The Ship of fools: recent paintings, Bill Brown

Wilson Street Gallery, Newtown 29 March - 20 April 2008

Bill Brown From top: Encounter 2007, acrylic and goauche on canvas, 122 x 152.5cm. Ship of Fools I 2007, acrylic and goauche on canvas, 153 X 215cm. Puff 2007, acrylic and goauche on canvas, 106 x 137cm.

Words escape me, emotions cannot. My gaze is uncomfortable and unsure where to fall. There is too much to emotionally contemplate. I feel unsteady. I am floating in a boat of emotional conundrum, emotional flux. One moment rocking gently in a state of quiet contemplation, next bracing myself amidst turmoil, wondering if I will make it&to what? I am unsure, a place&time&moment? A poetic wonderland of whimsy or solemnity; a daunting or propitious berth?
The spell breaks and eventually visual focus is found, tantalised. Another spell is cast. Wonderfully vivid gestural strokes form absurd images that are at once incongruous yet completely appropriate, naively sophisticated. I am ensconced both emotionally and visually within a wonderland of contradiction. Strange little spirited objects/things/life forms entice me to play, contemplate, admire, identify with, embrace, fear, comfort, protect, repel. Welcome to Brown's wonderland. His life.

It is not easy to write of detail, style, colour, technique, materials, imagery and do Brown's work justice. Cop out? Possibly. There is so much more to detail especially when all of the above can be summed up as, beautiful. And, it must be told, Brown's art is simply that, beautiful. That same description left Sidney Nolan's mouth thirty-six years ago and at the time, it made Brown's blood run cold. Why? Beautiful was not fashionable. Minimalism was. Post Modernism. And art it would seem, is all about fashion, or is it?

Thirty-six years on, Brown's work is as beautiful, and he is less incensed by such a comment. His art is old school painting beautiful, not contrived faddish designer illustrative art or as Brown puts it, FFF&Fashion Furnishing Finance or more CCF&Craft Career Refinement. The result of such passionate heartfelt paintings abundant with intense strokes is loaded with authenticity and emotion, and an honesty that continues to embarrass Brown. Fortunately this does not inhibit but rather motivates his practice and invites paradox into his latest body of work, Ship of Fools.

Paradox navigates inadvertently through Brown's work like a rampant gust of contradiction. Fragility buoys durability, durability buoys fragility, an interplay of despair and hope, playfulness and deliberation, modesty and flamboyance. Freedom is a better word to describe his work than frailty. Brown calls this work a game of paradox and play where the 'hard-won' sits agreeably with the spontaneous. I remark there is nothing absurd, impulsive or weak about his latest work. It is heartfelt and possibly unconsciously, probably consciously, delightfully deliberate.

According to Brown, each painting's goal is to reach people through its inherent meaning, its distinct moment, resulting in an uplifting sensuous experience for the spectator. He is his painting, his drawings, his canvas, his gouache, his acrylic, his oils and has been since he decided he was to be a painter at the age of seventeen. Now he is honestly sharing his crystalline moments, celebrating them regardless of their content, turning the worst around, playing with it, throwing it to the viewer, inviting the audience to play in his wonderland of contradiction and at once bestowing the audience with wonderment and the possibility of self-reflection and their own release of demons and consequential freedom.

In this sometimes-contrived faddish capitalist fashion-conscious world that exists, not necessarily concerned with arĂȘte but more about the next new thing, it is refreshing to view an exhibition of quality, of beauty, of sincerity, of painting that is beyond fashion. Brown is not the new Black. Brown is Brown and is back and that is good.

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