Glenn Brown

Selected Works

The Day the World Turned Auerbach

1991
oil on canvas
56 x 50 cm

When Brown uses a specific source painting more than once, each obsessive revisitation gives birth to a stunningly unique creation. This diversity is particularly apparent in the work he based on Frank Auerbach's emotionally wrought portraits of his favourite model, Juliet Yardley Mills. In Brown's hands, Auerbach's vigorous brushstrokes and thick impasto – intended to convey the sitter's strong physicality and the character of the artist/model relationship – are quietly muffled to create a completely smooth, illusionistic rendering of the source works' drama-laden materiality. While every reworking of Auerbach's originals involves changing the overall palette, recasting the backdrop, or tweaking facial features in order to transform the mood, Brown always retains a profound respect for the composition. Each time he returns to a portrait of J.Y.M., he accomplishes more than a postmodern act of appropriation. Far from being a simple critique of the source painting, each of Brown's readaptations is a renewal of his vows of fidelity and devotion to his art.

Alison M Gingeras, Guilty: The Work of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Serpentine Gallery, 2004 

Discotheque

1998
oil on canvas
61 x 74,9 cm

„Perhaps I'm trying to find beauty in the apparently ugly and the ugliness of accepted beauty. Fragonard, in the way I render him, and all the intrinsic sweetness of French 18th century kitsch baroque becomes threatening and tortured. Fragonard is chocolate boxy, Dalí is archetypal adolescent surrealism, science fiction is sensationalist and utopian, appealing art for the masses. And that is what I like about it, it's antagonistic to the modernist notion of everything having to be descriptive of underlying structures and the simplifyingly brutal and ugly. Modernism also developed a fascination for poverty, the gray and and mundane and, for me, it became a cliché that it had to represent seriousness.“

Glenn Brown in interview with Stephen Hepworth, „Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me“ Interview, London, May 2000 in Glenn Brown, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, 2000 

The Loves of Shepherd, after Tony Roberts

2000
oil on canvas
219,5 x 336 cm

Brown's adaptations are never slavish copies but rather careful interpretations and transformations of historical models. The Loves of Shepherds 2000, for example, Brown's take on Anthony Roberts' cover illustration for an edition of Robert A. Henlein's novel Double Star (published in 1974), is, on the surface, a faithful rendering of the original composition. However, Brown exaggerates the panoramic scope of the picture not only through the greatly increased scale (enlarged from book cover to a canvas measuring over three metres) but also through the addition of meticulous detailing on both the spaceship and the background. Two essential effects of the panorama come together in the Loves of Shepherds: the confrontation with vast expanses of space from an elevated viewpoint and the accompanying diminution of the viewer through the pedantic rendering of the subject.

(edited) Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009

Dark Angel ( for Ian Curtis ) after Chris Foss

2002
oil on canvas
225 x 341 cm

The fusion of the older trompe l'oeil effects with new digital imaging and projection technologies has been termed 'Electronic Baroque' – 'a merger of the Baroque and the industrial panorama (1880 forward)', becoming 'a master code for the new global economy'. Brown's cinematic landscapes are part of these developments but also resist them, the retrogressive orientation of the medium of painting defying the vortex-like effect of 'liquid modernity'. As exhilarating and seductive as they may be, these paintings also offer the comforting stability, stillness and permanence of the fixed viewpoint and flawless creation.

Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009

Special Needs

2002
oil on panel
103,5 x 85 cm

In oeuvre, Brown has moved towards the progressive disintegration of his subjects, graduating from the sharply focused precision of his science fiction and apocalyptic landscapes to an implosion of the surface of skin, clothes (in particular the tactile and erotic texture of fur), fruits and even entire landscapes. Since around 2000, this dissolution of surface has become increasingly aggressive, culminating in a veritable nuclear meltdown of bodies, flesh and skin. The dissection of the painted reality of abstract painting has given way to an equally, if not more, meticulous atomisation of seething, boiling and swirling organic surfaces, all rendered with fanatical devotion to detail and customary lack of expression.

Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009

The Aesthetic Poor ( for Tim Buckley ) after John Martin

2002
oil on canvas
220,5 x 333 cm

The apocallyptic tendency reaches its climax in the landscapes of John Martin, with their evocation of sublime terror and fear, liberally exploited and rewoked by Brown. Martin's large-scale scenes capture catastrophic destruction and mayhem on an epic scale, forever arrested in a climatic moment, to be marvelled and admired. The collapsing mountains, erupting volcanoes, streaming lava and divine retribution through lightning flashes are transformed in Brown's adaptations from moral lesson to filmic spectacle. The Biblical subjects which he appropriates from Martin's most famous paintings are the deluge and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Again Brown creates radically altered versions: The Aesthetic Poor (for Tim Buckley) after John Martin 2002 banishes suffering humanity and emphasises the destructive force of the deluge through vortex-like swirls and transparent psychedelic veils in a post-Nietzschean vision of the end of the earth after it has been deserted by God.

Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009

The International Velvet

2004
oil on panel
121,5 x 145,5 cm

International Velvet stands at the beginning of a series of 'portraits' in which the self is disfigured into an unrecognisable blob – a mass of raw flesh that defies identification as head, torso or object, punctured by multiple undetermined orifices surrounded by sparse sprouts of pubic hair and absurdly budding flowers. Brown's subjects are all in various states of decay, an atmosphere of nauseating disintegration emanating from rancid surfaces and putrid colours. They display the classic caracteristics of abject horror which, at its heart, is ambiguous: an uncertain state of animation suspending the subject between life and death; the fear of corpses; and a disgust in the face of bodily fluids, emissions and purulence.

Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009 

The Great Masturbator

2006
oil on wood
110 x 87,5 cm

„The naked flesh of the original model may be long dead, but that just aids the imagination Fragonard, Auerbach and Rembrandt painted the living. Their flesh has become paint so I paint paint. The paint is the crusty residue left after the relationship between the artist and his model is over. It is all that there is left of real love, so I paint that.“

Glenn Brown in Guilty: The Work of Glenn Brown (by Alison M Gingeras) in Glenn Brown, Serpentine Gallery, London, 2004

War in Peace

2009
oil on panel
116 x 87 cm

Significantly, Brown reserves the most extreme disintegration for the human figure – torsos, limbs, heads, and faces have recently become blistering masses of living flesh, eating away at the very essence of the subject. Surface as such seems to be dissolved into animated matter as violated, diseased and contaminated skin takes on the appearance of the soft tissue that lies beneath the protective bodily membrane. Brown takes the most base of all limbs, turns it upside down and elevates it to the subject of the noble form of the portrait. ..

The maltreated and detached human foot as an exalted emblem of decay, horror and death makes its appearance in a series by Georg Baselitz, its genealogy reaching back to Géricault and Rodin. Salvator Dalí's exploration of the object suggests the vision of a world in turmoil and flux.

Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009 

Nigger of the World

2011
oil on panel
172 x 138 cm

An atmosphere of historical painting pervades Glenn Brown's work. Some of his paintings are permeated by references while others are born of violent collisions. These collisions between disparate elements are romantic rather than iconoclastic. Rembrandt is not used as an ironing board, as suggested by Duchamp; instead he is photographed, reproduced, scanned, copy-pasted, transferred, retouched and finally repainted for Nigger of the World. Yet the old masters dance under Glenn Brown's brushes, they move out of the picture, some guided gently, some brutally.

(edited) Jean-Marie Gallais, Exquisite Deliquescence in Glenn Brown, Galerie Max Hetzler, 2011

Never Forever

1995
plaster, acrylic and oilpant
35,6 x 30,5 x 30,5 cm

The different genres of Brown's work – the details of expressionist paintings, the science fiction images, and the portraits – propose a range of congruent possibilities for reverie. However, his most literal, yet strange, works are the sculptures that he has produces since Never Forever (1995). These sculptures are made particularly perverse by the fact tgat they appear to be everything that the paintings are not. Seemingly built up out of think heavy brushstrokes of pure colour, sometimes laid on, wet into wet, they are polar opposite of his paintings' mute, implacable surfaces that reveal no clues as how the paint has been laid down.

Christoph Grunenberg, Capability Brown: Spectacle of hyperrealism, the panorama and abject horror in the painting of Glenn Brown in Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2009 

Woman I

2011
oil, acrylic on fibreglass, steel
135 x 90 x 70 cm

The title refers to Willem de Kooning's Woman I (1950-1952), his aggressive synthesis of archetypal prehistoric and historic feminine figures. In this time, the picture signified the return of figuration in Modernist painting. Woman I, if it is indeed her, has come to life; she is transformed. She steps out of the canvas, a kind of hillock of paint devoid of background. Brown is unconsciously borrowing as much from Nikki de Saint Phalle as from the American expressionist painter and scuptor. Painting and sculpture have grown together and everything in this strange mass is deliciously exposed.

Jean-Marie Gallais, Exquisite Deliquescence in Glenn Brown, Galerie Max Hetzler, 2011

Die große Nacht im Eimer

2011
oil on panel
128 x 96 cm (oval)

The old masters are not the only ones implicated in these incidents; Glenn Brown also drags in music, science fiction, popular imagery/fantasy and recent art among other things. A portrait of an old man with an exuberant beard (Jean-Honoré Fragonard's Tête de vieillard de profil, 1767) is brought to life and given a title borrowed from a work by Georg Baselitz representing a boy mastrubating: Die große Nacht im Eimer (1962-1963), famous for having been seized by the public prosecutor. Here are collisions between one universe and another, between title and image, between treatment and iconography, between one epoch and another.

Jean-Marie Gallais, Exquisite Deliquescence in Glenn Brown, Galerie Max Hetzler, 2011

Necrophiliac Springtime

2013
oil on panel
200 x 324 cm

“It could be said that with the flatness of the painted surface, I am denying my physical presence – not only because actual marks can barely be seen, but also because the viewer is not sure how I have made the paintings, or even if they are painted at all. The artist is only a disembodied presence.

I find myself making flowing curls all over the paintings to take you visually on a journey over an image. For me this is an interesting way of moving the viewer’s eyes around the canvas.

I try to get those same sliding brush marks into the sculpture, even though the process is different physically. The sculpture involves large brushes; I always use one size for the entire sculpture, whereas with paintings, I use tiny brushes of various types.“

Glenn Brown in conversation with Jean-Marie Gallais in Remember Everything: 40 Years of Galerie Max Hetzler, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin 2014