Roger Brown (1941 - 1997)

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Roger Brown was born December 10th, 1941 in Hamilton, Alabama. His childhood was spent in multiple different cities scattered throughout the state of Alabama; the experiences of his rearing deeply influenced his artistic career, direction, oeuvre, and style. Due to the fact that Brown grew up in the American South, it was natural for him to develop an interest in the culture and traditions of the region - specifically Brown gained an affinity for folk art along with "handmade, functional objects." The other important result of Brown's childhood on his later artwork was his close relationships with both his grandparents and great-grandparents. These strong familial bonds were the roots for Brown's future interest in his family genealogical history and tree. Over the course of his career, Brown's distinct surroundings or "his sense of places," have greatly influenced and contributed to his artistic development.

 In 1962, Brown moved to Chicago where he began slowly to take art classes, finally diving in head first in 1965, as a full-time student at the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the course of his BFA and MFA studies there, two of Brown's professors greatly impacted his artistic vision: Ray Yoshida, a painter who experimented with artistic media and styles; and Whitney Halstead, a Native American art history professor who encouraged his students to study tribal cultures and non-traditional art styles. Brown was not alone in terms of his artistic inspiration from these two professors. Curator, Donald L. Baum, recognized the connections between the artistic practice and several of his fellow students at the Art Institute and organized a series of exhibits at the Hyde Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art under the heading, "Hairy Who." This grouping eventually transformed into the ‘Chicago Imagists," categorized by artists who were disinterested in Minimalism and Color Field abstraction, the artistic styles in fashion at the time. This group combined an upbeat figurative realism with elements of pop art and its commentary on the popular milieu of the time period along with an interest in outsider and non-traditional art practices.

The early 70s were a real turning point in Brown's career. Following these groups shows, Brown was picked up by Phyllis Kind Gallery and given his first solo show there in 1971. Kind represented Brown for over 20 years. In 1972, Brown met his future life partner, architect, George Veronda. Veronda greatly influenced Brown's artistic practice and subject matter - from the early 1970s onward the landscape and architecture became integral themes in his artistic oeuvre. At the same time, Brown was receiving increasing amount of international attention and acclaim, with his inclusion in the XII Biennale de Sao Paulo.

Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, Brown's reputation grew, just as the number of exhibitions he was included or featured in. Brown became well known as an artist who critically reacted and commented on the fabric of 20th century life, addressing a broad range of subjects such as: "natural, architectural, and urban landscapes, the dichotomy of nature and culture, disasters of all types, current and political events, social, religious, and popular culture, autobiographical, personal and sexual issues, the art world in many guises, cosmology, mortality, history, mythology, transformation, transportation, and the weather." [1] Brown also experimented with many distinct media - sculptures that included found, collected, and painted objects, theatres, dioramas, opera sets, mosaic murals, and painting, printmaking and lastly the artistic environments that became relics of all of his interests. Brown was also interested in collecting objects and amassing an art collection of his own.

During his life, Brown created three different artistic environments in three distinct locales. Each of these three environments/residences/studios portrays the intersection of Brown's many distinct interests. They also illustrate the manner in which each geographical locale Brown lived in inherently influenced his artistic practice and interests. The first of these was purchased by the artist in 1974 in Chicago at 1926 Halstead Street - originally a storefront shop, Brown and his partner, Verona made it into their first home, studio, and collection environment. This property was bequeathed to the Art Institute of Chicago at the time of his death in 1997.

In 1977, Brown purchased and began planning the construction of a home and studio, designed by Verona, in New Buffalo, Michigan. This second home, studio, and guest house were finished in 1979 and reflected a more modernist streak in Brown. It is in this house that Brown's interest in the contextual surroundings of his collected objects really blossomed.

 

Following Veronda's death in 1984, Brown began searching for a third home/environment on the West Coast and eventually settled in 1988 in the beach town of La Conchita. The construction of his third and final home was finished in 1993 and we can see that during this time, Brown's artwork was greatly influenced by the Southern California lifestyle and culture. However at the same time, his works began to deeply reflect his sense of his own mortality - he had lived with an illness for a decade.

 

During the last months of his life, Brown was actually involved in developing a fourth environment in Beulah, Alabama so he could return to his roots. However, he died on November 22, 1997, unable to complete this project.

 

Influenced by the works of Duchamp and Dada, Brown's artistic oeuvre both intensely personal and socially and culturally involved, greatly impacted the state of art not only in Chicago, but nationally and internationally. In October 2004, Brown was inducted into the Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues. As Mayor Daley stated, "Mr. Brown's induction reflects the City's pride in his artwork and many accomplishments. His striking paintings contributed to the rise of the City of Chicago as an international center for the arts and his longstanding support for our gay and lesbian communities made a real difference..."[2]

 


[1] Biography from the Roger Brown Study Collection

[2] IBID



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