vine event held indoors at Rhinegeist Brewery. She has done shows in Columbus and Chicago and eventually would like to make paintings that can be sold as prints.

To give back to the community, she has donated pieces for auctions that benefit non-profit organizations and funds such as the Michael Johnson Scholarship Fund, Just for Kids, and the Barbara Howard-Reese Scholarship fund.

Her advice to aspiring young artists is to “Never give up. And don’t listen to the negatives.” If you allow yourself to be intimidated by “the rules,” you will only make it harder on yourself.

“Your training is what you make of it," Brent said. “The more you practice drawing or painting, the better you will become.”


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