Original created in oil on panel.
I am rather like a Dr. Frankenstein, constructing paintings out of the residue or dead parts of other artist’s work. 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, for example, or a bowl of flowers in an 18th-century room, or a child in a fancy-dress costume. 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.
Glenn Brown is a British artist known for the use of art historical references in his reassembled paintings, drawings and sculptures. After studying at the Norwich School of Art and Bath College of Higher Education, he received an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths’ College in London. In his work, Brown gives new meaning to appropriated images from classical artists like Rembrandt, Delacroix, Vigée-Lebrun, and Raphael in a variety of genres including landscape, portrait, still-life and history painting.
For Brown, the past and present are repositories of fresh material, offering limitless images and techniques that can be combined, appropriated, and deconstructed. Drawing on an extensive knowledge of art history, as well as literature, music, and popular culture, Brown creates complex and sensuous works of art that are reflective of contemporary culture. His work teems with contrasts and contradictions, disconnected time, and often opposing scenes that exist simultaneously.
Starting with simple photocopied reproductions of other artists’ artworks, Brown usually uses Photoshop to modify the appropriated image by distorting its position and size, and changing its color to create sophisticated compositions that fuse diverse artistic styles like Renaissance, Impressionism and Surrealism. After planning his compositions on a computer, he paints slowly and precisely, with long, thin brushes, patiently laying down the sheerest of surfaces. “I sit for more than a thousand hours in front of each painting,” he says. “I don’t make very much work.” In fact, he rarely finishes more than six paintings a year. A completed artwork then is a painting of an edited digital reproduction of a print reproduction of a painting! His often distorted figures appear to be painted with thick impasto, but are actually executed through the application of thin, frenetic, swirling brushstrokes that reveal a smooth, flat surface. The agitated effect of his technique is at once powerful and unsettling.
Come to Dust is a portrait likely appropriated from a painting by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, the title of which is inspired by a song in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline and its message of the inevitability of death. Believing that we are never fixed as individuals, Brown’s intricate swirls vividly express the concept of movement. The red-headed figure’s green pupiless eyes stare almost trance-like as if she is in a drug-induced haze. Parts of her hair are detached, and the viewer is left to wonder what she holds in her hand – a writing quill? A rudimentary paintbrush? Is she contemplating her ultimate demise?
Brown’s appropriated work begs the question, is originality still possible in contemporary art? Is all art built on the ideas and brushstrokes of past artists? To these questions Brown answers, “…I love the notion of appropriation, and the fact that we can’t escape appropriation. All of the knowledge of all of the art we’ve ever seen is with us when we paint, or when I paint. By replicating and recontextualizing works of the Old Masters, Brown tells a much darker and more complicated story, on that is fit for our modern times.
What famous painting would you like to see in Brown’s or your very own style? Can you reimagine the Mona Lisa? Van Gogh’s Sunflowers? How about reimagining a photograph of yourself or someone you care about? We would love to see your creations! You may become a part of the Emergency Art Museum’s Very Important Artists gallery by submitting your creations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*impasto – The texture produced by the thickness of pigment (paint) in a painting.
*impressionism – A style of art developed in France in the nineteenth century that is based on the practice of painting out of doors and spontaneously ‘on the spot’ rather than in a studio from sketches. Main impressionist subjects were landscapes and scenes of everyday life.
*old master – In art history, “Old Master” (or “old master”) refers to any painter of skill who worked in Europe before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. An “old master print” is an original print (for example an engraving or etching) made by an artist in the same period.
*renaissance – French word meaning rebirth, now used in English to describe the great revival of art that took place in Italy from about 1400 under the influence of the rediscovery of classical art and culture, increased awareness of nature, a revival of classical learning, and a more individualistic view of man. Renaissance artists mastered illusionistic painting techniques, maximizing 'depth' in a picture, including linear perspective and foreshortening.
*surrealism – The word ‘surrealist’ (suggesting ‘beyond reality’) was coined by the French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire in a play written in 1903 and performed in 1917. Surrealism is an artistic and literary, philosophical and artistic movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. Surrealists explored the workings of the mind, championing the irrational, the poetic and the revolutionary. In his 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects. While ‘surreal’ is often used loosely to mean simply ‘strange’ or ‘dreamlike’, it is not to be confused with ‘surrealist’ which describes a substantial connection with the philosophy and manifestations of the surrealist movement.
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*The Emergency Art Museum claims no ownership, or copyright to any materials found here, or on-site. The Emergency Art Museum functions solely as a non-commercial, non-profit, educational resource for the community. All artwork represented or reproduced, has been done so for educational purposes only under the fair use act.
-Johnny DePalma, Owner / Curator
-Janelle Graves, Art Historian / Museum Educator