Sunday, June 21, 2015

Painting and Collecting

“My painting grows out of interest in depicting a personal vision of life
and the products of life as it surrounds in the American environment.”
Roger Brown

The Alabama born and raised painter, sculptor and dedicated collector Roger Brown was one of the leading lights in the Chicago Imagist movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. A movement that personalized New York’s Pop Art concentrating on surrealism, Art Brut, and comics rather than commercial advertising and popular illustration.

As Brown explained in a Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago video. “I think they [New York pop artists] chose these things as sources and presented them at a very refined traditional representational manner that came, that really grew out of the western tradition. And I think that the way, our approach to it was not to use those things as sources so much as to kind of parallel the kind of energy as art themselves. Like, oh finding ads and labels and things from the 30’s or toys and things like that and instead of painting pictures of them and cropping them in certain ways so they looked very aesthetic, I think our intention was to say those things are beautiful in themselves. Can I make art that equals that?”

It is practice that was underpinned by Brown’s avid collecting of artifacts and ephemera from flea markets, thrift shops, and art dealers. In 1968 he expanded his repertoire to include landscapes along with works inspired by his love of Art Deco cinemas, comic books and toys from his childhood.
A little over a decade later Brown started painting in a circus freak show banner style informed by the banners he had been collecting from his student days. Although his freaks were corrupt politicians, immoral corporations along with the bigoted and twisted that sought the public eye.

Whilst presented as historic advertisements that often displayed an ironic reading of the subject matter it was not always apparent as in his 1986 painting Presidential Portrait (see below). About which Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987 “It’s ambiguous … I really wasn't making a statement for or against. It goes back to history painting. I decided I was going to do my portrait of a president.

Upon his death from AIDS related complications in 1997 Brown bequeathed his collection of thousands of objects along with his properties in Chicago, Michigan and California to his alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

A collection that included American self-taught and outsider artists, folk and tribal art from around the world, pop-culture memorabilia, travel souvenirs, toys, textiles, furniture, baskets, ceramics, and glass. As the curator of the collection, Lisa Stone, told the Chicago Reader “from Roger's point of view, there was no distinction between high and low art."

The current exhibition of his work Roger Brown: Political Paintings is on show at New York’s DC Moore Gallery until 31st of July.

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