William Theophilus Brown, Untitled #3, 2005, Acrylic Collage on paper.


by Jack Freeman

Bill Brown’s collages in paint start from scratch. This began when he started cutting up his old palettes to glue into his art. Now he squeegees, brushes, splashes paint on paper then cuts them up. Palettes are amazing things. Rubens, realizing what amazing surprises can happen between the mind and hand, the unconscious being an unknown concept in the 17th Century, said that even his paint rag is art. I use mine as a guide to let me know how I am using color or at times I somehow paint another, freer landscape and hang it on the wall. For Bill it is a new beginning and there is a wealth of images to tear up and make new, in this case using primarily in primary colors.  They leave you undone, wanting more to discover like he did.  His gallery director, Mr. Eagles-Smith was nice enough to let me see some which are now in the corner of the office, this afternoon.

Matisse said he chose colors without theory. He let his hand do it, randomly.  Some part of collage art should be done that way too. Not that you can’t carefully cut out stuff. With Bill however, it is more like without Mercy. The only rule is there are no rules. A new vocabulary can literally be discovered that way for is not unlike scat-jazz, words torn up and rearranged vocally. Anita O’Day said she was often describing something someone in the audience was wearing, and at times not.  It was an idea she got from painters… and their palettes.

The last time I saw Bill was at dinner with some friends: Paul Reidinger, the local food critic for the Bay Guardian, Steve Weisner, MD, Jane Brady and my wife Nancy…. Might as well add their names to this blogage because friends never are included in reviews and they are an indispensable influence on what is done in the studio. Bill 90, was sipping blue/green Chartreuse at the end of the table, at the end of dinner last time I saw him. We were talking about maps, a globe sitting in a frame in the far corner, as an orderly, visual reference to places recently travelled. Bill, Steve, who has a vast, new, contemporary art collection, and I had been talking about the many modern masters whom Bill knew in Paris as a youth…he probably knew Braque who designed camouflage for the French Army in WWI, trying hide things, huge things, from being blown up. Shrapnel. Sculpt a 3D peace collage! Been done. Peace Brother! Amazing what forms art can take.

From the War Room to the Dining Room to the Gallery Office to A New Order in the World of Art: Textures, shapes and primary colors like you have never seen them. I am glad I went to the gallery to see for myself because Bill cuts through his paint to make shapes. At times he raked and scratched instruments through semi-dried paint to reveal strange sub-surface images peaking through that would become more surreal after bring juxtaposed somewhere in a new format: pre-painted & cut up. Then, perhaps, reworked again? Perhaps. Scat-shapes. Imagine the pieces scattered all over his studio, resolved and not, then looking for something… yes!  Let your hand select it…or your eye pick it out. Yes!  Scrap. No! Shapes. Yes! Then cut and paste again, and…

I imaging there are several stages Bill goes through in arriving at something new to look at. First paint, then cut, then arrange and glue and arrange and glue again….1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 1, 3…. Or destroy, then search, then find. These collages are not Synthetic or Analytic…they are Emotional non-isms. They just are.

Collage means glue in French and decollage is lift off, ie, planes of any kind.  In all steps and stages, cutting and arranging, collaging and decollaging there is a search, the search on another level, a process… Bill’s way of working, like a state of being something….they are fresh starts, looking for a new way, trying to get at something as sort of vehicular,  as if that will find something different or just very fine like searching for a new power in the primary color that will carry over. He did. Since the pieces are relatively small, 15” x 12” or so, they are intense. And personal. Even in the brochure there is a power fresh and vigorous, bold and raw that demands to be seen. They may surpass in terms of energy of color the measured Orphism of Sonya and Robert Delaunay.

When you look at the work, there are wonderful and strange things…sort of abstract fantasies. Parallel, wormy, groovy black and white squiggly lines…Free forms of primary colors. Grays just happen…not many measured… it would be inconsistent way to work. Whole colors want to float almost like block 3D letters. But, cookie cutter art this ain’t. And one would not expect it. There are sideswipes, brush marks, butter paint quality, surprise shapes whose negative sides move into the body of the main shape or into the format outside, sort of head on collisions..violent and calm some where else…Random fits in a meandering flow of independent, interlocking shapes…Weird textures, wild color.

I know Bill to be a scholar, classical musician, linguist and painter. It is no surprise then that tradition of Western Art comes through and with authority of experience on the one hand and discovery on the other. He discovered what paint is….indelible since that is what looking at his painted collages is as an experience. The most obvious is the most difficult thing to find. Unforgetable.

Jack Freeman is a painter and percussionist.

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