Artist interview: Dean Brown - Art Collector

5 March 2012

Currently showing at Australian Galleries in Sydney, Dean Brown talks to Australian Art Collector about his latest exhibition, Alone Together.

Dean Brown, Pushing through, 2011. Oil on board, 60 x 40cm. Courtesy: the artist and Australian Galleries

What is your new work about?

This new body of work is a continuation on a theme, which I have been interested in and working on for some time.

The work is inspired by and focused on the individual, in some form of motion or transit within the inhabitants of the city. I focus here on single individual figures, pulled from a crowd or perhaps two people passing each other unnoticed within a mass. In this way I hope to draw some sort of attention and recognition and individuality to an otherwise invisible face within a crowd.

I observe and render at various times of day within my work, often in strong light. This is evident in the distance of shadows I observe and shapes they cast. I also use combine this with observing individuals from a vertical perspective I enjoy the strong compositional and emotional possibilities both these devices offer.

Above right: Dean Brown, Hard man moving, 2012. Oil on board, 90 x 60cm. Courtesy: the artist and Australian Galleries

What does the recurrent motif of the isolated single figure represent?

I don’t really consider them as isolated figures but more celebrated individuals, pulled from a crowd … When I’m gathering source materials and making sketches for my paintings and prints, the subject exists in a sea of potential.

I select a figure from the mass, for one reason or another, maybe for compositions sake, or sometimes it’s just somebody’s face, gesture or clothing that draws me to paint them.

Dean Brown, 3pm knock off, 2011. Oil on board, 60 x 40cm. Courtesy: the artist and Australian Galleries

Similarly, why do you choose to use an almost surveillance-like aerial viewpoint and why is it important to have such distance between the subject and the viewer?

I first started using this vantage as I loved the compositional possibilities of the vertical perspective. Composition on the picture plain is something I’ve always been very interested in. I feel that utilising a vertical vantage, combined with harsh light and strongly cast shadows enables me to develop [an] exiting dynamic within my work.

But I would take issue with the notion that it is like a CCTV camera. I think of it more in relation to a painting tradition rather than a photographic one. The single point perspective of the god-like individual is a common renaissance vantage. It is not about distancing – on the contrary, it is a subjective view bringing the painter and the subject together in dialogue.

Above right: Dean Brown, Strong cap, with one, 2012. Oil on board, 60 x 40cm. Courtesy: the artist and Australian Galleries

You specialised in printmaking during your BFA. Why the move to painting, and how do you feel that the medium of printmaking has affected your aesthetic?

I’ve always loved to paint, since I was a child, far before I began any formal arts training, or imagined it as a career. I think for me what studying printmaking, and in particular etching did, was enable me to calm myself down and think right through a process to a finished artwork.

I am quite a manic person and find it hard to focus on one work or idea at a time. With etching being such a process-based and technical medium, you really have to slow down and think right though your ideas to achieve the finished artwork. This discipline within my practice, although I wrestled with it at first, has fed into the whole way I go about contracting an image.

What was the most intriguing show you’ve seen recently?

I think it would have to be my friend Jasper Knight’s 10 year survey show, at the Goulburn Regional Gallery. I was just so inspired to see the trajectory of his practice over a 10 year period.

To see how much the each work had informed the next, as well how mature his practice had become in what is really a relatively short time, just enthralled me.

Dean Brown, Farmer wants a wife, 2011. Oil on board, 90 x 60cm. Courtesy: the artist and Australian Galleries

Your work has been linked by artist and theorist Oliver Watts via the modern motif of the city to the works of Pissaro and Monet, and those of the Symbolists and Dadaists. What is the importance of the city to you?

The city is an interesting and exciting space, even though it is so now familiar. I came from a small place away from the city so I remember coming into the city as a special treat or for special events. From this aspect of the wide-eyed outsider, I do not feel that the figures or individuals are alienated or unimportant, invisible. I try to bring my interest and excitement towards the city into my work.

When the 19th century artists dealt with the city it was still a fresh phenomenon. The impressionists loved it and celebrated the new sights and sounds [while] the symbolists went towards the dark side of the city – its diseases, brothels and the new social order. I think the city is now a common trope of modernity so this is my extension of that.

Congratulations on your residency in Paris – the very city of Pissaro’s streets – later this year. What will you be doing there?

I will be continuing my themes in the first historical city. The first city of lights!

Zoe Wilesmith

Dean Brown's exhibition,
Alone Together, continues at Australian Galleries in Sydney until 11 March 2012.

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