Private collection offers sneak peak at artist’s career

This week we’ve been preparing for the arrival of Nigel Brown: I AM / WE ARE, an exhibition of paintings and prints by Nigel Brown that will open at MTG Hawke’s Bay on Saturday 12 March. The show is being toured by the Aigantighe Art Gallery in Timaru and has been on display there over the summer months. I curated this show in my prior role at the Aigantighe, developing it through conversations with Brown and his partner Susan McLaughlin, which culminated in the final selection of artworks from their extensive private collection.

Artists’ own collections are formed in a unique way, built up over the decades from all the artworks that the artist wanted to keep rather than sell or give away. As a result most of the artworks in Brown’s collection are there because he feels an attachment and sense of loyalty to them. They’re significant paintings from his long and prolific career: the exemplary works that he likes to have around and use as reference points in his current art practice. This exhibition is made up of 27 of those and we’re looking forward to having them here at MTG.

Several of the paintings have also stayed in Brown’s collection partly due to practical reasons. For instance quite a few in this exhibition are magnificent paintings that would have been simply too big for most prospective buyers’ homes, including two works on loose canvas (Will to Meaning and Sea Rising) each measuring over four metres in length. These have not been seen by the public since their initial showing in an Auckland dealer gallery in 2007, while another very large and striking work of a playground at Thames has been rolled up in storage since 1982.

Other paintings were perhaps too outspoken for art-buyers’ tastes, such as Indigenous Propaganda with its group of protesters holding signs with slogans like “REPUBLIC AOTEAROA” and “TAX THE RICH”. One painting that envisions a New Zealand named Organic Aotearoa (with a political system of environmental socialism) might be in the same boat. Seen afresh in the public art gallery context, these wonderfully bold artworks can be appreciated for their social commentary value rather than for their commercial appeal.

Spread over 35 years of Brown’s career to date, the exhibition covers a wide range of diverse themes. These are all drawn together by Brown’s unmistakeable painterly style along with his iconic symbolism and use of text within his artworks. The installation of this show marks the closure of both the Dick Frizzell exhibition ‘Artist’s Proof’ and also ‘Among Sunny Southern Isles’, which showcases photographs from Russell Duncan’s travels through the Pacific. Tomorrow is their last day up and these are two very interesting exhibitions so do come in to see them if you haven’t already (or if you’d like another look). The spaces they’re in will then be closed for two weeks while we paint the walls and install the new exhibition.

Nigel with Thames Boat Park Painting, New Vision Gallery, Early

Nigel Brown with ‘The Boat Park (Thames)’ at New Vision Gallery, 1982

Jessica Mio – Art Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 27 February 2016

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