Glenn Brown (artist)

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'Sex' (2003) Oil on panel, 126 x 85cm

Glenn Brown CBE (born 1966 in Hexham, Northumberland) is a British artist known for the use of appropriation in his paintings. Starting with reproductions from other artists' works, Glenn Brown transforms the appropriated image by changing its colour, position, orientation, height and width relationship, mood and/or size. Despite these changes, he has occasionally been accused of plagiarism.

His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Centre d’Art Contemporain, France (2000); Serpentine Gallery, London (2004);[1] Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (2008);[2] Tate Liverpool, England (2009),[3] which travelled to the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin,[4] Ludwig Múzeum, Budapest (2010);[5] Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands (2014); Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles, France (2016);[6] Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2016); Contemporary Arts Center, Ohio (2017); Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam (2017); Museo Stefano Bardini, Florence (2017); and British Museum, London (2018); and numerous group exhibitions including The Saatchi Gallery (1995, 2015); Centre Georges Pompidou (2002, 2014); Venice Biennale, Italian Pavilion, (2003); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2005); Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2010), Kunsthalle, Vienna (2011), Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague (2012), Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2013), Rennie Collection, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (2013), Cognacq-Jay Museum, Paris (2015); Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh (2018), Museum of Fine Arts-Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest (2019); and British Museum, London (2019).

Brown lives and works in London and Suffolk, England. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2000. There was some controversy over his exhibition at Tate Britain for the Turner Prize, as one of the paintings was closely based on the science-fiction illustration "Double Star" produced in 1973 by the artist Tony Roberts.[7]

Brown was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to art.[8]


Brown completed his Foundation Course at Norwich School of Art & Design (1985) and later on received a B.A. degree in Fine Art at Bath School of Art and Design (1985–1988), followed by an M.A. degree at Goldsmiths College (1990–1992).

Technique and style[edit]

'On the Way to the Leisure Centre' (2017) Oil on panel, 122 x 244 x 2.2 cm (48 1/8 x 96 1/8 x 7/8 in)

Brown appropriates images by living, working artists, such as Frank Auerbach and Georg Baselitz, as well as paintings by historical artists, such as Guido Reni, Diego Velázquez, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Eugène Delacroix, John Martin, Gustave Courbet, Adolph Menzel, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Chaïm Soutine and Salvador Dalí. He claims that the references to these artists are not direct quotations, but alterations and combinations of several works by different artists,[9] although the artists whose work is appropriated do not always agree.[10] As art critic Michael Bracewell states, Brown is "less concerned with the art-historical status of those works he appropriates than with their ability to serve his purpose – namely his epic exploration of paint and painting."[11] In most cases, the artist uses reproductions printed in exhibition catalogues, found on the internet or ordered through print-on-demand companies.[12] By scanning and changing the image with programmes like Photoshop, Brown playfully alters the image to his specific needs. He distorts, stretches, pulls, turns the image upside down and changes the colour, usually based on other found images, as well as the background setting. Describing his working practice in an interview, Brown stated: "I‘m rather like a Dr Frankenstein, constructing paintings out of the residue or dead parts of other artist‘s work. I hope to create a sense of strangeness by bringing together examples of the way the best historic and modern-day artists have depicted their personal sense of the world. I see their worlds from multiple or schizophrenic perspectives, through all their eyes. Their sources of inspiration suggest things I would never normally see – rocks floating in far-off galaxies, for example, or a bowl of flowers in an 18th-century room, or a child in a fancy-dress costume. It‘s those fictions that I take as subject matter. The scenes may have been relatively normal to Rembrandt or Fragonard but because of the passage of time and the difference in culture, to me they are fantastical."[13]

'The Real Thing' (200) Oil on panel, 82 x 66.5 cm
'American Sublime' (2017) Oil and acrylic paint on bronze 98.5 x 62 x 60 cm (38 3/4 x 24 3/8 x 23 5/8 in)

Once the composition is found, the paint is applied in the artist's very specific process of painting. Brown's paintings, which are uniformly smooth in surface, typically offer a trompe-l'œil illusion of turbulent, painterly application. In fact, many viewers of his work have expressed the sensation of wanting to "lick" and "touch" the paintings.[14] Brown uses thin brushes with which he produces particularly elongated curls and twists. The resulting flatness of the painting alludes to its origin as the chosen photograph or digital image. Per the artist Michael Stubbs: "Brown‘s computer-based preparation method prior to painting is [not] the sole reason for his relation with the digital. The computer increases and develops his choices of found imagery, but it is only a means, not the end. […]. On the contrary, his works are markers for the future of painting because they are both surface effect and material methodology, not despite the screen, but because of it.[15]"

A lot of his titles refer to titles of albums,[16] film titles,[17] science fiction literature,[18] or a specific dedication to a person.[19] The titles are not obviously connected to the paintings themselves and are not meant to be descriptive of the artwork. Instead they are intended to complement it. Brown: "That‘s it – the titles are often trying to be embarrassingly direct, and vulgar in their directness. I don‘t think that the painting is less direct, but I don‘t want the paintings to be illustrative."[20]


The subject matter in Glenn Brown's paintings ranges from his early science-fiction landscapes over abstract compositions and still lives to the figurative images based on art historical references. Most paintings share a morbid, almost creepy atmosphere, which is especially underlined by the incorporation of certain unsightly physical features of his figures such as yellowish decaying teeth,[21] translucently white blind-looking eyeballs,[22] unnatural skin colours[23] and suggestions of foulness and smell emanating from figures' bodies.[24] Brown: "I like my paintings to have one foot in the grave, as it were, and to be not quite of this world. I would like them to exist in a dream world, which I think of as being the place that they occupy, a world that is made up of the accumulation of images that we have stored in our subconscious, and that coagulate and mutate when we sleep."[25] Many of Brown's portraits depict amorphous beings that have been described as "tumurous lumps that look like outsized, inflamed organs".[26] Often they are ironically attributed with recurring features such as flowers growing out of their compost-like bodies,[27] hallows placed over heads[28] or red noses.[29] In few of these amorphous and abstract forms, female figures are embedded[30] within the mottling masses of unidentifiable matter.[31]


There are fewer sculptures than paintings in Brown's oeuvre, but they nevertheless form a central point of his practice. Brown's sculptures stand in stark contrast to his flat paintings as they bare all the technical features that the paintings deny. The sculptures are created by accumulating thick layers of oil paint on acrylic and wire, stainless steel or fibreglass structures with large brushstrokes. In contrast to the flat surfaces of his paintings, the sculptures deliberately emphasize the three-dimensional quality of oil brushstrokes. They are piled up to amorphous heaps of paint with sharp-cutting edges. Brown comments on his three-dimensional use of brushstrokes as follows: "I see the sculptural brush marks as challenging the logic of paint in that they appear to defy gravity by actually staying upright. For me, they exist within a surreal world that is based on getting paint to do something it shouldn‘t do, and to sit in a three-dimensional world that it shouldn‘t be in.".[32] Furthermore, Brown modulates the sculptures by suggestively painting 'shadows' on them.[33] His sculpture "Three Wise Virgins" has additional attributes attached to it, such as red clown noses thus ironically rendering them somewhat ridiculous.


'Half-Life (after Rembrandt) 1' (2016) Etching on paper, Velin Arches 400 gsm 76 x 56 cm (29 7/8 x 22 1/8 in) image; 89 x 68 cm (35 x 26 3/4 in)

In 2008 Brown created a series of prints entitled "Layered Etchings (Portraits)" which were inspired by the artists Urs Graf, Rembrandt and Lucian Freud. Brown scanned a vast number of reproductions from books and digitally manipulated them by stretching them to standard sizes. He then layered selected scans over each other, resulting in single images for which a handful of etching plates were made. The many contour and incarnation lines of the original works (the artist used up to fifteen different image sources for one layered portrait), as well as the textured spots of lithographic printing, obscure the sitters' individual identities. The resulting half-length portraits are "de-individualised"[34] by the deliberate accumulation of too many portraits over each other.

The etchings were collated in Glenn Brown: Etchings (Portraits), published by Ridinghouse in 2009 which featured a specially commissioned text by John-Paul Stonard that discusses elements of the old and the new in the portraits as they embody concepts of destruction and the violence of appropriation.[35]


'The Music of the Mountains' (2016) Indian ink and acrylic on panel 135 x 95 x 3 cm (53 1/8 x 37 3/8 x 1 1/8 in)

Since 2013, Glenn Brown has extensively embraced drawing. Still conceptually rooted to art historical references, he stretches, combines, distorts and layers images to create subtle yet complex line-based works. He works with Indian ink, acrylic and oil paint on a variety of papers and panels.


In 2000 Brown was accused of plagiarism by The Times. Glenn Brown referenced a work by Anthony Roberts for a science fiction novel cover. Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans won the Turner prize that year, and a legal case brought by Roberts against Brown was settled out of court.[36]

Many of Brown's works are based on works by other artists, from masters like Rembrandt, Fragonard, Van Gogh, Soutine and Delacroix, to contemporary artists like Chris Foss, Tony Roberts and Georg Baselitz, which are then altered in colour, tone or cropping. Appropriation (art), the operative term used in the art industry, has been employed by many artists in history, but most prominently by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons and Richard Prince.

Public collections[edit]

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Arts Council Collection, London

British Museum, London

Delfina Foundation, London

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin

FRAC - Limousin, Limoges

Francois Pinault Foundation, Venice

Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Rennie Collection, Vancouver

Tate, London

The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The New Art Gallery, Walsall

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

V-A-C Collection, Moscow

Zabludowicz Collection, London


  1. ^ Jones, Jonathan (16 September 2004). "Dawn of the dead". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 September 2004.
  2. ^ "Glenn Brown at Kunshistoriches Museum".[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Glenn Brown Survey at Tate Liverpool".
  4. ^ "Glenn Brown at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo". Archived from the original on 4 September 2012.
  5. ^ "Glenn Brown at Ludwig Múzeum".
  6. ^ "Glenn Brown at Fondation Vincent Van Gogh".
  7. ^ "Copycat row hits Turner Prize". BBC. 28 November 2000. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  8. ^ "No. 62666". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 2019. p. B8.
  9. ^ Glenn Brown: "People may think that a single painting stimulates me to make a 'copy', but I never make a direct quotation. I start with a vague idea of the kind of painting I want to make, and I do small sketches of it. These will more or less determine the size of the painting, the colour, the type of background, etc, but at that point I still don’t know what the subject matter will be, or which artist will inspire the work. Then I spend some time looking through books and catalogues to find a painting that fits my idea as closely as possible. I look at hundreds of images to find a reproduction I can transform by stretching, pulling or turning it upside down so it fits into my practice.” Quoted in Steiner, Rochelle (2004). Glenn Brown. London: Serpentine Gallery. p. 95.
  10. ^ Richard Alleyne, How inspiration can be mistaken for imitation The Telegraph, 29 Nov 2000 (accessed 7 January 2014).
  11. ^ Bracewell, Michael (2009). Three Exhibitions. London: Rizzoli/Gagosian Gallery. p. 58.
  12. ^ Stubbs, Michael (2009). Glenn Brown. Tate Publishing. p. 105.
  13. ^ Quoted in Steiner, Rochelle (2004). Glenn Brown. Serpentine Gallery. p. 96.
  14. ^ Brown, Jonathan (16 February 2009). "A real scene stealer: Glenn Brown's 'second-hand' art is the subject of a Tate retrospective". The Independent. London.
  15. ^ Stubbs, Michael (2009). Glenn Brown, exhibition catalogue Tate Liverpool. London: Tate Publishing. p. 108.
  16. ^ See Pablo Lafuente’s summary of album titles resembled in Glenn Brown’s paintings: "Architecture and Morality (after a 1981 album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), Death Disco (a 1979 record by Public Image Ltd.), Alas Dies Laughing (a Cocteau Twins song from 1982), The Osmond Family (after the 1970s American band), and The Three Wise Virgins (after Gladys Brooks’ 1957 novel, or maybe after Carlos Schwabe’s 1970s painting, or possibly a 16th-century fresco in Parma). Lafuente, Pablo (May–June 2004). "Glenn Brown". Flash Art: 111.
  17. ^ Such as "The Rebel", "Saturday Night Fever" or "The Sound of Music". Gingeras, Alison (2004). Glenn Brown. Serpentine Gallery. p. 19.
  18. ^ For example the paintings "after Chris Foss", the illustrator of science fiction novels.
  19. ^ Such as the series of paintings dedicated "for Ian Curtis", the lead singer of the band Joy Division, or his painting "Joseph Beuys" from 2001.
  20. ^ MacRitchie, Lynn (3 April 2009). "Interview: Glenn Brown". Art in America. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  21. ^ Evident for example in “The Great Masturbator” from 2006.
  22. ^ Evident in “Sex” from 2003 or “Wild Horses” from 2007.
  23. ^ Evident in “Dark Star” from 2003, “Joseph Beuys” from 2001, “Led Zeppelin” from 2005 and many more.
  24. ^ See for instance “Spearmint Rhino” from 2009, “Greetings from the Future” from 2005, “Kill Yourself” from 2002.
  25. ^ Glenn Brown quoted in Bracewell, Michael (2009). Glenn Brown - Three Exhibitions. London: Rizzoli/Gagosian Gallery. p. 70.
  26. ^ Uszynska, Katarzyna; Wilfried Seipel (2008). Glenn Brown. Vienna: Kunsthistorishes Museum. p. 14.
  27. ^ See "The Hinterland" from 2006, "Polichinelle" from 2007, "The Revolutionary Corps of Teenage Jesus" from 2005.
  28. ^ See especially Brown’s portraits that reference the works by Frank Auerbach, for example Brown’s "The Riches of the Poor" from 2003 or "Shallow Deaths" from 2000.
  29. ^ See "Sex" from 2003, "Declining Nude" from 2006 or "The Holy Virgin" from 2003.
  30. ^ Such as the female figure in "God Speed to a Great Astronaut" from 2007 or "Asylums of Mars" from 2006.
  31. ^ Holzwarth, Hans W. (2009). 100 Contemporary Artists A-Z (Taschen's 25th anniversary special ed.). Köln: Taschen. pp. 80–87. ISBN 978-3-8365-1490-3.
  32. ^ Quoted in Steiner, Rochelle (2004). Glenn Brown. London: Serpentine Gallery. p. 99.
  33. ^ Brown: "Like the paintings, the sculptures are always given an imaginary light source. Unlike most sculptures that rely on the light of the room to give them shadow, I paint shadow on the works so they have a light and dark side. Sometimes there will be several different light sources of various colours, for example green light coming from underneath, red coming from one angle and white coming from another. This is partly why the sculptures seem to me to exist within the world of painting; it feels like I’m reaching inside painting to make the sculpture, and because the light source remains on its sculpture, that sculpture never fully leaves the world of painting." Quoted in Steiner, Rochelle (2004). Glenn Brown. London: Serpentine Gallery. p. 99.
  34. ^ Stonard, Jean-Paul (2009). Glenn Brown Etchings (Portraits). London: Ridinghouse/Karsten Schubert Gallery. p. 8.
  35. ^ "Glenn Brown: Etchings". Ridinghouse. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  36. ^ "Editorial Photographers UK - Visual plagiarism: When does inspiration become imitation ?".

External links[edit]