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Nigel Brown was born in 1949 in Invercargill and was brought up on an orchard in Tauranga. He graduated from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fin ...
Nigel Brown was born in 1949 in Invercargill and was brought up on an orchard in Tauranga. He graduated from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 1972 and began exhibiting the same year. The Polynesian style which emerged in his student work could be attributed to Maori artist Fred Graham who inspired Brown with his knowledge of Maori myths and legends at Tauranga Boys College. While at Elam Art School, Brown studied for three years under Colin McCahon who encouraged him and eventually became a significant influence throughout his career. Incorporating visual imagery with text was a feature of Colin McCahon’s (1919 – 1987) work. Words are often incorporated into the border of Browns works, which reinforces the idea that paintings are a form of social dialogue. Brown says “I often put words around [the border] because they are a lead in. The words are deliberately upfront and provocative, especially in an age when so much of our art tries so hard not to be upfront.” He added, “I had this idea you could walk into an art gallery and see this painting that said ‘Hello’ to you.”
Nigel Brown is one of New Zealand’s most instantly recognised artists, and has established a reputation as one of the most important artists working in New Zealand. His works are painterly and expressive, with colour playing an important role in the overall composition, reflecting the bare tones of New Zealand landscape. He blends symbolic and expressionist approaches with a deep social concern. Selectively using history, literature and politics he examines humanistic concerns common to mankind. In a narrative way his works speak with an emotional, intuitive sympathy for the plight of the individual and the environment. “If many New Zealanders prefer the sentiment “Happy is a country with no history”, Brown’s paintings would unsettle their conscience. The raw edge of his uncompromising style often underpins an uneasy message – the scarred landscape, the threat of nuclear holocaust, colonisation, the Springbok Tour, sexuality, human frailties, insecurities, and issues of social maturity.” Of the subject matter of Brown’s work, critic William Millett wrote that Brown’s “. Over-riding themes are big ones; the journey of life; the light and dark forces of life; the individual loneliness, the strength and weakness of man, his universal tragedy”.
Brown acknowledges the legacy of many iconic figures who have appeared in series throughout his career. These include Philip Clairmont, Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Colin McCahon and the explorers Captain Cook and Scott. The iconic characterization of the black singleted,gumboot wearing worker could also refer to Brown’s father, a rather eccentric kiwi orchardist and poet who also reappears as an important and significant icon throughout Browns series of work. As Browns father hunted Deer with a bow and arrow and was a talented and published poet it comes as no surprise the artist has displayed empathy towards other “outsiders” such as the legendary New Zealand poet James K Baxter. Baxter provided inspiration to Brown’s career after hearing him recite poetry at Auckland University in the 1960’s and Captain James Cook has featured as a central character also in his work, particularly the ‘Pacifica’ and ‘Antarctica’ series of the 1990’s. He sees these works as a mix of myth and real experience, the imaginary and the intuitive. By juxtaposing Cook in anachronistic settings Brown has challenged the common myths surrounding the famous explorers place in history. Brown has also referenced leading New Zealand potter Barry Brickell with whom he has recently worked collaboratively.
Brown has exhibited throughout New Zealand and internationally. He has received numerous awards and is represented in collections of most major public institutions throughout the country. In 1996 Nigel Brown was given a major commission to produce the large stained glass windows for the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell and in1998 he travelled to Antarctica as the first artist in the “Artist to Antarctica “program. More recently he travelled to Russia as an ambassador for New Zealand Art.
1949 Born Invercargill, NZ
1971 Elam School of Fine Arts, BFA
1974 Driveway series Mollers Gallery
1975 Table series and Postman series Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
1976 ‘Bedroom series Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
1977 Man and the Land’ and ‘Lemon Tree’ series Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
1978 ‘From Suburbia’ series
1980 Ferns, Cars and Rockets Series Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
1981 Trampers’ series. ‘Clothesline’ paintings
1985 ‘Living in the Bomb Age’ Dunedin Public Art Gallery
1987 Works in Print series Wellington City Art GalleryWorks in VIII Art Biennale Chile
1989 Guest Artist Nelson Suter Art Society
1991 ‘Sure to Rise’ Series
1996 ‘Pacifica VI’ Warwick Henderson Gallery Auckland
1998 Black Fern Rising Series Warwick Henderson Gallery
1999 ‘Antarctica’ Warwick Henderson Gallery Auckland
2001“I Am” Warwick Henderson Gallery, Auckland
2002 “This Human Place”, A Survey Exhibition 1970 – 2002 Warwick Henderson Gallery
2003 I AM III series Warwick Henderson Gallery
2004 Human Condition, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington
2005 Yeah Human, Warwick Henderson Gallery
2006 Worded Image, Warwick Henderson Gallery
2007 Will to Meaning, Warwick Henderson Gallery
2007 Nine Artists in Fiordland, Caselberg Trust
2008 Lamp, Warwick Henderson Gallery
2009 The Haydn Lithos, Touring
2004 Awarded Order of NZ Merit for Servics to Painting and Printmaking
1995 Major stained-glass commission
Mary’s Cathedral, Parnell, Auckland
Selected Bibliography & Publications
Barr, Jim and Mary, Contemporary New Zealand Painters, Alistair Taylor, 1980
Bett, Elva, New Zealand Painting; a Modern Perspective, Reed Methuen, 1986
Brown, Warwick, ‘Gains and Losses’, Art New Zealand’ 28
Trussell, Denys, ‘Nigel Brown and the Iconography of Consequence’ Elva Bett Newsletter No. 10
O’Brien, Greg, Nigel Brown, Random, 1991
Helen Pearson, “Truth Beyond Appearances”, Editor Pub Interactive Education Ltd, 2004