Art From the Inside Out

From a young age, Zana Ranđelović-Brown would pick up a paintbrush as a way to channel her creative energies. From those early days on she developed a love of art and a passion for painting, but she never envisioned turning her passion into a profession. However, just ten years ago, her life took a different path leading the Serbia-born artist to achieve the success she never dreamed of, with her work now featured in private collections throughout the United States and Europe. Her story is as unique as her work.

Zana left Serbia for New Orleans to study fine art and interior design, with the intent of building a career in interior design. Following her past habits, she continued to paint as an outlet for her creativity. Living in New Orleans, with the sheer love of life that the city embodies, proved inspirational for her artwork and she found that painting became a source of self-discovery. “I started painting as a form of personal expression and then as therapy to get me through what became a darker time of my life,” she said.

It was during this time that a fellow designer happened to visit Zana’s home and was enthralled by her paintings, convincing her that she could easily find buyers. Zana was doubtful, believing that her work at the time was too dark to be appreciated, but she agreed to the challenge. Within one week, three paintings had been sold and she had launched her new profession as an artist. “My friend said that the buyers told her they felt the emotion in my work and it was the first time I realized my art could ignite certain feelings for others. I knew then that my passion for putting myself on canvas could be my life’s work,” she says. Zana has since found her place among the renowned creative class of New Orleans and beyond.

Her choice of subject, predominantly women and flowers, happened transitionally as she was coming from a more negative phase of her life and blooming into a more positive place. “I started learning how to express myself in my work. All the women are metaphorically presenting emotions and ideas, and how we all grow from the inside out,” Zana explains. Unlike some other artists who stick to one medium, Zana works in whatever she feels like at the time, from acrylic to oil to pen and ink, and she almost always chooses to go extra large in her pieces so her women stand larger than life. She quips that maybe she does this because she’s small but feels what she wants to express is so grand. 

Zana still calls New Orleans home and recently opened Zana Brown Studio at 3908 Magazine Street. She splits her time between New Orleans and the mountains of Eastern Serbia where her family maintains a vacation home, finding inspiration from both locales. But much of what sparks her creativity these days comes from travel. She takes every opportunity she has to visit other locales, with Italy being a favorite. “Italy is inspirational with every area so rich in culture and history, but I am truly an art nomad. In every place I visit I pick up something that stays with me,” Zana says. She works on the road, buying loose canvases and painting on the ground then folding them up to take home. “I bring them to a framing shop to have them stretched over frames and then I refinish them in the studio.” The only downside that Zana can see from travel is that she has to leave her beloved tortoise, Lola, at home to keep watch over her studio. Lola freely wanders among her artwork, often getting splashed by paint, but she (or actually he as Zana recently discovered) always brings a smile to whoever sees her.

Having Lola at her feet is just one example of the freedom that Zana says she appreciates most about being an artist. She views her work as not a career but as a lifestyle and she appreciates not only the flexibility of her time but also the ability to express who she is and exactly what she feels. “I put my art out there and hope someone recognizes in it just what I want them to.

On the flip side, Zana hopes her audience does not just reflect her emotion, but that it provokes her audience to practice self-healing. “Close your eyes and stop looking frantically outside for answers. You can find the answers by looking within yourself. Only by knowing your true self can you grow and expand. This has proven to be my truth over and over again and I hope whoever collects my work will have it as a reminder of this truth,” she says. As her work evolved, becoming more intentional through the years, she launched a new direction for her latest collection.

Because life does not always offer an easy or perfect place to bloom, her new body of work, while retaining a woman-centric theme, reflects times when answers can be a bit more clouded or even when it is time to set sail for new direction or sense of place. “The new paintings carry the idea that we all build cages and walls around ourselves to protect our feelings and emotions leaving us to live just half-lives. Sometimes there is a need for a big wind storm to knock down those barriers to see who we really are inside,” Zana says. She will introduce this collection, entitled The Wind is Strong as part of a solo exhibit to be held in New Orleans in October.

When in New Orleans, visit Zana’s art gallery at 3908 Magazine Street. Instagram @zanabrownstudio