leonard brown: songs of ascent and descent—paintings and collages

Andrew Baker Art Gallery, Brisbane
5 -31 July 2002

If you think that you have no interest in minimal art, then Leonard Brown is the artist most likely to convert you. Appreciating his recent exhibition at Andrew Baker Gallery involves a complex, but pleasurable process of looking and seeing. Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer sees broad expanses of colour: browns, pinks, yellows and greens. The artist has given each work an evocative title, leaving you to juggle first impressions with the intricate stories they allude to. The sense that the artist possesses a refined capacity with paint is almost immediate. Sky-door, for example, is a yellow painting, divided into two by the simple juxtaposition of vertical and horizontal brushstrokes. The tiny ridges formed from the paint are highly defined and cast a sheen which varies according to the amount of light in the room. Nearby, a large painting is divided into two shades of green. To annihilate all that is made to a green thought in a green shade illustrates the process of perfecting a smooth surface in a painting. Instead of disposing of the scrapings from the palate knife, the artist has chosen to scrape the knife on the sides of the work.

The exhibition title, 'Songs of Ascent and Descent', is a reference to the exterior and interior journeys life may present to us. Brown refers to metaphors of elevation that we take from nature, such as earth and sky. In one instance, a rich brown painting is background to white drips executed through careful rotation of the canvas. lt may be interpreted to refer simultaneously to heaven and earth. A collage consisting of four pieces of light blue paper found on the ground is arranged with a thin white cross in the middle. The story? Constantine's vision of a cross in the sky. The artist takes raw material from the ground and elevates it to the position of the sky in a gesture which restores integrity to the trodden paper.

Troubled Water, a hazy green and yellow work, is painted over with thick black drips of paint. The effect is to create an image of ruptured water, which is a reference to St John's Gospel. Once again, a religious interpretation is suggested, but the work stands as an abstract painting. The artist presents us with a personal interpretation that serves as an adjunct to the work, rather than performing a liturgical function. These are quiet paintings, ones which make you stop and think.