In That mountain is a good listener, Colleen Brown extends illusionary landscape oil paintings into space, augmenting them with gestural wall drawings and sculptural materials. Primarily known as a sculptor, Brown has expressed her personal distrust of images and preference for sculpture – she interprets these physical materials as more “real”. In an attempt to reconcile this perspective with the medium of painting, Brown makes the pictorial more tangible in this new body of work, expanding the works into the space beyond the two-dimensional image. While the flat, illusory picture pulls the viewer into the image, the wall drawings and sculptures push back out into the gallery space, establishing a more phenomenological relationship between the work and the individual viewing it.
Her work Remember Maple Creek is supported by an appropriated poster of an idyllic autumnal river scene; extending from a moon-like, plaster form above, a black gloved hand walks the river bank. Here, the photographic image depicts a place that appears realistic, while Brown uses the three-dimensional structure to deflate this illusion, existing outside of the image in the gallery space as an object with mass.
Many of the works in That mountain is a good listener include cues used to navigate or measure our environment. Flags or weather monitoring equipment hold and mark the landscape. In each work, Brown is seeking a balance of gesture, image, object and symbol while keeping these elements separate from one another, in their own space.
Brown’s work brings to mind the writing of Michael Fried in ‘Art and Objecthood’ (1967); the playful presence of Brown’s wall paintings positions the pictorial landscapes as having a “theatrical effect or quality- a kind of stage presence. It is a function not of the obtrusiveness…but of the spatial complicity that the work extorts from the beholder. Something is said to have presence when it demands that the beholder take it into account…and when the fulfillment of that demand consists simply in being aware of it and… acting accordingly.”
Whether painted or purchased, these landscape images can no longer be viewed as windows. Brown makes clear that each is hanging on the wall, a physical object with mass and weight, beckoning a bodily response from the viewer.
Brown grapples with the inherently pictorial nature of painting in this new exhibition, what Fried describes as the “absurd smallness of art” – the impossibility of truly representing an experience, no matter how unremarkable it may have been in person. By combining into her finished works disparate elements that exist in a state of balance or tension, Brown highlights their artificiality. As Brown puts it, That mountain is a good listenerexplores an effort to reconcile “the difference between moving through water in a sailboat, and looking at water in a picture.”