Glenn Brown, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool

Monday 23 February 2009 01:00
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Glenn Brown is a great painter of our time. He is a conceptual painter, but one who paints in a painterly fashion, thus satisfying both avant-gardists and traditionalists. He belongs to the group labelled “appropriationists” – artists who draw on others’ work for their own. His inspiration spans both traditional painters – de Kooning, Fragonard, John Martin, Rembrandt, Dalí, Auerbach – as well as images from popular culture.

In this show, Brown displays the bravura technique that enables him to translate anything, including the loopy impasto strokes of abstract-expressionists, into smooth, opalescent surfaces. That alone demonstrates talent, but he also translates the image, often manipulating its colour or form, sometimes literally turning it on its head.

This mid-retrospective is a rare chance to assess a large group of Brown’s works. Rather than diminish, the work grows in stature, each room adding a new element to the argument. There are themes: colour, portraiture, image and form. In the first room, three large works dominate, two based on familiar John Martin paintings, one on a sci-fi image. All have the smooth, polished, seemingly perfect surface that has raised the question as to whether Brown uses a spray gun (he doesn’t).

Instead of turmoil, in these large images we get quietude. Cascading boulders seem frozen in space, pillowy rather than heavy. This does not detract from the menacing overall impression, in part due to the dominant iridescent green.

Brown also shows his sculpture, which, unlike the paintings, is full of surface: lumps of paint seemingly melded together by hand, twisted and squeezed into shapes, sometimes portraits, sometimes objects. One, a table entitled The Sound of Music, was Brown’s studio painting table. It is displayed as it evolved, encrusted with 10 years’ paint. The title is a reference to the music Brown plays while he works.

Brown is of the generation labelled Young British Artists, which saw Hirst, Emin et al launched into stardom. His recent work shows he more than merits a place in that company.

To 10 May ( www.tate.org.uk/liverpool). Readers of The Independent can enjoy an exclusive drinks reception at Tate Liverpool on 26 March, and speak to the curator. Tickets are priced £12 plus booking fees (0151 702 7400)

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