Born in Invercargill in 1949, Brown grew up in Tauranga and was fortunate to have the established artist Fred Graham as an art teacher at Tauranga Boys’ College. Between 1968 and 1971 he attended Elam School of Art, gaining valuable wisdom and inspiration from teachers Robert Ellis, Pat Hanly, Colin McCahon, Garth Tapper and Greer Twiss. Brown first began exhibiting in 1972 and his highly praised Lemon Tree series (1977) helped to consolidate his position in the art scene.
In 1981 he was awarded a QEII Arts Council Grant for travel to the U.S., the U.K. and Western Europe. On his return, the impact of the 1981 Springbok tour protests, as well as a period living with fellow neo-expressionist artist Philip Clairmont that same year, had a lasting impression on Brown. A founding member of the pressure group VAANA (Visual Artists Against Nuclear Arms) in 1984, Brown’s paintings and prints of this period tackled relevant issues not only on nuclear weaponry but also on feminism and the peace movement. This culminated in his 1985 exhibition Living in the Bomb Age, at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
Brown's practise examines his direct and personal articulation of the realities of the human condition. He is profoundly aware of the relationship between human beings and their environment. Symbolism such as the fern, black singlet, dog and driveway, James K. Baxter and Captain Cook, all reflect his experience, his observations and his beliefs. He has woven these into a complex web over a period of more than forty years.
In his early work he combined a tension and personal narrative centred on social issues in New Zealand topography. His later work included the socio-political world of the distinctly New South Pacific, while in his current practice, he continues to emphasise his vision of a New Zealand identity.
Brown has also undertaken two significant stained glass window designs – St Mary’s Catholic Church, Auckland (1991) and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell (1998). In 1998 he travelled to Antarctica as part of the inaugural 'Artist to Antarctica' program.
Brown was awarded the Order of NZ Merit for Services to painting and printmaking in 2004 and in 2005 Brown was awarded a three-week residency in Russia hosted by NZ’s then ambassador in Moscow.
- Antarctica New Zealand Antarctica Arts Fellows http://www.antarcticanz.govt.nz/research/1098
- New Zealand New Year's Honours List 2004 O.N.Z.M. http://www.dpmc.govt.nz/honours/lists/list.asp?id=25
- Interview with Nigel Brown as conducted by Denys Trussell for the Cultural Icons project. Audio and video.
- Art New Zealand: Nigel Brown - Gains & Losses (Spring 1983)
- Art New Zealand: Nigel Brown - Will to Meaning: A Painter's Language in the Fabric of History (Spring 2007)
- Interview with Nigel Brown as conducted by Richard Wolfe for the Cultural Icons project. Audio and video.