Theophilus Brown, untitled work on paper, 1998. Currently on exhibit at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery and previously shown at the Charles Campbell Gallery and the McAllen Art House.
LOOKING AT THEOPHILUS BROWN: WHAT THE OTHER IS NOT
by Esteban Ortega Brown
I most recently had the opportunity of exhibiting Theophilus Brown’s work Five Decades of Rendering the Male Nude in McAllen, Texas and also of attending one his openings in San Francisco, Recent Abstract Collages at the Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery. The works were viewed on two separate weekends, May 8 and June 8, 2009. However, prior to that all his work was viewed at his studio, flipping through the nude figures and alternating abstract collages all in about two one-hour visits, in July and October of the previous year. Rather short visits considering the volume of his work.
The Male Nudes featured at the Art House Gallery on May 8, 2009, consisted of 65 male nude figures captured with ink, acrylic, or charcoal on paper. I felt that the general public in South Texas would find them interesting and challenging. A large exhibit of the nude figure in McAllen has never been done, much less that of the male nude. The artist represented the body language of the male being, body gestures, a glance, or mannerisms. The figurative work itself formed an idealized aesthete presentation of the male figure. The pieces themselves lacked in passionate intimacy and are divested of any sexual content.
The actual Art House gallery is a rather small cottage in a conservative residential neighborhood that has been converted to a gallery out of the owners interest in art. Simple, and nonsensical. The venue was felt appropriate, consistent with the actual nude figures on paper that are placed in a utopian setting, pastel colors, interacting with an austere landscape of light and shadows.
The exhibit itself was curated over a coarse of five decades by the Bay Area public The male nude renderings were in the artist’s possession because those of the female nude had been found more desirable, been purchased, and on display elsewhere. The 65 male renderings had been saved and available for South Texas. As described by Anthony Torres….. as a cultural intervention. Accidental? An accidental encounter in South Texas between conservative males, both straight and gay, and a nude gaze on the wall that was neither. A matrixial of partial subjectivity, the male psychic dissolving, linking with those of others and experiencing the potentiality of maleness.
The viewers at the University of Texas Pan American panel discussion commented on Brown’s sensitivity, and sensibility in how the figures are balance. All attending were artist or art professors and enjoyed the work nicely displayed under the auditorium stage lights. With Theophilus Brown commenting, “ I am still learning how to draw the male nude.” All consistent with the male body language interacting with abstract geometric colors and light in a quest for the aesthetic male.
On June 8 through his Recent Abstract Collages at the Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery in San Francisco he extended and devolved the abstractness of the figurative work into a sensuality of the abstract collages. This work revealed a sensuality that is commonly more figurative. The work is sensual, rich in tactile forms and textures where the nude figurative work is not. One is reminded of childhood figure painting. His abstract collages captures past memories, recognized in accidental placement of skin–like peels of acrylic paint; cut, trim, and circumstance. His abstract shows a sensual tactile sameness, and again embodied through different viewers. The abstract work on the wall offer us a grid free of borders, space, and time; resting and linking their sensuality.
Neither the figurative work nor the abstract work however exists without the other. Each work is what the other is not. The collage work is sensual where the figurative work is not. Both works complement each other and create a different plane of intimacy, removed from either canvas. In doing so, what is left is eternal in the form of a separate intimacy and outside the canvas or figure, an impersonal intimacy for all to share.
His older figurative work reminds us of the present collages, and the new collages reminding of the past figurative work. It is a whole. Theophilus Brown’s work presents a whole, a body of work that continues to challenge us. He continues to passionately paint, freely, and provocative. He has the power to make us look. With graciousness and generosity. Thank you.
–Esteban Ortega Brown
EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of the works that were exhibited in Texas are currently being shown through February 27 in Theophilus Brown: Nudes at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, 2291 Pine Street, San Francisco.