Andrew Browne: Chimera Cinema - Art Collector

Issue 49, July - September 2009

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Andrew Browne’s work often leaves viewers with an uneasy urge to look over their shoulder. Redolent with threat and the suggestion of menacing storylines, his canvases of tangled branches feel like spooky cinema freeze-frames, writes Ashley Crawford.

The limbs shimmer in the darkness, mute witness to strangely ominous events beyond the picture frame. This all began on the cold noir streets of Vienna in 2004, where Andrew Browne found himself seduced by the leafless maples lining the roads.

Browne has been exhibiting with consistent critical and commercial success since 1981, but it is in the new century that he seems to have truly found his pace. His work throughout the late 1980s and 1990s had embraced movement, the peripheral glance out the car window, a sense of shiftlessness and perhaps escape. But in 2004 the gears seemed to shift, the sense of movement stilled and the silent threat became palpable.

“A lot of those earlier works were actually inspired by travel, hence movement,” Browne says. “Plus, the blurring of the formal qualities of the landscape has always interested me, all the way back to the late 1980s. The long horizontal paintings from that time were about episodic moments and sensations, caught and strung together.” The newer work, he says, deals “formally with objects/nature caught by the flash of artificial or natural light. They are caught, frozen if you like.
“Emotionally and psychologically, there has been a change in the work. I have been conscious of this, encouraged it subtlety. It seems to have evolved in response to a feeling that there needed to be extra nuances in the work – in hindsight this seems obvious, but it is difficult to pin it down to a specific intent or moment.”

The more recent work is executed in vertical or square formats. His earlier work tackled an almost cinematic horizontal format that lent itself to a feeling of progression “from one place to another,” he says.
The influence of photography in Browne’s work is roundly apparent and he is an obsessive collector of found moments for fodder in his paintings. “I am always taking lots of photos, particularly when I am travelling and I will return to places over the years following up particular things I have captured previously,” he says. “I am always looking for images/ideas (for me, they are the same thing) and it is kind of like trying to recognise something that may be useful – that may be hiding in plain sight.

“Only a handful ever makes the grade as far as being the basis for paintings. But it is important to point out that there is always a degree of abstraction/manipulation from the source photos before they become a model for the paintings. And even then, the final form always mutates. The actual texture of photography has always interested me and is evident in the surface I try to get – something I am probably neurotic about!”

Browne has made and exhibited photos or photographically-based works such as etchings since the beginnings of his practice in the early 1980s. Monash Gallery of Art acquired the 2003 to 2005 series Light Effect and the Bendigo Art Gallery’s 1999 survey of his work included a number of photographs relating to light and abstraction and the illuminated urban nocturne. In 2008 he made a series of photopolymer photogravures, Seven Apparitions, which has been recently acquired by the British Museum.

Rather than photography, viewers often refer to cinema, as though the works are stills from a broader narrative. In the older works they were stills from a road movie, but the newer works have a dark tinge of threat. “The idea that they read as parts of a broader narrative has been mentioned a number of times, so that seems to be how a lot of people interpret them,” says Browne. “That’s fine! As long as they are looking and responding then I am happy. The influence of film and advertising encourages us all to consider single images this way, to fill in the blanks, to create the story.”

In terms of the sense of threat, Browne says: “I am very much trying to load some aspect of that into the more recent work, the ambiguous and spooky, banal things that then seem to mutate into something else. Even in my early work – the poured, surrealish paintings I showed in the late 1980s, early 1990s – I was after a sense of that, and the paintings with clusters of lights and floating orbs were certainly attempting to convey some feeling of threat or mystery.”
Browne’s 2007 exhibition at Tolarno Galleries was titled Chimera, a term that, apart from its traditional mythological reference, is also used contemporaneously to describe an organism or organ consisting of tissues merged from differing genetic compositions produced via organ transplants, grafting or genetic engineering. “My use of ‘chimera’ wasn’t about evoking the specifics of the mythological beast, but as an associative and evocative term – synonyms for chimera – dream, spectre, illusion, fabrication,” he says. “The paintings showed trees and detritus that appeared to be morphing or mutating into other things, suggestive of the anthropomorphic – faces emerging – images that belied their origin.”

Andrew Browne will be exhibiting new work at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne from 17 September to 17 October 2009.

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