Come to Dust is Glenn Brown’s first major exhibition in London since 2009. And it is most certainly welcome as I was pleasantly surprised with it – unexpected and beautiful, the artist deconstructing and reimagining classic images to create complex, sensuous new works. The impact is quite affecting and it’s remarkable that such unique paintings and sculptures emerge, given that their origin is so familiar.
For Glenn, one of Britain’s most renowned contemporary artists, his extensive knowledge of art history and use of familiar paintings is critical: “I use pre-existing images to go into pre-existing frames,” Glenn explains,” [as] I don’t like a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper.”
And there’s plenty of references to, even templates almost entirely lifted from, the likes of Rembrandt, Delacroix, and Raphael. Such a premise seems to not be an obvious start for works so fascinating, but through his interpretation and reimagining of these works, whether that be through swirls of monochrome ink colours, or statues drenched in thick pastes of acrylic and oil paints in a array of colours, distinctive artworks emerge.
In Die Mutter des Künstlers (The Artist’s Mother), 2016, a female nude offers her hand, her finger dripping blood (presumably from the wound visible on her side) in a gesture that is both maternal and Christ-like. Further, Glenn distorts the proportions of the figure we know from Delacroix’s Nu Feminin assis (Mademoiselle Rose), 1820), and he removes the figure’s head. The effect of all of this – an approach he takes on in so many of the works here – is that he is thrusting us into a new reality. The painting is bathed in blue (hello, Picasso’s Blue Period), but this is deliberate. Glenn is demonstrating that the history of art is dynamic, not static.
This approach is the foundation for all of the works on show – finding what was old and making it again as new. But not an exact replica; a reimagining. The overall impact is one of great beauty, almost an otherworldliness – the swirls of ink create figures almost ghostly, or in perpetual movement, whereas the gravity-defying thick swathes of paint on the bronzes mystify and attract in equal measure.
I was so impressed with this show. The galleries are packed with artworks – the Gagosian can, on occasion, display only a handful of works by an artist and mark it as an exhibition. But Come to Dust has sixty artworks on display.
A handful I wasn’t keen on – the citric-coloured clowns with their red noses and wide grins I found too disturbing – but those aside, I was quite mesmerised, from the vast canvases over two metres high of God and the heavens, to intimate portraits. And the contrasting use of monochrome and colour really gives the impression of a wide collection of ideas in this show, rather than a thinly sliced segment of recent works.
One to visit, for sure.
Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London to March 17, 2018
1 Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above, 2017. Oil on panel90 15/16 x 75 9/16 inches. 231 x 192 cm © Glenn Brown. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo: Mike Bruce
2 Die Mutter des Kunstlers, 2016. Oil on panel. 200 x 162 cm. Photo by me.
3 Let me ferry you out to sea To see who you could have been When time comes to row back in You’ll be in the place you should have been, 2017. Oil paint on bronze. 33 1/16 x 29 1/8 x 26 inches, 84 x 74 x 66 cm © Glenn Brown. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo: Mike Bruce