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there is no brush

"...if a painting can't be as interesting as good pop music, then it should give up."-Glenn Brown


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.

"Heart and Soul" Glenn Brown

"DarkStar" Glenn Brown

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.

"Anaesthesia" Glenn Brown

"Led Zeppelin" Glenn Brown

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.

"Nausea" Glenn Brown

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?

Excelsior, MB

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8 comments

  • Art is everywhere. It will not “go away”. Art is where I find my joy and my daughter is attending the College for Creative Studies for animation. Everything is art. Artists are everywhere. Long may it reign!!

  • I really love the contemporary art coming out with heavy urban feel, graffiti & tattoo inspired yet elevated with the new graphics technologies available. Names to check out definitely Jeff Soto and Tiffany Bozi, I just found Josh Keyes and it’s tripping me out. There is all that amazing dark, surrealist stuff out, too- good old Mark Ryden, Alex Grey & Chet Zar (you know who they are if you know metal), also John Baizley of Baroness does all their artwork and it’s beautiful. The contemporary artists are getting along well with music ties.
    Art imitates life but classic art lives in life, up front and center; it’s only relative that classic artists appear in the contemporary. Like modern pop sampling every old song available. I’d love to see some of the successful contemporary artist crossover into new games; more likely the game artists put their influence into the new environments.

    Great article by the way, struck a chord with me, obviously. Love the artificial/real paint strokes of Glenn Brown.

  • author

    Thanks you guys, his work is awesome, and thanks Trude for your insight… I’d like to hear and see more feedback about who your favorite artist is, and why.

  • Wow, he’s absolutely amazing. Especially that first one. As a photographer, I absolutely think art is still entertainment, and even more so it’s inspiration. The way Rembrandt saw light, the way Glenn Brown plays with color, all swishes around in my brain and comes out in my photos in one way or another.