Maelstroms of colors whipping together like a Hubble shot of Jupiter’s atmosphere. Incongruous hues flowing harmoniously; magentas licking veridians, azures flush with chartreueses working together and the heady collision of classical forms with artificial colors give the paintings an instantaneously carnivalesque appeal. Provocative, derivative, genius, plagiarisms- English artist Glenn Brown’s paintings have been called many thing, but never boring. I like to always think of him as akin to the Rolling Stones who took American blues, sexualized, amplified, and distorted the music until it was this awesome Frankenstein’s monster that was all their own. Brown on the other hand takes the work of the abstractists, the impressionists, and the surrealists fetishizes the act of painting, remixes and re-imagines them, creating something uniquely new all his own.
As your eyes skim the surface of one of Brown’s paintings, they can’t help but get lost in the labyrinth of heavy impasto strokes, or get caught at an impasse of brilliant cyan paint. That’s the 1st allure of his pieces, the rich movement and history of the painting as evidenced by the movement of the brush and the artist’s hand is at the same time its best joke. The truth is… there is no spoon (pardon the heavy handed Matrix reference), there is no texture, there is no brushstroke. The surface is in fact impossibly smooth, although not engineered by self aware AI who are using humanity to feed its bio-electric needs. The artist has pain-stakingly rendered where the brush would (should) have gone, the inadvertent collision of color is in fact not a brilliant accident… nothing is impulsive in the tightly painted canvases that are the step children of the kinetic abstract painters he so admired. Brown’s first glimpses at art were very similar to most people’s, through the pages of books; his young misinterpitation of how a 2-D photo captured a 3 dimensional object slowly led him to a career-long interest in capturing the process, and “to treat brushmarks like objects to be gazed at in awe”. The trompe l’oeil that he achieves through his mastery of the brush creates a surface as delectable as a mint chocolate chip swirl that literally leaves the viewer wanting to eat his paintings.
The second great stroke of genius in his work again stems from the same lionizing of his artist forefathers.There’s a profound sense in his work of having been there before….like you’ve seen this painting already – guess what, you haven’t. Ok, maybe a sliver of a part here or there; Picasso, Rembrandt, Dali… or more accurately pieces of their work are lifted straight from their original home and adopted by Brown. By reappropriating and recontextualizing these images and then inverting, bloating and/or painting them to look like putrid corpses, he’s able to tie your eye to something familiar without making you realize it. Brown’s propensity for reusing imagery has run afoul of the art world once or twice, and even has landed him in the courtroom regarding plagiarizing the work of the sci-fi artist Chris Foss. (psst, it was settled out of court) However, in his defense the technique is used to great effect in creating a sense of timelessness that definitely works better than any colorized version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” can.
Using found imagery as a jumping off point to his work has allowed Glenn Brown to connect the classical era of painting with the mid-century abandon of the more gestural abstract impressionists to the sterility of the age of reproductions and the internet… a neon boullaibaisse if you will. More importantly though it has allowed him to challenge the viewer, which is what great art does; yes, those thick ribbons of lavender brushed heavily are real, or are they? Brown’s ability to play with the viewer by making them question what is or isn’t real is paramount to his work… is it art? is it original? is it real? His decision has already been made, or is he just messing around with you? His challenging on a visual and intellectual level does make his work as engaging to me as any music, and I can find myself staring at his work for hours, like listening to a song on repeat over and over again. So I ask you readers, is there an artist who you see as a rockstar, someone who really moves you? Is art even a viable form of interactive engagement anymore, or is it just a bull market for the rich?