John Brown

A Mixed Palette

Repeatedly asked why he does not tend to paint his native Scotland, John Brown states simply, ‘I like to be warm’, going on to praise the quality of light and colour in the various Mediterranean destinations that he uses for inspiration. ‘A Mixed Pallette’ is perhaps a fitting description for Brown’s December show at Lemon Street Gallery: as an artist who regularly bases his exhibitions on his most recent travels, this current body of work features pictorial sources from various residencies across Europe – from Corfu and Paxos, to Moire and Collioure. The show demonstrates the artist’s pure and genuine zeal for colour and light, with works that range dramatically in size and stylistic representation, yet maintaining the constant vibrancy and beauty for which Brown is so well acclaimed.

Regularly flitting between abstract and pictorial representation in his paintings, Brown has yet to be pinned down as a painter of solely one or the other, a style that he compares to Richard Diebenkorn, an artist frequently cited as a particular source of inspiration for Brown in his use of colour and methods. Brown also uses his own preliminary work as a basis for progression – his on-the-spot sketches are seen as gateways into his ‘flirtation with abstraction’, as he focuses on the sketches’ tonality or linear quality as a method of determining how the final piece will look.Working predominantly on board, the surface is prepared using a mixture of collage materials, including paper, canvas and fabric in various textures, in order to give the bright acrylics that dominate the mood of the work ‘something to cling to’. The result is an intriguing, multitonal piece that captures the spirit of its location-based subject in both its bold use of colour, and its tactile intricacy. More recent work sees a dramatic introduction of stark black lines that kick out against the bright colours, creating a very deliberate juxtaposition.

Brown’s fascination with texture is what pervades his choice of subject, seen in his frequent return to the decaying grandeur of old European towns and villages. ‘I get drawn to the same sorts of subjects wherever I am,’ Brown says. ‘I fall in love with surface textures: distressed walls, flaking paint, footprints, washing hanging out of windows, fruit and veg markets.’ Combined with the sun-bleached colours and light of the Mediterranean, the end result is pleasantly tactile and evocative. Another key interest of Brown’s is windows, and their artistic potential as subjects for an artist whose work centres on multiple layers and surfaces, and the illusion of texture and depth that comes from painting and using a variety of materials and techniques.

John Brown’s December show at Lemon Street Gallery is a fantastic mix of shape and tonal vibrancy. The works illustrate Brown’s versatility across many different styles and showcases the entire spectrum of his interest in locational subjects.

Rosie Willmot 2011