A tale of two artists

The project that put artists Mark Evans and Charley Brown on the map is in downtown San Francisco. For the landmark 1906 Monadnock Building, they created a series of energetic, colorful murals echoing the styles of 16th century Venice but depicting rich local history. Within a few years of that project’s completion, Evans & Brown became the go-to source for architects and designers seeking one-of-a-kind statements to distinguish grand public (or, occasionally, intimately private) spaces.

Mark and Charley, married in 2011 but partnered long before, first got the idea of working together in business on a European trip. “Our happiest hours have always been spent looking at paintings,” Mark recalls. “As soon as we’d hit Paris, we’d head to the Louvre. We began to think about European traditions of decoration – murals, painted ceilings, trompe l’oeil effects – and how they weren’t really part of any American vernacular.

“Italians in particular have a history of amazingly painted rooms that goes back centuries – think about Pompeii!” he says. “There’s such a richness and such a history that even the most frivolous imagery in the world can still make for a profound experience.”

They came home from that trip and started experimenting with their own house, painting rooms in classical motifs, grounded in the work of Veronese and Tiepolo. “A designer friend of ours named Paul Wiseman saw it and just loved it,” Mark says. “All of a sudden we were the go-to guys in the Bay Area for mural work. With the Monadnock building we realized we could do the designs, hire more assistants and work at a much bigger scale.”

Artists' guest room | Evans & Brown

Ideas brought home from Paris museums, tested on a guest-room wall

Soon, Evans & Brown had a large studio and a team of assistants, busy painting murals for a range of projects, reflecting a myriad of influences: Baroque frescos, Romantic landscapes, Art Deco metalwork, Hawaiian weavings. “Hospitality became our specialty, and each project was different, which kept our interest going,” Mark says. “One day it might be Rococo or chinoiserie, the next day Rothko. Our art library grew to a couple of thousand books.”

Evans & Brown mural art

Allegorical figures depicting the laborer, the thinker and the builder

“They are more than just artists. Evans & Brown are masters and magicians!”Roger Thomas, Wynn Resorts
A visit to their workshop put a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in mind of the “studio of a successful 17th century artist”: Two thousand years of art history in four thousand square feet of San Francisco workshop. At times, as many as 18 assistants have worked on large projects such as commissions from Wynn Resorts or Dubai’s giant Atlantis The Palm hotel.

“They have contributed both unique, breathtaking paintings and the bespoke elegance of custom wall cover and extraordinary decorative statements for my hotel interiors,” says Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for Wynn Design and Development, the creator of extraordinary interiors at Wynn Resorts in the U.S. and China. “While there are many muralists and artists who say they do what Evans & Brown can do, I submit that they are more than just artists. Evans & Brown are masters and magicians!”

It was not a giant step from painting murals to making wallcoverings, originally by hand but soon with larger manufacturers. Evans & Brown’s innovative designs draw, like the murals, both on their deep knowledge of a variety of artistic traditions and an instinct for capturing the modern eye. Some evoke classical decorative flourishes — medallions, damasks, lattices — others are more abstract and textured. Designs for home use for Brewster Home Fashions are nationally available through that company’s extensive dealer network. Koroseal, a large manufacturer known for its expertise in durable synthetic materials, asked Evans & Brown to help develop a line of contract wallcoverings for hospitality and commercial environments. The relationship has continued for 15 years. “Koroseal was years ahead in the business technically, and we have been able to work with them to give their manufactured products a kind of natural wabi-sabi quality,” Mark says.

In recent years, they’ve added mural-like digital imagery to the repertory, which offers designers some of the flexibility and range of commissioned work. The digital images can be scaled by buyers’ designers and “printed to fit,” compared to the standard-size rolls of traditional wallcoverings.

Ready for continuing visual adventure

Mark and Charley long worked in separate studios in the basement of their handsome San Francisco house. (Charley passed away in late 2018.) Part of the time they always worked on their own. Mark regularly shares his latest work on his blog and sells through select outlets. Contemporary tastes can range far beyond the Italianate, where the Evans & Brown phenomenon took root and flourished, but that’s always been fine with them. “I never wanted to spend the rest of my life painting cherubs on someone’s ceiling,” Charley said a few years back. “Someone can come to us and ask for just about anything, and we’ll figure it out.”

  • The Education of Bacchus | Evans & Brown mural art The Education of Bacchus, in Deauville’s casino

  • Digital murals for Koroseal | Evans & Brown mural art Digital mural featuring naturalistic seascapes and ships

  • Design for Koroseal | Evans & Brown mural art An expressionist landscape mural for Koroseal

  • Masterly murals and wallcovering | Evans & Brown Design for an unrealized project derived from psychedelic art