Born in Hexham, England, Brown grew up surrounded by religious iconography, noting its use of grandiosity and violence, which would later return across his paintings.
As an adolescent, the artist was drawn to the emotional detachment and the self-awareness of postmodernism, as well as the visual language of conceptual painters like Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke.
Brown attended the Bath School of Art and Design from 1985 to 1988, before completing an MA at Goldsmiths College in London in 1992. At Goldsmiths, he was taught by Michael Craig-Martin, who had instructed the cohort of the Young British Artists (YBAs).
Following his graduation, Brown set up a studio in East London and was regularly included in exhibitions along with other YBAs, despite wanting to distance himself from the group's installation-focused practice.
In the 1990s, at a time when the medium of painting had fallen out of favour, Glenn Brown took up the challenge of making original work. He was inspired by the Pictures Generation, who interrogated artistic originality by appropriating images.
Amongst Brown's first paintings is Atom Age Vampire (1991), depicting a corpse-like figure looking towards the sky. This painting drew from digital reproductions of British Expressionist Frank Auerbach's distorted portraits, which Brown transformed into flattened imitations.
Brown started using found images in the mid-1990s, creating a series of paintings based on science-fiction images and kitsch book-cover art scaled up to show granular detail.
Amongst the plagiarised, science-fiction illustrator Antony Roberts sued the painter for copyright infringement. The case was eventually settled out of court.
Brown's work veered towards the moribund in the 2000s after a review in The Guardian urged him to stop holding back. In response, the painter adapted his visual language to introduce additional distortion, religious symbolism, and decay.
Accordingly, works like Ohne Titel (2004), which shows a green-faced woman wearing a black hat and a disturbing expression, and Sympathy for the Poor (2003), depicting a distorted figure of Jesus, provoke and unsettle, culminating in a lexicon of the grotesque.
Increasingly removed from art historical references, Brown's practice expanded to include sculpture and installation. These include balled-up works made from acrylic and plaster with titles articulating detached disbelief, as in LIFE IS EMPTY AND MEANINGLESS (2005), a sculpted bust from the profile looking downwards.
A similar cynicism is evident in MONUMENT TO INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM (2009), a bronze sculpture showing a group of horses' legs gathered on a small platform, with vividly coloured organic shapes in the place of the animals' bodies.
Brown's detailed figurative portraits show historical and art historical figures rendered as aggregations of coiling hair-like strokes, drawn using Indian ink and acrylic and oil paint.
In Pain Killer (2017), a portrait of a young woman is rendered through a layered dual image that induces a disorienting double vision, making it seem as if the figure were turning its head 180 degrees backwards.
In 2019, Brown was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to art. He was also shortlisted for the 2005 South Bank Show Award and the 2000 Turner Prize.
Glenn Brown has been the subject of solo and group exhibitions worldwide.
Select solo exhibitions include Gagosian, New York (2022); Musée national Eugène Delacroix, Paris (2019); British Museum, London (2018); Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam (2017); and Fondation Vincent van Gogh, Arles (2016).
Select group exhibitions include: Centre Pompidou, Metz (2021); Gagosian, Paris (2020); Parkett Exhibition Space, Zurich (2020); Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (2020); Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest (2018); Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh (2018); Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2013); Courtauld Institute of Art, London (2012); Tate Britain, London (2011); and the Venice Biennale (2003).
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2022