Thursday, 15 March 2018

Glenn Brown:My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows.

"I use pre-existing images to go into pre-existing forms. I don't like a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper" - Glenn Brown.

"Well, she ain't no witch and I love the way she twitch, ah ah ah" - Marc Bolan.

If Glenn Brown is gonna name his paintings after songs by bands as great as T Rex, Joy Division, and CSS then you'd think that the Gagosian gallery (who are presently showing his Come to Dust series of recent paintings) would come up with something a bit more in keeping with the rock'n'roll spirit to kick off the printed appreciation of his work that you pick up as you enter their rather lovely Grosvenor Hill outpost.

Pre-existing images, pre-existing forms, blank canvasses, blank sheets of paper. I nearly fell asleep before I got to the end of the sentence. Luckily the same could not be said for Brown's somewhat gorgeous art. Riots of colour (riots is the official collective noun for colour), swirling lines, bright red noses, tits, fannies, cocks, the lot.

Now I'm getting old, my circumstances are greatly reduced, and the only certainty on the horizon is an ever closer death, me and my two new friends, rejection and despair, find great solace and comfort in standing in dimly, or well, lit art galleries pondering what the fuck life is all about and where it all went wrong. Sometimes it even feels, just for a few short moments, that everything will be okay. Then I go to the pub.

Come to Dust (2017)

Dungeness B (2016)

So if you knock me for writing blogs or posting about art on Facebook (as some do) please know you're knocking one of the few avenues of pleasure (alongside TADS, London LOOP walks, gigs, cinema, theatre, architecture, and days and nights out with friends) I have left.*

On a grey March afternoon, with the threat of cold weather and perhaps even more bloody snow to come, it was great to surround myself with these beautiful objects. I've got so good at looking at art now I don't even worry that the invigilators will be judging me if I don't spend long enough staring or go right up close for a more clinical inspection.

Hexham's Glenn Brown has a couple of years on me so, potentially, he creates for the same reason I look at art and write about it or the same reason I do anything. To leave a mark. Even a Facebook status update is really me just screaming out loud "I'm still alive. Please don't forget about me". The fact that the title of the show comes from a song in Shakespeare's Cymbeline that 'evokes the ineluctability of death' suggests I'm barking up the right tree. Even if that tree is barren and has been earmarked for the chop. There's probably a pigeon on one of its branches getting ready to shit on me.

Brown's found a good way of reminding the world he's alive. Using a mixture of oil, acrylic, bronze, and Indian ink he's made five rooms chock full of tasty little pleasures. He seems to have taken something from the thickly applied paintings of Frank Auerbach, added the colour of a Derain or a Matisse (in the blue ones even a bit of Picasso), and executed it all with the skill of a draughtsman like Rembrandt. I could see parallels in his style to that of the fleshy titillation of Lisa Yuskavage or the Czech surrealism of Hynek Martinec.

This Island Earth (2017)

Mother's Tongue (2017)

Ain't No Flies on the Lamb of God (2017)

For this show Brown is riffing on some of those artists mentioned above as well as Delacroix, Raphael, and Elisabeth Le Brun. Sometimes Brown's sumptuous brushwork suggests three dimensionality but, sculptures aside, they're all completely flat.

Despite the fact that his nudes appear flayed, headless, or helpless they still exude a slightly discomfiting erotic pull. Die Mutter des Kunstlers, Passchendaele, and On the Way to the Leisure Centre recall Lucien Freud, Diego Velazquez's Rokeby Venus, or even classical Greek and Roman statuary.

The green hair in Life on the Moon, the bright red noses (clowns or pissheads?) repeated in Poor Art, Unknown Pleasures, and the snappily titled They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth and Touched the Face of God (a quote from Ronald Reagan after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster saw the death of all seven crew members, Trump would probably just say it wouldn't have happened if he'd been in charge of NASA), and the almost woodlike veneer of Come to Dust's face:- these seem to belong in the world of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's bizarre fruit, vegetable, and flower faced portraits. You could even imagine these creatures lurking in the background of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Just like The Fall, who I'm currently undergoing a labour of love by compiling my one hundred favourites from amongst their huge back catalogue, Brown has looked at how wonderful and frightening the world is and reflected that back at us. It helps lighten the load. Process stuff.

Let's Make Love and Listen to Death from Above (2017)

Life on the Moon (2016)

They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth and Touched the Face of God (2017)

Poor Art (2016)

Unknown Pleasures (2016)

If sometimes Brown seems to be taking his cues from Bosch, Georg Baselitz, or even Salvador Dali there are other occasions when he seems to be looking fondly back at the religious art of Guido Reni or the baroque pomposity of Anthony van Dyck. Children of the Revolution (he's at it again) could almost be a devotional piece in an old Italian cathedral and Ain't No Flies on the Lamb of God seems to be a sacrilegious take on the crucifixion. All it's missing is Eric Idle singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as he mugs to the camera and looks forward to appearing in Nuns on the Run with Robbie Coltrane.

Children of the Revolution (2017)

Die Mutter des Kunstlers (2016)

Drawing 17 (after Rembrandt) (2017)

Get It On (2017)

There's a quote on Brown's Wikipedia page from the artist himself:-

"I‘m rather like a Dr Frankenstein, constructing paintings out of the residue or dead parts of other artists' work. I hope to create a sense of strangeness by bringing together examples of the way the best historic and modern day artists have depicted their personal sense of the world. I see their worlds from multiple or schizophrenic perspectives, through all their eyes. Their sources of inspiration suggest things I would never normally see – rocks floating in far off galaxies, a bowl of flowers in an eighteenth century room, or a child in a fancy dress costume. It‘s those fictions that I take as subject matter. The scenes may have been relatively normal to Rembrandt or Fragonard but because of the passage of time and the difference in culture, to me they are fantastical".

It's both a self-aware, and self-regarding, statement but it does, in considerably less words than me, cut to the chase of what Brown's art is all about. Brown is Dr Frankenstein creating these monsters and then throwing them out into the world where they lurk around looking for love. I felt more of an affinity with Brown's creations than with Brown himself.

Ride a White Swan (2017)

Darsham Songs (2016)

Stimulate the Bearded Hamster (2017)

Passchendaele (2017)

On the Way to the Leisure Centre (2017)

Wikipedia also claims that many viewers of Brown's art find themselves wanting to lick or touch his paintings. Quite apart from the fact that I'd probably have been forcibly expelled from the gallery had I started running my tongue along the fleshy bums and legs, I can't say it was a sensation I shared. I just enjoyed looking at them. Like I enjoyed thinking about them and like I'm enjoying writing about them. I can't paint for toffee so my words are my own meagre little contribution to our culture. I hope they find love out there somewhere.

So did I feel better for visiting an art gallery? Yes, I did. But I still went to that pub. That train's never late.

Daydream Nation (2017)

Luscious Apartment (2017)

*Yes, I know I have lots of avenues of pleasure really. In fact it's like a fucking A-Z of Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing but I'm allowed a moan from time to time. I got called 'perky' once and, for some reason, it pissed me off. I'm definitely more like Pinky.

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