New York

Roger Brown

Phyllis Kind Gallery

Roger Brown is in a retrospective mood; indeed this show had something of a “greatest hits” quality, with the artist trotting out stylistic pictorial motifs he has employed since the ’60s as background to the glassware and ceramics he has been collecting for most of his life. Each of the 16 works in this series titled “Virtual Still Life,” 1995, has a small shelf at its bottom edge, along which Brown lines up all manner of crockery—vases, bowls, carafes, teapots, saki cups, and mugs—sometimes as few as one item per work, sometimes as many as six or seven. Though much of this ware is relatively pedestrian in quality, each piece bespeaks its utilitarian function; Brown clearly cares for the spirit he finds in the humble vessels he gives new life as art.

At times, Brown takes pictorial cues from the crockery. In Virtual Still Life #2: Large Bowl with Western Landscape, for instance, the glazed designs on the ceramic bowl are echoed in the colors and rhythms of the painted landscape behind it. Here the symbiosis between the found and the painted creates a sensitive, decidedly modest effect. In Virtual Still Life #3: Teapot with Tempest, a work in which a painted tornadolike spiral seems to rise like a genie from some latter-day Aladdin’s Lamp, the interplay between the real and the painted world is more dramatic. Perhaps it is the complementary role that painting plays in relation to the humble ceramic objects in these works that led Brown to trot out his familiar repertoire of landscape motifs—the cornrow quilted hills, mountain ranges, waterfalls, and cloud formations reduced to abstract pattern—the whole litany of elements he has long used as a backdrop for his often acerbic social and political commentary. Row after row of tight, spiky bushes in parallel formations regularly line the landscapes of these works, and the pieces are peopled by the tiny black silhouetted figures that constitute Brown’s signature rendition of humankind. In a way, his patient recitation of his pictorial vocabulary, his well-rehearsed show of technical skill, brings his painting into harmony with the aspirations of the men and women who fashioned the vessels these works enshrine. That painting is Brown’s handiwork, his craft, is perhaps part of his point here, where distinctions between high and common culture are collapsed. In Brown’s art—both an act of recognition and a gesture of generosity—he discovers a fundamental affinity between artist and artisan.

James Yood