Colin Brown - Love Letter to Europe

‘Collage is all about the recycling, reinterpretation and reprocessing of our collective past, present and future. (…) It is the perfect medium of our time. (…) Today’s collage artists carve out fragments from this frenzy and force the disparate pieces to become one. It is their way of controlling the chaos- or at least pushing the pause button long enough for examination.’

James Gallagher, Cutting Edges-A Survey of Contemporary Collage (Gestalten, Berlin.)

In times of uncertainty and division, art is the only thing we possess to reimagine a different state.  Colin Brown’s Love Letter to Europe is a statement of gratitude and positive connection. This new body of work is a celebration of the great cities of Europe, their human history and our shared capacity for reinvention. In a career spanning thirty years, Brown has explored a technique of making art that actively defies all borders. Collage is a creative process of reformation, reappraisal and renewal. The artist sifts their surroundings and fragments of history, juxtaposing images, text and in Brown’s case, pure elements of painting; line, form, tone, colour, pattern and texture, to create a unified composition. Brown skillfully creates open, imaginative spaces inside the picture plane for new connections to be made. Layered, found materials from Europe’s urban centres provide triggers of memory and association, not just for the citizen, but for our universal travels through life. There’s a fluid sense of time in his work, in the weathered patina of Vintage chalky emulsion pastels and vibrant splatter of industrial enamels, oil and acrylic, applied with immediacy and verve. Handwritten pencil meets advertising poster font and images from art history in Brown’s strikingly bold and tensely delicate works. The tension between deliberation and instinct, inclusion and erosion are held beautifully in balance. This positive sense of determination and integrity, striving for balance, is the trajectory of Colin Brown’s practice. It’s the imperative of out-creating destruction, a critical process that feels more urgent than ever on a global stage.

In a work like Copenhagen (mixed media, 40 x 40cm) we see materials and imagery anchored to place, but equally transcending it. Fragments of identity are lovingly acknowledged in the presence of a Vilhelm Hammershøi portrait. The woman with her back to us feels like the still, beautifully honed soul of this work. It’s the depth hidden in reserved character, collective and individual, which the artist positions in the high right-hand corner, characteristically accented with vibrant paintwork in unexpected orange, red and blue. History inhabits the image through iconic references. Equally there is an undeniable energy of reinvention present, mirroring the way that cities evolve.
The fabric of Brown’s art are human marks, written on walls and dwellings, excavated by time, weather and consciousness. Like human memory, elements in his compositions emerge and recede, with colour, texture, mark, image and text working as imaginative triggers of boundless connection. Whatever our background or political foreground, imagination unites us. We are all hardwired to connect and create narratives, joining the visual dots to find and define who we are. Cultural identification doesn’t equal nationalism in this work. Regardless of whether we identify Denmark’s famous sons Hammershøi (1864-1916) and Hans Christian Anderson, or the specificity of a Viking hull, human elements are positioned empathically within the composition. The mysterious feminine, the father of fairy tales and the boat to carry us home (or away) are universal triggers we are free to construct our own narratives with. They merge and overlap with each other, receding into the deeper layers of the picture plane to where collective memory lies. How do we know who we are? Art and mythology, which even with the dominance of 21st century digital consumer culture never went away. The psychological foundations of place and human memory are at play in this work- and play is important, because in making and viewing this work that’s exactly where joy, hope and resilience are to be found. Although the core of this work is distinctly Northern and Danish, the fluidity of technique and ideas is distinctly open. That is what’s at stake in the age we’re living in- the choice to shut ourselves in (and effectively down) or open ourselves up to what makes us human in the best sense, out-creating destruction in the process.

Lisbon | Colin Brown | acrylic on board | 80cm x 80cm

Even in troubled and chaotic times, Brown’s work is resoundingly hopeful. He uses collage as a means of expressing and celebrating the complexity of who we are as human beings. His unique combination of painting and collage presents the viewer with a multi-layered surface of possibility, it’s the beauty of his protest. Historically collage has been used as an agent of disruption, satire and protest, challenging the status quo. During the Weimar period, artists such as Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann and George Grosz used collage as a means of social critique, in a time of economic uncertainty, gross inequality and extremist politics not unlike our own. Early in his career Brown discovered ‘the Dadaist ideal of looking at society in fragments’, a way of re-fashioning the world by juxtaposing disparate elements, sharpening perception. His protest at our proposed separation from Europe is to reveal the rich tapestry of connections at the heart of each one of these cities, from Glasgow to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona, Munich and Lisbon. He does this through the passionate and considered crafting of each composition. Cycles of intense growth, abandonment and decay have always been part of urban and human identity. However, in Brown’s art there is a shared sense of creative renewal, crossing all man-made borders.

Colin Brown's Love Letter to Europe is on show at Kilmorack Gallery from 16 March - 20 April 2019