Caleb Brown is a study in contrasts. On the football field he brought power and brute force. On the canvas, he paints with grace and finesse, bringing his subjects to life. The former Fayette County High Tiger has found his true calling as an artist.
At FCHS, Brown was an All-Region talent for the Tigers, but the bruising running back did his best work outside of the hashmarks. In the Class of 2012, he was an honor graduate and a member of the National BETA Club, and he was voted the Most Outstanding Senior by his teachers.
He was also a key piece of the track and field program under the legendary John Strickland, even serving as a captain, and that’s where some of his fondest memories were molded.
“My favorite moment from playing sports at FCHS was the state track meet my senior year,” said Brown. “We were fortunate enough to take a gang of athletes—many of whom were my best friends.”
It was the late Coach Strickland, who Brown competed for in both football and track, who inspired his most treasured piece.
“I’m most proud of my painting of Coach Strickland. He was someone who meant the world to me,” Brown said. “When he passed, it hurt. Commemorating his legacy through art was the least I could do to express my love for him.”
For college, Brown jumped at the chance to help forge a legacy, committing to help build something special as a key contributor on the inaugural football team at Mercer University.
“Their academic pedigree was attractive,” he remembered on what drew him to Mercer. “Additionally, I had an opportunity to be part of a start-up football program, and Macon was relatively close to home, so my family was accessible. That meant a lot to me.”
Mercer football meant a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and patience. For a full year, they could do nothing but practice, hitting teammates as they counted down the days to the school’s first official game since 1903.
That first kickoff will always be special to Brown.
“My favorite moment from playing football at Mercer our first game on August 31, 2013 versus Reinhardt University. I’ll never forget how loud the crowd was at the first kickoff. My heart was pounding with excitement, or fear, I don’t remember,” he joked.
He was a pivotal fixture on the 10-win team, running for 334 yards and 8 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2013.
“It was a unique experience. The first year, the ‘practice year,’ we didn’t play any opponents. We practiced against one another for a calendar year. It was extremely tough, but it molded us. And it’s the reason for our historic success during the initial season. We went 10-2, a record for the most wins for a first-year program.”
The opportunity to build the Bears from the ground up built an unbreakable bond for many of the teammates.
“Most of us ‘Day One’ guys are still really close. In fact (last month), we hosted an event called ‘Breaking BEARiers,’ a fundraiser aimed at raising money for African American communities in Macon, Georgia,” he said. “In the wake of George Floyd’s death, we wanted to do something to aid the fight for equality in America. We’ve raised over $8,000 thus far.”
He graduated from Mercer in 2016 with a BA in Psychology, but he found his calling in the arts.
“I’d always been artistically inclined; however, I never considered it an option, professionally—until my senior year at Mercer,” he remembered. “I’d never painted before. I started painting in 2015, and, to my surprise, I had tremendous early success selling my work. This success instilled the confidence to go into business for myself.”
He had always dabbled in it, but took time to take a leap of faith. The first piece he sold was a portrait of Marvin Gaye that a classmate bought, and his passion has only prospered from there.
“Along with my early success, I conducted research that revealed other artists my age who were doing really well—and making tons of money. I’ve always believed the ‘starving artist’ narrative, so it was refreshing to see colleagues who were rejecting that concept.”
When it’s time to create, Brown has his methods.
“I love listening to music while painting. In particular, I love listening to Gospel music—Kirk Franklin is my favorite artist. And if I’m really in the zone, you catch me singing, loudly.”
The subject of his portraits, whether it’s a commissioned painting of a college athlete like Jalen Hurts or a tribute to a legend like Kobe Bryant, come to life on the canvas through the strokes of his brush. It’s allowed him to amplify important causes and help give voice to the voiceless.
He works in acrylics on canvas most often, but he’s often branched out into other mediums, including custom cleats. Last season he helped multiple NFL players display their passions as part of the league’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign. Among them was long-time friend and Sandy Creek alum Mike Hilton, who took the field with the Pittsburgh Steelers wearing special purple and green cleats.
“This design aims to show love and support to everyone living with Crohn’s Disease,” Brown said. “We want you to know you’re never alone.”
Caleb Brown’s art has taken him to new heights and helped him tell the stories of his subjects.
What his own story says is still being poured out on the canvas, each brush stroke creating a beautiful legacy of creation.
To see more of his work or to contact the artist, go to calebscanvas.com.