Michael Brown is a bold artist who advisers others to take risks and hopes to ignite a discussion about the uncertain times we are living in. He’s also keen to break down the barriers between the artist and the audience, and he’s taking part in Devon Open Studios. We caught up with him to find out more about his work
You’ve lived in the mountains of Real de Catorce, Mexico and on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, and now in the woodland of Dartmoor. How has your environment affected your work?
This is a familiar question for me and the simple answer is I’m not aware of how my environment effects my work. I have painted on industrial estates and now in beautiful Dartmoor National Park and I can’t see any direct influence that I can recognise on my canvas.
However, I am painting in purely abstract and there is nothing to recognise anyhow. What seemed to have amazed me in practice is the consistency of the creative process. Whether feeling good or bad, industrial estate Wimbledon or the beautiful Dartmoor National Park, where I currently paint, I found the same process can be accessed. But taking this idea further, my practice is trying to find a way out of merely attempting to give an impression of my environment and its effects. Moreso in the act of painting I attempt to unhinge myself as much as possible in the hope to give a true expression of the world I live as a whole, including as many dimensions as possible (including some that might be far away).
Put in another way, to paint a picture that is inclusive as possible in the widest possible context. It is a summary or a position taken in understanding of what I experience in this, world which evolves in time and with age. In a way it’s creativity with a bang.
You mention in your artist’s statement that you juggle intentionality with spontaneity, and that you tread ‘a fine balance between having no idea and at the same time having complete confidence’. Are there techniques or approaches that you use to ensure there’s no conscious intervention in your work?
After some years painting I have cultivated a technique that I have touched on the previous answer. I would describe this technique as the ‘no specific technique’. I’ve always believed that art should never be stylised, copied or produce to make a commodity called art. All too often a lot of work you see now is produced for the sake of making a nice painting for the artist or somebody’s pleasure or comfort. My understanding of the practice of painting is to leave all that behind. I would also add that the artist should have some kind of context in which you are producing. Living in this time and space with all its uncertainties and insanity requires some kind of response, which hopefully ignites a discussion about way things are.
Here is where I came to the idea of ‘intentionality’. Having a clear idea of what you are doing and some confidence would be helpful too.
Personally, I find a lot of what I see in the name of art lacks the boldness and courage that you see with Rothko or Bacon for example. If I was to recommend a technique, it would be try attempt to take as much risk as possible and if you end up with no idea where its heading you are going in the right direction. This is where spontaneity might play a role and then you could speak about creativity – in my experience creativity is rich with the ‘how to do what you want to do’. I have found everything I need to know in the application.
There’s something egalitarian and accessible about ‘eliminating all forms of artistic authority’. How do you find people approach your work – emotionally or intellectually?
I’m trying to make painting more accessible to us all either by way of an art which can be practiced or as something that can be easily understood. I hope to demystify the act of painting and correspond to us all in some way or another. I try to achieve this by keeping my painting as simple as possible as in giving the impression that you might feel you could do something similar. I strongly believe it is the role of an artist to bring to life what is happening on the canvas. Art should relate others who may have never even met an artist. In this sense it transforms the art world and all its authority.
To answer the question more fully, most people need a little help with my work, which just means I need to try harder to make them clearer. Like most people’s understanding to abstract they try and fish something that exists in the world, ie faces dogs and so on. My feeling is if I can hold someone’s attention for more than 20 seconds without a word the piece is a success. I hope to give an experience to the observer that I have experienced but at the same time is down to earth.
Jackson Pollock is probably the most well-known neo-impressionist, who are the other artists that fit in that description?
Joan Mitchell, Kandinsky, Rothko
What research, if any, do you do?
I research when painting. When I’m not painting I’m thinking about what happened when I was. So it’s a bit like an experiment but you never get to the final answer and thats the way i would like to keep it. Like most things in life the more you practice the better you get. No experience necessary!
What’s your favourite art work (either your own or someone else’s)?
I haven’t painted my favourite yet! I’m alright with most of what I have done and mainly take the view that is the best I can do whether I like it or not.