Hexham, Northumberland, UK
Summary of Glenn Brown
Brown's work reveals a career-spanning preoccupation with the practice of appropriation. Challenging the time-honoured maxim that the best art has to be truly original, Brown looked to ways in which he might reimagine the history of art and culture - references to works from the canon sit comfortably next to more popular, more contemporary, sources - and he turned to the "regressive" art of painting to make his own mark. Not simply content with aping original works, Brown preferred to alter audience perceptions by drawing on "copies from copies" - usually as viewed second hand through a computer screen. Intrigued with the idea of surfaces, his "flat", often garish, paintings speak to the vernacular of hyperrealism. In the latter part of his career he has turned away from painting to explore the possibilities of drawing and sculpture though thematically he has remained consistent in his commitment to the practices of appropriation and intertextual commentary.
- Whereas the tendency amongst those engaged in the practice of appropriation was to deconstruct and/or to parody an existing image or set of images, Brown's work tended to be more benign. His artistic concerns lay fundamentally with painterly form and how he might call on the history of art to pursue his interest in addressing the philosophical puzzle of artistic authenticity.
- Emerging from the late-twentieth-century environment that treated painting with mistrust, Brown developed a special interest in raised impasto brushwork. He sought to fetishize expressionistic brushwork, such as that which characterized the work of the School of London, by flattening the tactile surfaces through finely applied brushwork.
- Brown's paintings were often characterized by their penchant for sluicing distortion. His preference for glossy polished surfaces and discordant color arrangements, meanwhile, saw him linked with the unnaturalistic Mannerist tradition in painting. Brown's synthetic color schemes also represented the artist's attempts to produce sculptures made of brush strokes.
- In his later works, Brown moved away from (while not abandoning) his cherished derivative style to pursue a more personal take on the theme of the grotesque and decay. These works, which adopt a looser, more expansive approach, achieve their unsettling aura through abrasive color arrangements that effectively obliterate any reference to other sources.
Biography of Glenn Brown
Glenn Brown was born in 1966 in Hexham, Northumberland, in the north of England. He has described the importance of religious iconography to his early visual development - "It's what surrounded me when I was growing up" he said - and particularly the grandiose, often violently shocking, subject matter. But as Brown's artistic interests developed into adolescence, it was the self-aware language of postmodernism that attracted him. Speaking of artists like Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Richard Prince, he picked up on the "emotional detachment, the cool gaze of the detached artist" and the fact that the audience "never quite know what [the artists are] thinking. It's about the way technology has detached us from the direct relationship with the real world" he concluded.
Important Art by Glenn Brown
All is not as it seems in this tortured portrait of a man; his face dissolved into a sea of molten blue and green brushwork. What appear to be swipes, streaks and raised smears of greasy oil paint, applied with Frank Auerbach's trademark ferocity, is revealed, on closer inspection, to be a mirror-flat copy. Taking artistic liberties with Auerbach's original, the colours in Brown's reworked painting have been heightened to take on a hyperrealistic digital glow that lends the image an added aura that verges on the grotesque and monstrous. Though it is possible to read the image on its own terms, with this image, Brown - who acknowledges the original painting in his title - confronts his audience and asks them to question their assumptions about fine art and how it is (or has been) judged according to its degree of originality.
While studying at Goldsmiths College of Art, Brown became aware of the fact that painting (and expressionism especially) was considered passé. Brown duly developed a new method of painting that re-worked existing pieces. Viewing the original canvas through his computer screen and/or books, Brown developed what he called a "healthy cynicism about what it is to look at the world [and] to be in a modern world surrounded by images". Responding to charges of plagiarism, Brown was quick to point out that the practice of artists replicating each other's work could be traced back through the history of art. That having been said, Brown's more flagrant act of copying (from existing copies) sits easily within the penchant for appropriation that became one of the signifiers of a decidedly playful and self-conscious postmodern art.
Brown made a series of controversial paintings during the 1990s and early 2000s based on retro science fiction illustrations by Chris Foss, John Martin, and Antony Roberts. The original 1970s images were small in scale; designed to illustrate book covers. Copying from a computer copy once more, Brown distorted and reproduced the illustrations as vast expanded versions of the originals, bringing in areas of detail alongside expansive space vistas. In The Loves of Shepherds, based on Roberts's original illustration, a fantastical, almost operatic, vision opens out before us, where a floating space station veers towards a pulsing blue orb.
Though Brown stood accused of plagiarism - not least by Roberts who took legal action against him - several figures within the art establishment, including Sir Nicholas Serota, rallied behind Brown on grounds that the history of art was comfortable with this type of practice. For his part, Brown was keen to emphasize his input on the new work(s): "The colours are altered, the cities were redrawn and I was always inventing things to increase their intensity right from the start".
In an attempt to raise the artistic status of these images through microscopic areas of detail, dramatic, Mannerist foreshortening, and digitised colouring, Brown maximizes the theatricality of the image: "Art is theater and theater isn't real life," he observed, "it's an exaggeration of real life; it's what makes people engage with something". By appropriating images from 1970s "pulp" literature, the image might qualify as kitsch in respect of the fact that it tests the boundaries of fine art and popular taste.
A hunched male figure glowers, his arms crossed in defiance. The blue aura that drenches the artwork imbues him (it) with a melodramatic, perhaps menacing, quality. Animated brushstrokes seem to swirl and twist while directional light falls in from the left, lending the figure a sculptural-like presence.
Brown produced this portrait in a move away from his style of direct appropriation. Here we see a more personal language start to surface, and while we are not now able to discern any direct points of intertextual reference, an austere compositional distance between sitter (fictitious in this instance) and artist emerges that recalls the formal preferences of the Dutch Master painting. Yet, in keeping with all Brown's previous work, the apparent painterly surface amounts to a deception; loose brushwork is instead rendered in a meticulous photoreal manner so what appears spontaneous is in fact a labour-intensive process.
There is also the synthetic aura to contemplate. It speaks very much of the digital age and invites us to consider the impact screens and printed matter have had on the way we experience contemporary art, and, indeed, modern life in general. The title of this work is borrowed from a David Bowie album, another playing act of borrowing (from one of the artist's personal idols).
Brown is interested in the power of dissonance, between what we perceive initially, and what we uncover on closer inspection. There is a certain irony in the fact that the pronounced digital influences on his work ask that it be experienced first-hand rather than through reproduction. As Brown explains, "The paintings do not photograph terribly well, which is the point really, because they have such flat, precise and sheer surfaces. You really need to see that". Brown also seeks to create feelings of disquiet, calling himself "the Stilton cheese of painting" because he believes spectators "like to be irritated", and "because it's fun" to irritate people through art. Tate Gallery writes that this work (and others like it) "question the genre of portraiture, revealing the inaccuracies of capturing real people through the illusory device of painting".
Influences and Connections
- William Daniels
- Neil Gall
- Jonathan Owen
- Dexter Dalwood
- Albert Oehlen
Useful Resources on Glenn Brown
- Glenn BrownBy Rudi Fuchs
- Glenn BrownOur PickBy Christoph Grunenberg, Michael Stubbs, Francesco Bonami, Laurence Sillars
- Glenn BrownBy Glenn Brown
- Glenn BrownOur PickBy Rochelle Steiner, Alison Gingeras
- Glenn Brown: PortraitsOur PickBy John-Paul Stonard
- Glenn BrownBy Tom Morton
- Glenn Brown - 36 Drawings and A SculptureBy Gagosian Gallery
- Glenn BrownBy Michael Bracewell
- Glenn BrownBy David Freedberg
- Glenn Brown - Come to DustBy Hari Kunzru
- Joy DivisionBy Michael Bracewell and Lavinia Greenlaw
- Glenn BrownBy Jean-Marie Gallais
- Interview: Glenn BrownBy Lynn MacRitchie / Art in America / March 18, 2009
- Glenn Brown interview: 'I am the Stilton cheese of painting'By Alastair Sooke / The Telegraph / January 21, 2018
- Interview with Glenn BrownBy Elena Cué / Huffington Post / December 6, 2017
- Glenn BrownThe ASX Team / American Suburb X Magazine / June 7, 2014
- Glenn Brown at Tate LiverpoolBy Martin Herbert / Frieze Magazine / June 1, 2009
- Inside Dr Frankenstein's studio: Glenn Brown on his macabre mashupsBy Stuart Jeffries / The Guardian / January 24, 2018
- Glenn BrownBy Jennifer Higgie / Frieze Magazine / June 6, 1999
- Glenn Brown: The process of reappropriation as the key to our futureBy Raffaele Quattrone / The Wall Street Journal / May 30, 2018
- ART IN REVIEW; Glenn Brown, Julie Mehretu, Peter RostovskyBy Holland Cotter / The New York Times / June 23, 2000
- Glenn BrownBy John Paul Stonard / The Burlington / May 2014
- Parkett No. 75: Kai Althoff, Glenn Brown, Dana SchutzBy Glenn Brown Mmsc PT Scs Atc (Contributor), Dana Schutz (Contributor), Kai Althoff (Contributor) / Parkett Magazine / February 15 2006
- A careful concoction of 'push' and 'pull': Glenn BrownBy Rochelle Steiner and Alison Gingeras / Tate Etc. / June 25, 2019
- Presences and Spectral Traces: Glenn Brown and Frank AuerbachBy James Hyman / James Hyman Gallery
- Glenn Brown, painter and sculptor: 'Sculpture has to operate in its own right - it cannot be slavish to its sources'By Karen Wright / The Independent / September 3, 2015
- How Inspiration can be mistaken for ImitationBy Richard Alleyne / The Telegraph / November 29, 2000
- Tate Shots, Glenn Brown and Forgery (2009)Our PickIn this film, John Myatt, a renowned forger, whose exploits have even landed him a spell in prison, takes a trip to Tate Liverpool to contemplate Brown's work
- Glenn Brown in Conversation with Xavier Bray, (2018)Our PickThe director of the Wallace Collection speaks with the artist on the occasion of his exhibition Come to Dust at London's Gagosian Gallery as part of the Gagosian Quarterly Talks programme
- Glenn Brown in Conversation with Jeff Fleming, (2016)The talk was organised on the occasion of the Glenn Brown retrospective at the Des Moines Art Center
- Glenn Brown in Conversation, (2016)The artist talks with Bice Curiger, Director of Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, and Ger Luijten, director of Fondation Custodia. An event hosted by Frieze and Fondation Custodia, Paris, on the occasion of Glenn Brown's exhibition, Suffer Well, at Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles
- Glenn Brown Artist Talk at the Aspen Art Museum, (2017)Our PickBrown discusses his practice and how he develops his ideas, followed by a lively question and answer forum with Aspen Art Museum CEO and Director Heidi Zuckerman
- Influences and Transformation, (2014)Glenn Brown discusses his practice at College de France, Paris