Glenn Brown exhibit at the JSMA features accessible, captivating works of art
This summer, people walking past the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art will see a banner with a striking image of a painting that is on display
It depicts a girl, no more than six years old, with haunting blue eyes gazing out of the frame. Her tilted face, the curls in her hair and her pre-industrial era clothes appear fluid, or melting, as she drifts into a trance. British artist Glenn Brown’s “Daydream Nation” is a stunning sight.
“Transmutations/Glenn Brown: What’s Old is New Again” is on display at the JSMA until August 19. The exhibit marks the first time the JSMA’s Masterworks on Loan program has collaborated with multiple private collectors to display a variety of an artist’s work. It contains five drawings, two paintings and one sculpture by Brown. Both longtime art aficionados and people who have never set foot in an art museum can appreciate his work for its sheer beauty. The drawings and paintings capture Brown’s mesmerizing use of color and brushwork. The sculpture speaks to Brown’s capability in other mediums.
In 2014, the Masterworks on Loan program at the JSMA appeared on the cover of The New York Times. The story revealed how art collectors avoid millions of dollars in “use taxes” by donating recently-purchased artworks to museums in states without the tax before they ship the pieces home. Due to the program, the JSMA currently displays works by world-renowned artists such as Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“This is a rare opportunity for Eugene in particular,” Emily Shinn, a University of Oregon graduate student of art history, said. Shinn wrote an essay discussing the artwork for a hardcover catalog that accompanies the exhibit. “He’s very very famous in Great Britain. All of these works have been shown in galleries across Europe so it’s a big deal to have them here all at once,” Shinn said.
Brown’s unique style allows him to create pieces unlike any people have ever seen, according to Shinn. He blends artistic techniques and concepts that are apparent in the works of multiple artists into his own individual pieces — a style called “appropriation.” He looks for inspiration in the work of artists particularly from the Renaissance period such as Rembrandt. Brown’s art becomes entirely new but eerily reminiscent of the pieces that initially inspired him. They are modern transformations, or mutations, of classic artworks from bygone eras.
Brown’s painting “This Island Earth” at the JSMA represents how his work can appeal to both people with no knowledge of art history as well as art scholars such as Shinn.
The nearly nine feet tall black and white painting looks like a Renaissance masterpiece from the underworld. Long, flowing brush strokes depict ghostly figures surrounding a saint-like entity holding a baby. They don’t have any discernible facial features. They look tormented. The longer people look at the painting. The more distorted, disembodied faces appear around the subjects.
“It’s fascinating because I want to read religious symbolism in it, but there’s nothing overly religious about it at all,” Shinn said.
One of the donors of the exhibit told Shinn that her daughter saw the painting and said it reminded her of the dementors from the Harry Potter series. “It totally could have been an influence for him – who knows,” Shinn said, enjoying the thought that Brown could have taken an idea from Harry Potter.
That’s what makes Brown’s use of appropriation intriguing to Shinn. It embraces how artists can be influenced by a Renaissance painting and contemporary novels like Harry Potter at the same time. It makes art accessible to people who may occupy completely different worlds.
In Shinn’s essay in the exhibit’s catalog, she features a quote from Brown that encapsulates how he views his style: “All of the knowledge of all of the art we’ve ever seen is with us when we paint, when I paint.”
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Wednesdays the museum is open until 8 p.m.
Follow Max Egener on Twitter @maxegener.
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