Thursday, May 06, 2021

Dear Susanna

Susanna Heller. Eyes in a Bleak World, 2020

Susanna Heller passed away. This is a shock to anyone who knows her, as life coursed through her person and work with such ferocity it was to encounter full presence. Her dear friends Medrie McPhee, Mira Schor, and Susan Bee posted the news today on social media, which is confirmed with a tribute on the website of Olga Korper, her longtime Canadian gallery. Olga Korper Gallery Link

We met in 1997 when she and Andy Spence hired me at Bennington College as a lecturer (one year) and I brought her to USF as a visiting artist in 2004. She is the only person I know who spoke to the students for two hours, fueled by passion for paint and politics. 

But it is her work, the equation of mark and presence, that overpowered me then and now. Drawings covering walls, line as both motion and fact. 

Words do not, cannot, suffice and many will be and have been written far more articulate than these, as her closest friends include Medrie McPhee, Mira Schor, Susan Bee, and Tom Knechtel. Here is a link to the 2020 interview with Medrie McPhee and Sharon Butler in Two Coats of Paint just prior to her show at Korper. Endless Strength (Two Coats of Paint). A post about her sketchbooks can be found on Cathy Nan Quinlan's blog here: Talking Pictures (2018) and more from this blog here: Raggedy Anns Foot (2013).

The excerpt below is a chewy gift for thought. You are forever an inspiration, dear Susanna.

"MM: I didn’t realize! That’s what I thought was scrap material. 

SH: It is. These are all of my materials as well as my paintings. I keep all of my paper. That’s why I love paper palettes, because think about it Sharon, sometimes you need a gestural mark but sometimes you need a kind of static lump that just sits there. It’s like you’re an orchestrator and you need all of the different kinds of sounds together. To me painting is all about the physicality. The presence of you as a viewer and the presence of the thing and the joy of imagination, which, you know I might be speaking Latin here but I don’t really care. 

SB: It’s true. I like that, the joy of imagination. Medrie, you’re working on paintings that are very physical, too. 

MM: Well, yes! I find it liberating because most of my life as an artist I’ve been bound up with images and I’ve found a way to break from that.

SH: But I think I am too. I’m the only one who thinks that but to me they are absolutely hyperreal. 

MM: Well you know, I think that even that as an argument “is it representation or abstraction?” has been put to rest, other than as a short hand for “can this be read?” as an image of something or not. But yeah, Sharon is right. I’ve always been interested in the physicality of paint but I had to find a way of producing it in my own way. "

If you'd like to see her in action, view this Gorky's Granddaughter studio visit: Heller studio visit -Gorky's GrandDaughter

Adding, a month later, a lovely article from her dearest friends Mira Schor, Nancy Bowen, and Medrie McPhee:

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Artist Statement: Philip Taaffe, 1991

Philip Taaffe, Imaginary Landscape with Flowering Pines, 2016
mixed media, 38 x 47.5 inches
Excerpt from an interview by Shirley Kaneda, Bomb, Spring 1991, included in the catalog Conceptual Abstraction, organized by Valerie Jaudon with Sidney Janis in fall 1991, republished in Hunter College's 2012 reiteration of the exhibition by Pepe Karmel and Joachim Pissaro, brought to my attention by David Cohen of Artcritical.

The original essay is published in one block, which is here divided:  

"I love to look at decorative art. I have a collection of books and other materials concerning the decorative arts. I always enjoy going to museums of decorative art wherever I visit. I look very closely at architectural decoration and the design of public spaces, gardens...

But from another artistic point of view, in Bela Bartok's music, for example, the uses of folk art or what one might call local melodies in his compositions are put through his own psychic filter, so that they become deeply expressive and meditative. Of course, it's not a question of applying decoration or applying a folk melody in a certain pattern. It's a matter of researching the melody, of repeating it to oneself, and trying to understand the lived reality out of which this imagery came. And then to form a statement that allows these melodies to speak for themselves, in all of their vitality and beauty, but using at the same time another voice that says something that the decorative, in the ordinary sense, just could never say. 

Decoration is usually derived from a local natural situation: it can epitomize the lush quality of, let's say, palms or lotus flowers or jungle overgrowth. Decoration in this folk sense is a kind of culturalized representation of nature. It's closest to the raw elements that reflect a very specific geographical location in historical time. The importance of it for me is that I can have these circumstances of time and place in crystalline form, and I can feel those realities, feel the history that they invariably speak about in this natural cultural sense. It would be presumptuous to say that I go beyond them or transcend them, because I really don't consider that it's just decoration and that I am merely interested in transcending its meaning as decoration. I primarily want to feel the living reality of these elements, and to respond to them in a personal way by making a composition that allows these other voices to speak again in a way that I've understood and responded to. These voices are part of this lived experience represented by decoration, and I would like those voices to share a dialogue with the formulations I produce. 

The fact that one can repeat something in order to achieve a dynamic synthesis, a sort of crescendo of decoration--having this possibility of tempo, change and restructuring--means that these voices can be amplified and joined together in a way that I couldn't have anticipated. And I want to see, I want to hear, I want to experience this. I make decisions on the basis of what I want to experience, and how I feel this relates to my own life, and what I have imagined is the lived experience that generated these images and decorative fragments. I don't use them only because they're interesting or exotic forms, or because they can be used in a certain way structurally or formally. It's always a matter of feeling that the intention or desire behind them, and shaping something out of that enthusiasm, that passion."

Taaffe's idea that "Decoration is usually derived from a local natural situation: it can epitomize the lush quality of, let's say, palms or lotus flowers or jungle overgrowth. Decoration in this folk sense is a kind of culturalized representation of nature" recalls landscape idioms in ink painting, which can also be considered distillations of nature, as is, at times, abstraction, which brings us to Carroll Janis' introduction to the exhibition:

"In the early forties in New York, Mondrian was asked whether the allusion to cityscape and boogie-woogie in his early paintings contradicted his view of a universal non-representational art. He replied that an artist works through intuition, and that theory must follow. But the theory of abstraction as an art of pure form (and with little regard for its suggestive content) has remained through much of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.

Currently a younger generation has called this conception into question, and shows a noteworthy openness to a large range of reference: to narration, appropriation, language, illusion, internal imageries, and the play of signs and styles among others.

Through such an active poly-referentiality in which memory is key--and parallel to that of some of their non-abstract peers--they seek to renew the act of painting."

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Notes on Fierce Poise by Alexander Nemerov

Fierce Poise, Alexander Nemerov's new book about painter Helen Frankenthaler

Frankenthaler was a student of Nemarov's father at Bennington; who in this book explores each year in a decade of her early life and work in New York. 

A passage on page 80 reveals the insightful, confluent approach that makes this book an immersive read:

"She wondered what it all meant: "Is it that more abstract painting is impossible, that it's all been said or done, or that the next step would  only end 'painting' and turn it into decorated walls?" She felt let down by her peers.

Her alternative looked radically different. In Open Wall, a painting of that year, there is assuredly no direct correspondence with any Old Master. At more than ten feet across, painted on the floor, with raw blue, salmon, and ocher saturating the bare canvas, Open Wall is utterly remote from the paintings at the Prado. Comparing it, to say, Tintoretto's vast Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, one of the pictuees that Helen may have seen there, we can only recur to Greenberg's common-sense distinction between the old and the new art: paintings such as Tintoretto's show "a world whose depth, resonance, and plenitude are the product of illusion," whereas a modernist work "thrusts a sheet of pigment at you with an immediate force proper only to the realm of material sensation." But those sensations had a way of being more than arbitrary--of being, indeed, a record of Helen's experience, much as Joyce's Ulysses had been the raw document of a day. Just as Joyce had been--in Greenberg's estimation--"interested in the texture, feel, of experience, not in its content or meaning," Helen pursued an art of immediate impressions. And like Joyce she drew on precedents--in Joyce's case, Homer's Odyssey--to transform illusion and "meaning" into an art of sensation."

Frankenthaler's critical milieu interweaves this biography throughout in a delicious gestalt of 1950s Manhattan. As we learn of Frankenthaler's artistic development, cultural inspirations, and relationships, the influence of childhood in her work comes to the fore. 

"The bursting power of Helen's paintings--specifically, the boldness and excitement of her color--perhaps also owes to the childhood sources of her art. Something in her pictures implies that color is a force, as if the painter must commit to it as a full-on saturation of the canvas, a power that all but dyes itself on the eye, as if it is to have reason for being there at all..."

And "... referred only to itself, to the capacity of color and shape to produce a feeling such as a child or teenager might experience: to a moment when the world just is, when it seems to float luminously independent of meaning and attitudes, free and clear of adult proprieties and judgments, when it is only a pulsation of feeling such as Technicolor teenage lovers feel staring into each other's eyes--when life is, in Helen's favorite word, a "'charge'".

A psychological note behind the weightlessness emerges in the account of the relationship with Motherwell, who discerns in Frankenthaler a "sad isolation" he shares. "As professional artists and lonely souls, she (Frankenthaler) and Bob carried their solitude with them wherever they went." Both artists deviate from wealthy, socially conformist families through the pursuit of art, yet maintain a distance above the fray, referred to by Herman Cherry when dubbing the pair "two gentlemen."

The snark continues about Frankenthaler's skeins of color, from Joan Mitchell's "Kotex painter" to Grace Hartigan's "painted between cocktails and dinner," in a time when painting was most often approached with urgency. Such comments undermine Frankenthaler's insouciant and trouble-free touch, which, from today's perspective, might be experienced as a mask for the emotional violence in privilege, a "leave your baggage at the door" ethic that either smothers or softens interaction, depending on perspective. A suspended dream space of escape relates to Henri Michaux, Pollock, and Chinese scrolls, where allusions and abbreviated summations prevail.  

Toward the end of the book, Nemarov raises painting's transcendence:

"Another aspect of the bygone fifties ... was the feeling that art is a religion," in which "the art itself--in its capacity to deliver us into transcendent states--was itself a religion."

Reminding us painting has the capacity to transcend the maker.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Deborah Brown Interview: Originally Published on Two Coats of Paint December 2020

I’ve been following Debbie Brown's paintings on Instagram, excited and curious about her new series of still lifes interspersed with figures in interiors. They first appeared in her August 3 post, hashtagged selfportraitwithzeusandpeacockscreen. The dramatic black and white contrast of the peacock screen shunts color to the side while flinging patterns into the central composition. A cut crystal vintage vase close to the painting surface is almost scribbled in red, pyrotechnic in execution. The peacock screen reappears in a mirrored self-portrait conflating interior and landscape, as if women in canoes rowed indoors. 

I asked Debbie if she'd talk about her paintings in view of several upcoming exhibitions: the group exhibition Nasty Women at Gavlak Gallery, Los Angeles opening October 31st, and her upcoming solo at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York, opening January 7, 2021. She responds in blue beneath my comments and questions.

How big is the screen? Is the screen yours, or your family’s? What made you want to paint it? It has a retro, old-timey feel, and alludes to early travels, as well. What role does time play in this work, both symbolically through personal treasures and in terms of the construction of space within the composition? The screen inserts an artificial layer of space in the painting, exchanging the concave spaces of  bathtubs and canoes for illusion. What are your thoughts on this? Is the screen a gateway drug to tabletops?


Before I answer specific questions about the peacock screen, I should provide a context for its appearance in my work.  My recent self-portraits and still lifes came about because artist Patty Horing asked me to co-curate and participate in a show called “Sit Still: Self-Portraits in the Age of Distraction” at Anna Zorina Gallery in the summer of 2020.  


Our curation of the show coincided with the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent quarantine in New York.  It seemed a perfect time to turn inward and pursue self-portraits. 


At first, I depicted myself with my dog Zeus on my lap and paintings from my previous series—the nude canoeists—in the background. 


Deborah Brown, Self-Portrait with Zeus and Canoe Painting, 2020

oil on Masonite, 24 x 18 inches

As the portraits developed, I expanded the viewpoint to include the objects and furniture in my environment.  At the suggestion artist Shaun Ellison, I omitted the figure to focus exclusively on the objects.


The still lifes depict furniture and objects in my possession. Most were purchased by my mother in the 50s, 60s and 70s when she traveled in Europe, Russia and Asia with my father in in his capacity as a Defense Department official and a US representative to the SALT talks with the Soviets.  She brought back the peacock screen from Japan, gold-leaf Buddhas from Thailand, furniture from Denmark and icons from the Athens flea market, all of which I have painted. The amazing things she bought were not expensive and reflected her own sense of what was beautiful.


Some of these objects like the carved ivory horses were given to me as gifts when my parents returned from their travels. I inherited larger items like the Arne Jacobsen egg chair.  Others I collected as a child, like the kachinas, which I bought at the Department of the Interior gift shop for 50 cents each.  I have been a meticulous custodian of these small collections ever since my youth. They remind me of my childhood and of my mother’s taste and affinities, which are the reason I am an artist.




Deborah Brown, Melancholia, 2020, oil on canvas, 80 x 70 inches


Deborah Brown, Peacock Screen, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

The peacock screen made a big impression on me when I was a kid.  It measures 5-1/2’ high and 7’ wide when unfolded, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  Later I came to think it was gaudy and kitschy.  Now I no longer pass aesthetic judgment on it but see it as part of my visual history, an element that has shaped my taste.  It occupies a prime spot next to a claw-foot bathtub in a room with glass block, plants and a wall hung salon-style with the work of artist friends.  On the floor is a pink wool rug from Peru. The patterns of these surfaces along with the tub have provided visual and narrative material for a suite of paintings of a bather, the bathtub and its surroundings.  Bonnard’s paintings have been an inspiration, but also the habits of Zeus, my Jack Russell terrier, now gone, who liked to accompany me to my bath.  The first painting in this series (below) was based on Jacques-Louis David’s “Death of Marat,” in which the subject is depicted in his bath after his stabbing by Charlotte Corday.  Memory, time, art history and personal narrative are all at work in my paintings depicting the peacock screen.

Deborah Brown, Bathtub Self-Portrait with Zeus 1, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

Collection of Michael Cohen


Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793

August 12 features the first full table-top still life, a Tulip vase, Murano glass bird and Herend china lizard cast in the vivid palette and pirouetting marks often associated with your work and reminiscent, too, of Raoul Dufy’s insouciant touch. Taking a cue from the bathtub paintings, the stacked perspective at right unexpectedly yields a Persian rug, releasing the eye from the intensely hued interior.


You have often spoken of your love for French painting, and in a recent Cerebral Women interview cite Van Gogh’s almond blossoms paintings as seminal to your artistic inspiration. Of Van Gogh’s works, the almond blossoms paintings are more feminine than much of his work. Dufy also worked decoratively, and Matisse’s love for costume has been widely established. All these men and more, such as Renoir, bring a feminine quality to painting, a quality of “luxe, calme, et volupte” that celebrates the intimacy of domestic life. Why and how is this feminine quality important to your work? You have also mentioned Lisa Yuskavage, who tweaks history painting through kitsch. What is the role of femininity in your painting and can you say more about how casualness and mastery unite in your work toward these aims?  


As you point out, my work is in dialogue with French painting from the 19th  and early 20th centuries, but I also draw on the work of Lovis Corinth, Andres Zorn, Max Beckmann, Winslow Homer and Velasquez.  I am a devoted student of Western art history, music and literature. Manet, Degas and Matisse, but also Proust, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Flaubert, Stendahl and George Eliot, are my idols and teachers.  While I do focus on the domestic with its attributes of consumption, decoration and femininity, I see my activity as a kind of psychoanalysis rather than a fetishization of my surroundings. By delving into the particulars of my environment, I hope to uncover truths that relate to the experiences of others.  Domestic subject matter is a means to this end.

Deborah Brown, Self-Portrait with The Turk, 2020, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches
Collection of Nion McEnvoy
Matisse, Woman Before a Fish Bowl, 1922


Deborah Brown, Poolside with Jackson, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches


Anders Zorn, Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon, 1897

Re casualness vs mastery, I have struggled for most of my painting life to reign in the “editor on the shoulder” and limit the intellectual death grip of preconceived ideas about how a painting should look and how it should be made.  After decades of perseverance, I have arrived at a balance between spontaneity and control that has allowed my artistic voice to emerge.  I have purposely relaxed intellectual control in favor of intuition. Having gained painting skills after many years of application and effort, I believe fully in the medium as a means to articulate my feelings and ideas. 

On September 2 #selfportraitwithzeusandkachinas appears in several posts. In the detail, viscous colors encircle the forms, barely meeting at their planar edges, yet the forms retain extreme specificity. The dolls, housed in a cage-like structure that becomes a stage or podium on which they perform, are uninterrupted by the protagonist and her dog nestled in a huge wing chair. Book in hand she remains impervious to the thunderous green table and the vivid yellow, red and blue dolls. The color’s insane: neutral violets circle areas of lurid green, calling and responding across the contemplative space of retreat. Space sweeps back like a river on carpet, glass reflections on the table enhancing the sense of liquidity.  


Can you talk about this painting, how it came about, and how you see it now? As well as the tabletop painting of kachinas and other dolls, focusing only on them? How did it feel to paint the objects? Do you time travel, or is it documentary in nature? How you assess these paintings, or do you? Because your inspirations and background encompass the western canon I wonder if you consider these genre paintings, experiments, or masterworks, which they deservedly are?

Deborah Brown, Kachinas, 2020, oil on canvas, 48 x48 inches 

First version, now destroyed

On September 12 a painting very close to the original kachina doll painting is reprised and adjusted with a more neutral palette. Is this a second version or a full reworking of the first painting? 



Deborah Brown, Kachinas, 2020, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches


This is a full reworking of the first painting you reference above.  I tried to paint the kachina dolls as they are in my living room, arranged on a piece of marble inlaid with a checkerboard pattern.  After the painting had sat in my studio awhile, I came to feel that the green and white pattern overwhelmed the kachinas and that the composition didn’t work. I decided I wanted a more direct interaction between the figure and the kachinas.  In reworking the painting, I painted out the green and white checkerboard and placed the kachinas on a neutral ground. This proved to be less confining and allowed the primary colors to have more impact. I obliterated some of the details of the dolls’ costumes and features so that some would stand out more than others and the effect would be less illustrational and more painterly.  As a viewer, you are looking down on the scene, placing you in the role of intruder.  The figure and her dog emerge from the egg chair only after you have seen the kachinas. You are observing someone who is engaged with a collection of objects but the relationship of the figure to the objects is unclear.  I remember playing with these kachinas when I was a child, enacting dramas of pursuit and escape of my own devising.  As much as I loved and played with them, I preserved them like a caretaker, and as a result I still have them today.  Their presence connects me to my past and to a world I might still inhabit.  Kachinas is a vehicle for me to explore these themes.

September 18 the large painting #inmemorium #household goods appears, featuring the face vase and beloved studio dog Zeus. Stylistically, its patterned curtains framing foliage seen outside echoes the stark patterns in late Matisse, as well as the period in your own work around 2016, in which figures with stylized heads a la 1930s Picasso met in interior settings. 


On April 11 you posted one of those earlier paintings, of a woman and her dog in an interior, as if reflecting upon and also predicting a shift from the lateral, slashed marks of the women in canoes seen in the Burning in Water show, to the lines scribbled with the tip of rounded brushes now. 


Did the shift in brushwork come about naturally from a change source materia, let’s say painting from life? And, do you work in the heat of the moment, plot the composition before letting loose, or somewhere in between, with an inkling to divide space with screen and bathtub or canoe? Pressing on, how do you start a painting, how long does it take to make a painting, do you work on many at once or one at a time? Do you use specific compositions and work on paper preliminarily or dive straight into canvas? What do you use as your go-to source: working from life, photography, or projection? How do the feints and jousts of color in your surfaces occur, or put another way, how do you manage the precision of drawing with the speed of your painted marks?

Over the 5 years that I have painted the human figure, I have taken a variety of approaches to arrive where I am now. In 2013-15 I used Old Master portraits as a model, deconstructing and putting them back together in order to interpret them from a contemporary perspective.  


Deborah Brown, Black Hat, 2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Collection Gail and Fred Alger


From there I did a series of paintings of women with big phallic noses inspired by Picasso’s Boisgeloup portraits of Marie-Therese Walter. The painting you mention from my Instagram post of April 11 is from that series, which dates from 2016. 



Deborah Brown, Loveseat, 2016, oil on canvas, 108 x 78 inches


This was the first group of portraits I did in which I began to follow my instincts of how to draw and paint the female figure. My goal was to arrive at an image that conveyed power and agency.


This series was followed by a group of paintings called “Runaways” from 2017 based on my experiences in the East Williamsburg Industrial Business Zone where I have a studio and where I found several of my dogs and birds.  I wanted to make paintings about my “adventures” and create narratives based on them.  Doing these paintings, I realized the deficiencies in my ability to draw the figure in the variety of poses and attitudes I wanted to depict.  I began to use a palette knife as well as a brush to construct the figures in an intentionally “outsider” mode.  



Deborah Brown, Nixie, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches


Proceeding with the theme of the female protagonist, I came to view her as an adventurer, vulnerable but intrepid.  Around 2018, I removed her clothes. She immediately assumed different identities--a bather, a goddess, a mythological personage or a figure from the Bible.  I constructed paintings based on the multi-faceted identities I ascribed to her. Eventually my protagonist became a canoeist and a death maiden.  

Deborah Brown, Danae and Zeus, 2018, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches

Deborah Brown, Diana and Actaeon 2, 2018, oil on canvas 77 x 88 inches



Deborah Brown, Sunglasses, 2018, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Collection Andy and Christine Hall



Deborah Brown, Death Maiden 1, 2019, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches

Collection Beth Rudin DeWoody


Throughout these many twists and turns, I experimented with different ways of painting and an increasingly large scale, but I always worked from my imagination never from photographs.  I generally work on one painting at a time, seldom from drawings, and I rework constantly.  I referenced the work of well-known contemporary artists like Lisa Yuskavage and Eric Fischl, who work primarily with the human figure.  


In March 2020 the pandemic and quarantine hit New York.  As I contemplated my next move in the studio, I was struck by the opportunity this afforded me to paint a self-portrait for “Sit Still: Self-Portraits in the Age of Distraction.”  After procrastinating about how to approach the task (i.e., should I paint myself nude or as old as I really am?) I did a small painting of me and my recently deceased dog Zeus in my arms, a sincere portrait without cleverness or artifice.  I ended up destroying it but my next attempt (pictured below) was more successful.  



Deborah Brown, Self-Portrait with Zeus 2, 2020, oil on Masonite

Collection of Pamela and David Hornik

In the last 6 months, I have painted with speed and urgency, excited by the prospect of the unexplored territory of my body, my interior life and my immediate surroundings.  My previous work had given me skill and confidence in my craft.  My task now was to harness my knowledge in the service of a subject matter that required a kind of honesty and self-scrutiny that I had avoided.  Some artists come early to the realization that their truth must be the subject of their work.  I was glad to have come to this awareness now, rather than never. The wind was finally at my back and I was ready to do my best work and tell my own story.  


The ambitiously scaled #thetriumphofdeath #ocumicho #danishfacevase #kachinas, posted September 21, shows a tilting tabletop framed by two big lamps, their shadows inviting us to wade in. This is followed by several posts of the painting, finalized October 5 as #blackglass #ladderrequired, wherein interior and exterior merge as ceramic and glass elements ascend to sky. Concurrently, an expansive series of #householdgods, animals, and pillboxes appear in a steady stream of activity. Their myriad, close-to views of household chotchkes against thinly and swiftly painted grounds that indicate wood molding or brick balance brevity with the complexity of nostalgia, including #napkinrings on October 2 and #duck on October 8. 


These works show mementos of a certain class at a certain time: a genteel, mid-twentieth-century American life. Can you talk about what in these mementos interest you to paint? How, given the political mood, do they resonate for you now? 


The objects also resonate with ideals of womanhood and femininity and taste, defined by the privilege of having and running a home. How do you work for or against this in the paintings? The touch and color insert French painting into Bushwick 'sIndustrial Zone; do you love, despise, mock, or honor these objects?  The paintings make a space with objects to project ourselves into, yet to create a feeling from such objects takes a certain dispassion—or is it passion?


I believe in the unconscious, which we access by the things around us or by what we create (dreams, art, literature, music, relationships).  Photos of Freud’s consultation room reveal that he owned a group of archaic figurines that he displayed on a shelf while he excavated the unconscious of his patients.  We surround ourselves with things that affirm us, intrigue us and reveal ourselves to ourselves.  Art is no different. It offers a mirror and a window into our experience and feelings.  We do not have to share a history or familiarity with an artist’s subject matter in order to experience his/her/their truth.  The objects in my paintings may be identified with a certain milieu, class and time, but in the context of my painting, I hope they become something that speaks to everyone.  To be most effective, art must be both specific and universal.  Think of the still lifes of Morandi.  You don’t have to be an Italian living in mid-century Bologna to feel the truth of those paintings. The objects I paint have surrounded me since I was a child.  They are more than mementos. They weren’t assembled to assert status or aspiration to a different class. They reflect my affinities and reveal who I am. 


To make the still life paintings, I take photographs of my objects in certain arrangements, print them on letter-sized paper and tack them on my painting wall next to a blank canvas.  I use the photographs in the construction of the paintings but I am not bound to copy them.  In the largest of the still lifes, “Black Glass,” I have arranged the objects on a table against a gigantic curtain where they assume distinct identities and interact with one another.  The large paintings always go through many revisions. I paint things in and out of the work to achieve the right balance, scale and narrative.  



Deborah Brown, Black Glass, 2020, oil on canvas, 108 x 78 inches

Concurrent with the large paintings, I am doing small still lifes that feature one or two objects against a carved wooden background.  I feel I have taken the greatest risk with these images because the objects depicted—marbles, icons, figurines or representations of animals-- are painted to look as if they were alive.  The subjects are inviting but also strange.  As the viewer, you are brought into intimate proximity with them and forced to make up your mind about what they mean. The viewer realizes that the artist chose these objects and staged this interaction.  Why?  The most successful works in this series simultaneously attract and confuse. You cannot easily identify what feelings you are supposed to have when you look at a painting of these objects.  That mystery is the source of their fascination.  



Deborah Brown, Marbles, 2020, oil on Masonite, 24 x 18 inches


Deborah Brown, Household God, 2020, oil on Masonite, 24 x 18 inches

Collaction Rob Thomas and Eric Suwall



Deborah Brown, Horse Show, 2020, oil on Masonite, 18 x 24 inches



Deborah Brown, Captain and First Mate, 2020, oil on Masonite, 24 x 18 inches

Collection of Jacob Hyman


Deborah Brown, Duck, 2020, oil on Masonite, 24 x 18 inches

Deborah Brown, September 18, 2020 post: #inmemorium #household goods