“Oval” exhibition by James HD Brown at Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris
American artist James HD Brown looks at the universe through the oval in his new exhibition at Galerie Karsten Greve
In a rather poetic description of the oval, James HD Brown says, “There is something slightly unexpected painting the oval. One can have the feeling of seasickness, of off-balance. They take you into a realm of expansion, no top or bottom, underneath, really.” He adds, “ The concrete oval form asks you to decide. This can be treacherous as it, the form, will not allow for uncertainty. Blindness yes, uncertainty no.” The geometric shape is at the heart of the artworks in the show, ‘Oval’ at Galerie Karsten Greve from 20 May to 29 July.
The ‘Ovals’ series and its counterpart ‘Orb’ Things, which make up the exhibition, feature dark backgrounds in layers of deep grey, green and black, punctuated by amorphous shapes that unsettle the viewer’s gaze, alluding to the skies we peer at from the windows of our homes housing galaxies where life we do not yet know about may exist.
Brown began his career in the 1980s in New York where Neo-Expressionists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were creating figurative art, and the American artist has often been associated with the movement. At the same time, Brown’s work has increasingly become less about representing reality, and more about delving into what the eye cannot see in the world. This is made possible with his methodical approach to the making of art, where he masters techniques in painting, ceramics and engraving in a spiritual motivation to get to the essence of things the universe through his artworks.
Brown explains that the concept behind the artworks in the exhibition is based on the Tibetan word ‘Samsara’, which is a reference to the cycle of existence, divided into three realms: the desire, the form and the formless realms respectively. “The Realm of chaos and light is a study or a glance in the direction of randomness and illumination,” says Brown. In the paintings, the backgrounds of thousands of connected dots will, through light and shadow, dictate the placement of form, and show how light will influence chaos.”
The artworks show that even in apparent chaos, there can be order. For example, in ‘Who Occupies This House? III’. In ‘Who Occupies This House? III’, the oval frames shapes pushed to the edges of the oval space in green, purple, orange, olive and black. They can be seen as planets relating to idea of houses and its occupants as the work’s title suggests, perhaps following his famous ‘Planet Paintings’ that took inspiration from Gustav Holst’s ‘Planet Suite’; or as molecular objects in relation to how the shapes inhabit the spaces in the oval sporadically. However viewers may interpret it, the piece draws them into a space that lies both within and beyond the artist.
And in ‘Two Solar Lamps in the Garden of My Other House II’ Brown illustrates a more abstract rendition of the oval shapes compared to the rest of the artwork in the series, reflecting the artist’s comment that ‘My Other House’ “represents the freedom and inaccessibility that allows certain people to grow and develop in a very distinctive way. and “is a place that is willfully cut off from daily life, from the world around.”
Brown’s artistic process is known to be a form of “ritualised creativity”, where it strips shapes bare in order to reach its essence of being. The ‘Oval’ series is an accomplishment in simplification and reflects the artist’s quest to understand truths about our existence.