Painting Paintings: Glenn Brown Interviewed by David Trigg

Article excerpt

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DAVID TRIGG: YOUR PAINTINGS ARE ALL DERIVED FROM REPRODUCTIONS OF OTHER ARTISTS' WORK. It must be strange seeing your own work reproduced.

Glenn Brown: That's why it was difficult to decide which paintings should be in the Tate Liverpool exhibition. I only have photographic records of my paintings and some works look great in the photographs but in reality aren't as good as I remember them, and for others it's the exact opposite, so there were a few surprises when I saw the paintings again. The whole printing process is very crude compared to painting, which is very, very precise. It's why as a technology painting is fantastic and nothing comes anywhere near it.

DT: You once revealed that as a student you would break into the college's painting studios after dark so that you could paint all night.

GB: I'd have to deny that. And anyway, I'm sure the security is much better in Bath now. When I was at Goldsmiths I had my own studio, so there was no need to break in.

DT: It clearly demonstrates how much passion you had for painting--an obsession that is part of your subject matter. Do you still feel the same compulsion?

GB: I still love painting, it's a fantastic game to play--difficult but enjoyable. Painting is a set of puzzles--you know there are answers but sometimes you just can't find them, then you have to go to other paintings and figure out how other people have solved various problems.

DT: The first painting you made of another painting was Atom Age Vampire, in 1991, which was copied from a reproduction of Frank Auerbach's 1973 Head of J.Y.M. and rendered his thick impasto brush marks completely flat. Was that made while you were still at Goldsmiths?

GB: Yes. Most of the paintings in the first room at Tate Liverpool were made when I was at Goldsmiths. That first painting came after a very arduous studio critique; I was making the moonscape and modernist building paintings at the time and people were saying: 'Why are you painting? There's no point, just rephotograph them.' Painting was considered extremely archaic at Goldsmiths in the early 90s but I knew I wanted to paint, I liked the process and its subtlety. Therefore, without changing my work incredibly radically, I tried to answer that problem by making a painting of a painting.

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DT: That work represents an important turning point in your career--why isn't it included in the exhibition?

GB: There are other paintings made just after that which are very similar and make the same point slightly better. There's a painting called The Day The World Turned Auerbach from the same year which has greater detail and the sense of obsession is slightly stronger.

DT: It is perhaps more resolute whereas the first painting was more of an experiment?

GB: Yes. The first one is slightly more blurry, it's more Richter-looking whereas The Day The World Turned Auerbach has a sharper, more photorealist look to it.

DT: When you started making paintings of paintings were you aware of Mike Bidlo's project from the 80s, where he made copies of works by Picasso, Warhol and Pollock?

GB: Yes, absolutely. But Sherrie Levine was more of an influence--at the time I was completely in love with her work. Also artists like Simon Linke with his Artforum paintings and even On Kawara; that certain dry, conceptual form of painting is really what I was after.

DT: There's a room in the Liverpool exhibition that juxtaposes several other paintings derived from Auerbach's Head of J.Y.M.--it's a motif you've returned to many times. What is it about that particular painting that made you want to revisit it so frequently?

GB: It's quite a camp image; the pose is very theatrical and the figure has her head turned to one side while still looking at the viewer, so it appears to be quite self-conscious but also very ambiguous. …