Gallery Two has an inbuilt corner, on each side of which was one image of an open book. In this photograph they are next to each other, the larger one on the back wall, the small one as if in front of it.
Whoever else John Brown is, he is a lover of books. He is also a poet, and not just because he writes poetry. This is not a hyperbole. Looking at the smaller image, I became aware of the aesthetic principle of economy of means, so well described by Gottffried Semper (1803-1879), and so exquisitely evoked by haiku. I do not mean the format of moras (syllables) only, rather the allusion to nature of being, to nature. Haiku focuses on showing not telling, and that is visibly at work in in these mixed media paintings. All share one title After Alexandria and one date, 2013. Brown also published a book so titled, with poems and reproductions of these images.
To illustrate the poetic nature of his images, I have chosen to invoke a haiku from the 17thC, its author is given as Basho Matsuo.
An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond
Splash! Silence again
The smaller image is an open book cover with its spine reduced to a threadbare ancient binding.
In rough paraphraze the image turns into a possible haiku:
An old opened book
lost all its printed pages
Now it measures time
It is not telling how it measures time when and where its time started, nor it is indicating what happened to its original content, and what it was about. Nevertheless its identity as a cover of a book is not undermined or doubted. The handmade horizontal lines remove the possible print so far away that all its letters join to make a mark from one edge to the other, even if the blue, deep red, black and white hues insert shapes that cut into the continuity of the parallels. The page is miming the appearance of a printed page in a way a sketch parallels the final surface in painting. The biomorphic shapes provide a general link to appearance of living organisms, a leaf, a fish possibly? More importantly they point to their being before the book existed. I see a parallel here with books like this one:
The “Limoni Salermo” existed before the words and images in this book. Brown established time before the book lost its printed pages by comparing the sketchy page and biomorphic forms. They stay separate, if tolerant to each other. There is no conflict. Just passing by.
The ensuing silence is further intensified on the right hand page by suspended pendulum. Now the similarity between the top whitish shape on the left with this time measuring device is observable, visible. The difference is, that the one on the right can move, the line on which it is suspended is clearly separated from the background, and there is a promise of a shadow that could follow a move.
Strongly, I am reminded of Poetism, an artists led movement founded in 1920 in Prague. The group called themselves DEVETSIL and published a ReD revue. Their art practices included poetry, illustration, sculpture, film, and calligraphy, and in smaller measure drawing and painting. The grounding idea was to uncover a poetic quality in ordinary objects, preferably by method of discontinuity.
Brown’s visual art distresses the original state of being by either a choice of the ground or by adding elements incongruous with the previous state of the object. The next image, perhaps makes this clerer and convincing.
It is a poetic image, even if not expressed in one breath. This image connects strongly to the method invented by Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), the staining. The collage has its historical roots also in 1920s and the use of abandoned print points to the tradition of Art Povera. With its focus on a place, site, divisions and boundaries, it feels a little as a masculine counterpart to the “time” piece. On the other hand, it is not strictly ruling out togetherness of both feminine and masculine motives. The are together, in the same place.The right angle expresses its non disputable authority, perhaps of rational thought, as a complement of the illegible texts and irrational blue blobs.
Both these works of art are connected not only to books, and memory of Gutenberg’s gift to culture, but also to being/existence as changing in time and place. The Poetism charged art with an aim to be ahead of changes in life. Poetry does not shy away from looking for and to the wisdom that does not belong to one time or one place only.