Nigel Brown has built his own distinctive narrative utilising icons that illustrate and celebrate New Zealand culture. The Iconic Way not only reveals the breadth and importance of Brown’s iconography but also sees the artist incorporating familiar symbols with new materials and revisiting past ideas in an evolving dialogue.
Referencing mentor Colin McCahon, Brown re-evaluates and revalidates McCahon’s I AM declaration to become an all-encompassing statement of identity, faith and endurance. Set against a constructivist styled background, I AM becomes the central focus in I Am Arrangement and I Am Still Life With Ambiguities. The space appears intuitive while the “exact colour of a subtle nature reinforces its vagaries”. (1)
Adding a crucial density to I Am Black Singlet, I AM dominates a windswept southern landscape providing a monumental backdrop for Brown’s black-singleted man who, with folded arms and head bowed, evokes passive and spiritual contemplation as he stands before symbols of sustenance, hope and faith.
A principal figure in many of Brown’s paintings of the 1990s, Captain James Cook has come to signify many elements of colonial venture. In Cook Icon, Brown comments on and reconsiders the status of cross-cultural history in contemporary New Zealand consciousness. An ominous hatchet-faced Cook outlined in weathered aluminium cable and staples is presented here rather than the romanticised heroic figure often portrayed.
As the central icon in Captain Cook Hiding, Cook clutches a stylised cross/tree/fern/prow amid a lively constructivist fusion of Pakeha and Maori imagery that includes familiar characters such as the moa, kiwi, male figure, tui and the Endeavour. Bordered by an arch of stainless steel and executed in Brown’s expressionist manner, Captain Cook Hiding assumes the sacredness of a cathedral window, thereby accentuating the narrative.
1. Nigel Brown, Artist statement, 2006.