Gavin Brown’s work is not for the faint-hearted: boldly figurative, densely populated, intemperately coloured and invariably large in scale, his works crash uncompromisingly into view in a way which can leave the viewer overwhelmed.
If Brown’s imagery seems barely contained by the canvas – a dizzying whirl of activity, characters and unfolding scenarios – the artist remains unfazed by the technical challenge. “Busyness only works with good composition, enabling your eye to travel around the painting while seeing fragments, but reading it as a whole”, he observes. “It’s a pattern of colour and texture as well as a scene. To my eye, I prefer excess to minimalism”.
Brown’s latest exhibition, Behind The Curtain, continues his preoccupation with dance, vaudeville, boudoirs, and backstage parties tinged with an uninhibited decadence. “Glimpses of private worlds fascinate me”, Brown says. “To be an observer of popular culture, its excesses and hedonism, its beauty and ugliness.” From time to time famous figures such as Kate Moss and the late Quentin Crisp drift through Brown’s exclusive soirées, as if capturing the heedlessness of youth and the regrets of maturity. Such appearances might seem momentarily disconcerting, but they reflect the all-pervasive influence of print media, television and the internet within contemporary society. Whether spectator, voyeur or casual observer, Brown acknowledges that we are encouraged to feel as if we ‘know’ these people, so ubiquitous is ‘celebrity culture’; an oxymoron if ever there was one.
image: The Dandy - artist portrait of Gavin Brown by Alise Black
Brown addresses the indelible impact of consumerism with bling – jewellery, prestige champagne, watches, stiletto shoes, and motorbikes – interspersed amongst his cast. “My source material is derived from advertising and popular culture, which is constantly trying to sell us such items,” he remarks. “It is a comment on the endless choices we face in modern life, evoking the fullness and chaos of the times we live in.” Brown’s work conveys the dominance of the visual medium in constructing what is perceived as the ‘desirable’ lifestyle or aesthetic, “Being bombarded with imagery, I need to rearrange and reassemble it in my own compositions”, he explains. “I hope to draw an emotional response from the audience through creating narratives that they can interpret and continue themselves”.
A past finalist in the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize (for subject or genre painting) and the biennial National Works on Paper Prize (NWOP), Brown feels compelled to keep his works fresh and to renew his stylistic choices. For this exhibition he has produced several paintings devoid of his trademark colour. “The work is constantly evolving and I am forever refining it. Each show reflects something from the previous shows, but explores a few new directions”, Brown reflects. “The present show has a more vivid colour palette than the last, but also plays with the new direction of the black and white tonal pieces.” As a well known figure in the Melbourne arts scene, Brown would seem to have an endless supply of inspiration for his vibrant, culturally pertinent works. But as the fickle and capricious artistic firmament moves on, so does he, “At the end of the day the work will speak for itself... it’s all about the paint”, says Brown.
Behind The Curtain, fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane Melbourne, 9-27 September 2008. For more about the artist visit: www.gavinbrown.com.au