William Brown: Painter and printmaker

The painter and printmaker William Brown triumphantly achieved Picasso's ambition of drawing like a child. "I steal ideas, usually from children, because they're smaller," he freely confessed. But his pictures are more serious than they look.

Brown described himself as a narrative painter; not a believer in abstraction, he used colour "as an excuse to hang the stories on". The colour is pure and the lines deceptively simple; the stories, though, are extraordinarily mixed. An inveterate traveller, Brown collected myths the way other people collect souvenirs, weaving them into fabulous painted tapestries featuring the world's great bogymen. Against heraldic fields of colour, cartoon figures of the French-Canadian werewolf Loup Garou and the Welsh grey mare Mari Lwyd project a faintly comic air of menace, serving as "nagging reminders of the animal in the human". The carnival atmosphere clearly recalls James Ensor, though other artistic influences are more surprising – one recurring still-life composition (the "Kipper Nocturne"), featuring a kipper lying on a table, with the moon shining in through a window, apparently owed its inspiration to Chardin.

Literary influences were also credited – Rimbaud appeared in a recent painting beside his amputated leg (the wrong one). And politics were never far out of the picture. In a series of paintings recalling a visit to Tripoli during the US air strikes, a black fighter plane disrupts the blue of a perfect bay, while Approaching Storm, Berguette (1997) is an apocalyptic vision in which the little church at Guarbecque in Pas de Calais, birthplace of Brown's friend the poet Lucien Suel – with whom he collaborated on the book Le Nouveau Bestiaire that year – descends out of a black cloud on to the Newport Transporter Bridge. "He's a tricky fellow, this Brown," wrote the Newport Town Poet Goff Morgan; "warms you up with a tot of irony, then drops the chill ice-cube of millennial anxiety down the back of your neck".

Born in Toronto to Scottish parents in 1953, Brown studied fine art in Ontario and sculpture in Pittsburgh before moving in 1977 with his first wife Jodie Brennan to Somerset, where he taught at the College of Arts and Technology. When his marriage broke down, he moved to London and got work as a painter and decorator. Then, in 1987, on an artist's residency at a Devon junior school, he fell in love with the deputy head teacher Carys Griffiths. A man later described by his dealer David Solomon as a cross between Jacques Tati and David Bellamy was an unlikely match for a deputy head teacher, but they married the following year and moved to South Wales in 1991.

In Wales the wandering artist put down roots. He learnt Welsh, became a member of the Welsh Group and the Old Library Artists and established himself as a prominent figure on the literary scene, enlivening poetry volumes such as David Greenslade's March (1998) with his vivid woodcuts, burnished with the back of a spoon. A 1996 touring exhibition "What's Behind the Blanket", organised by the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea, brought his paintings to national attention, and he was taken on by David Solomon's East West Gallery in Notting Hill, where he exhibited regularly from 1997.

A prodigious sketcher to the end – "I draw like other people knit" – in 1999 Brown supplied the drawings for an animated music video promoting the Welsh group Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, which had the distinction of winning an award at a Canadian film festival despite the failure of the sound system. His copious correspondence, in his inimitable (and sometimes incomprehensible) "pidgin" of English, Welsh and French, was liberally laced with drawings. One example, framed in the lavatory at East West, depicts Van Gogh's bedroom in Arles with the caption: "Don't sit on that chair, Paul, I've just painted it."

As a former member of the Cold War Mailart movement – for communicating with fellow artists behind the Iron Curtain using the outsides of letters rather than the insides, so as to discombobulate the Communist censors – Brown took as much trouble with the outside of a letter as the inside. Decorated with rubber stamps, scribbled mottoes and drawings, his envelopes had everything on them except the postcode and consequently often took weeks to arrive, or were returned. But Alison Lloyd, as exhibition officer at the Glynn Vivian, recognised them as artworks in their own right and had a set framed for "What's Behind the Blanket".

Laura Gascoigne

William Brown, painter and printmaker: born Toronto, Ontario 11 December 1953; twice married (one daughter); died Bridgend 17 July 2008.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?