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  • Writer's pictureLida Sherafatmand

Eye-less – In dialogue With Glenn Brown’s Disfigurations

Samuel Huntington responded to Francis Fukuyama’s essay "End of History" (1989) by his essay “Clash of civilizations” (1993). Edward Said responded to Samuel Huntington’s essay “Clash of Civilizations” by his essay “Clash of Ignorance”(2001). Scholars respond to each others’ works by producing a work themselves. Well I don’t see why painters shouldn’t do that in order to provide the public with different angles of view on a subject. Art movements have done that by responding to each others’ styles and philosophies, but perhaps we need some more specific pieces which respond to key pieces which are registered in our mainstream art and thus shaping our opinions and world views too.

A month ago I presented my response Florinal to the century long Fountain of Marcel Duchamp as a view on the ugliness of war. Today I present the first animal of my spiritual animal series “Sir Joshua Heartfelt”. The said spiritual animals series carry disfigurations as their very meaning of existence. This is my response to the disfigurations of the mainstream leading artist Glenn Brown. His disfigurations follow a somewhat Dadaistic mindset in purpose, as he says often in his interviews “People like to be irritated. And I like to irritate them, because it is fun.” (The Telegram, January 2018).

"The Shallow End", is a masterpiece in technique, I honour Glenn Brown’s wish to want to simply irritate people, and perhaps he seeks no further than that in his relation to his audience. From my perspective though, seeing that the world today is facing much turmoil socially, I find it hard to think only of irritating people in a master quality work. Therefore I take a further step from the irritation, by provoking in my audience a courage to see the disfiguration as the shadow part of ourselves, the unknown part, and the unusual entities. A painting which may be troublesome to see at first sight yet brings one peace eventually, once digested in the pure wonder of no judgment. Steven Matijcio, Curator, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, USA writes: ‘The Shallow End, where Brown transforms the c.1771 portrait of an anonymous elder into a grotesque, anachronistic visage in an ostensible state of decomposition. With eyes removed, nose melting, and his mouth lost in a swirling, almost sentient beard this figure hovers on the brink of becoming complete abstraction. The addition of a green stripe on the far right side of this oval-shaped canvas adds further to this suggestion, flattening the canvas and creating an element that is incongruous, disorienting and, in Brown’s words, “annoying.” If this figure is on the brink of expiry, he does not go quietly into that good night – railing against the proverbial “shallow end” (or quiet death) that the title suggests.’ (Glenn Brown Official Website)

Well, Glenn brown removed the eyes of the old figure, pointing a death and decomposition, I have removed the eyes of the dog Joshua, pointing to our ability to see by heart and senses. Glenn Brown’s figure has hollow darkness instead of the eyes, while the dog Joshua finds a home of beauty among the dark surrounding, by feeling where the light and beauty of inner life is.

The relationship between an artist and his audience is one I have stressed in my florescencism essay, when I stated that instead of ruthlessly blurting out emotions at my audience I express them in a controlled way to be respectful towards my audience. The quality of connection between a painter and his audience may not be an issue of concern to many artists, but it is an issue to me, because it is with my art that I connect to people whom otherwise I could neither reach nor connect to. The connection to others is a matter of heart which brings meaning to my life.

Indeed I struggle to understand why for example the expression of anger of an artist throwing paint on canvas should be any more valuable than the expression of an ordinary man’s anger yelling in the street? Why is the artist’s splash of angry paint glorified, while the yelling of a common man’s anger is put to shame as behaviour. This links back to the glorified ‘god-image’ of the artist contested by Duchamp using ready-mades.

Glenn Brown’s disfigured figures are a prominent contemporary voice in the mainstream art of today, and they are given a lavish space in key institutions. I respond by my work “Sir Joshua Heartfelt”, to “The Shallow End” of Glenn Brown which was created purely for the sake of irritating and annoying the audience – as declared by Glenn Brown himself. We witness two eye-less beings in these two works; one indicating a quiet decomposition, the other indicating the capacity to sense beauty rather than see it by visual eyes. The main flower used and repeated in the eye-less dog painting is Pretty Face, or by its latin name triteileia ixioides, which is yellow with brown/black stripes. In flower essence remedies this flower helps one to radiate beauty from within by self-acceptance in relation to personal appearance. It is finding beauty from inside by accepting oneself as one is. This dog and golden mountains filled with the pretty face flower, are my humble attempt to provoke the vibe for that state of mind in which one finds beauty using internal guidance rather than relying on the eyes identifying physical indications.

The Shallow End has aesthetic beauty in terms of colour composition and technique, yet leads the viewer to a literal ‘shallow end’, which may not be the state of mind helpful for dealing with our current society issues. As I pointed out in the previous essay on Duchamp, reflecting the ugliness of an ugly reality over and over again, eventually adds by itself to the ugly reality, because art - specially prominent art in the mainstream- becomes part of our physical, emotional, and intellectual reality. Thus this puts a responsibility on the shoulders of the artists vis-a-vis what they are permanently inducing in the air around us.

As a dialogue with the prominent mainstream, I wish Sir Joshua Heartfelt can voice the possibility of the inner guidance for sensing our beauty leading us to a home of beauty (like that castle in the golden mountains), alongside the possibility of a ‘shallow end’ of nonsensical decomposition. A shallow end with nonsensical decomposition presented by Glenn Brown, may well reflect a reality that we are living indeed today, but as artists capable of recording an image of an unseen angle, we can either add to this shallow end, or we can contribute something different.

Lida Sherafatmand


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