Winnipeg, Canada / London, England
TRACES - "oh kitty my darling remember, that the doom will be mine if I stay..."
Drawings by Michael Benjamin Brown
Written by Aldona Dzieziejko
Winnipeg artist Michael Benjamin Brown's latest series of works consists of sequential ink drawings on paper that aim to capture the essence and the hubs of transatlantic jaunts between Winnipeg and London. Whether these travels are imaginary or actual, Brown fights to give form to the intangible universal core that unites all city-dwelling experiences, sidestepping that which differentiates them. However, it is a particular sort of city that Brown explores; not a vinyl and glass metropolis of today, but a turn-of-the-century capital with a rich heritage of modernity. Brown's illustrations are of London and Winnipeg, but for a fleeting moment the cities in the images could be mistaken for 19th century Chicago, Paris or Berlin. We are given very few visual referents to be able to tell immediately. Brown positions the viewer as looking up at an immense sky, that almost as an afterthought, is populated with building rooftops, exterior siding, trimwork, cornice molding, stone and concrete walls, fire escapes, and grounding antennas. These all-pervasive details suggest a milieu rather than a specific location.
Brown's fragile, slender, sometimes shaky lines, forking out into fragments imply an insecurity- the anxious shrinking from the symbolic panopticon of the sky. Brown comments: "The prairie seems to shrink you down, sandwiched between two massive gods of earth and sky or heaven and hell. It aggravates our sensations of being alone in the universe." The artist carries over the prairie sentiment to the illustrations of London. These small-scale drawings are as much about the urban cultural landscape as they are about the artist introspectively turning inwards to explore that which is familiar and that which is unfamiliar. There exists a tension between the outside world of buildings and dwellings and the interior world of emotions.
Walter Benjamin, the philosopher in exile from Nazi Germany, wrote about 19th century Paris: "The street becomes a dwelling for the flâneur; he is as much at home among the facades of houses as a citizen is in his four walls. The walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks." Alternately, writing about the interior in The Berlin Chronicle, Benjamin muses: "The interior is not only the universe but also the etui of the private person. To live means to leave traces. The detective story that follows these traces comes into being." The flâneur stands in for the perpetual observer of the fluid narrative of modern life. He warrants a careful observation by zeroing in on the cultural clues left behind by city-dwelling crowds. These clues may take form as the memories, sites and the objects that we take comfort in when faced with the sense of foreboding and doom. By transplanting to London the familiar airy cityscape of Winnipeg Brown shows the viewer the anxieties about passages between localities and settings, and the passage of time itself: "I felt that the world moved itself forward unapologetically. I knew that in London, Tokyo, Brandon, and even Jupiter things 'were'. They were just being there."
Michael Benjamin Brown has been involved in drawing since his travels to China in 2001. He has recently been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts program at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London.
(another) Artist Statement
Art should not seek to answer anything, and seek only to create a space in the creative mind of the viewer, enabling them to engage discourse with god and life.
Is it possible to find the words to describe the impulse to make art? How can you communicate its fragile compulsion? When does mundane experience become the potent motivator?
Sometime... it begins with a vast, barren ocean of chaos. Tick tock. And from here a tree, or something, will turn its head, if it had one, at me and the earth slides down slow. Some things recede and some advance, rise and sink. Minute points emit an emotional tonic. Singularities spilling out a flowering paranoia; a darkness. It comes from me as well. How is it that I see myself in this?! The earth dries open; armies of human faces fade into organic grays and perform tasks in autonomic response. Massive cumulonimbus clouds choke the heavens. Angels barf from cocoons in the sky and dry their powdery paper moth wings in the thin sunlight. Flowers grow from the eyes of stillborns of mucky shit. Zen Buddhists meditate in cold and wet mountain valleys while drunk on wine. Siamese twins separate. Thousands or millions of people die. Men smash their wives faces into cinderblock walls colored in purple crayon. Small girls in floral pajama dresses piss their pants. The prairie expands around me and a relentless agoraphobic fear turns my head to brass.
In the mind these and all things rotate and grow upon themselves like a godly coral reef. Within the piling build up of this tower of emotional experiences, the constituents themselves go through oscillations; unable to decide how to appear. Atrocities become endearing heroic epics. Murders become fragrant plant life. Sadness and longing evanesce into a sublime calm. Hurricanes still into cool breezes, alighting on the faces of smiling old ladies. Tears of loss transform into clear-golden snow that rises slowly back into the sky and falls everywhere.
Building and growing the tower reaches a breaking point, and like an imploding building, crashes down upon itself. kjfnciuyjewbnmasofiofhbabk - I'm left standing in the very centre of an infinite void; where everything can again act as it should appear, though now without apology or explanation.
There is, I think/sense an underlying beauty to all things. Humans cannot explain what we are. We sense only four of the multiple dimensions proposed by physicists. This incomplete picture delivers our life fragmented; interpretations of experience become confused, misassembled as pain and horror, when in fact they are perfect. In trying to understand life or make sense of things we fail, our theories are stillborn and suffering is its afterbirth. Horror and sadness always smack of beauty as they contain all its parts; they are images from puzzles that cannot be solved with its pieces forced together.
or something like that.
- Michael Benjamin Brown
2008, (pending) M.F.A. Chelsea College of Art and Design,
2004, B.F.A. (first class honours) University of Manitoba,
1996, Private Pilots Licence, Victoria Flight Training,
2007, East Meets West, Gallery Connexion, Fredericton,
2007 & 2006 Winter Warmers, aceart, Winnipeg, Canada
2005, Fabulous Fakes, PlugIn ICA, Winnipeg, Canada
2008, (show name t.b.a.), Gallery 803, Winnipeg, Canada
2007, One More Man Gone, Semai Gallery, Winnipeg, Canada
2006, Watching and Waiting, Adelaide Mcdermot Gallery,
2007, Travel Grant, Manitoba Arts Council
2005, Visual Arts "C" Grant, Manitoba Arts Council
1998, Geoff Giles Memorial Scholarship
2007, Manitoban (University of Manitoba Press)
2003, Warehouse Magazine #12
2005 Bordercrossings magazine fundraiser
(donated and exhibited artwork)
2005, Toronto art fair & Miami art fair
(with the other gallery)
Pierre Arpin, Private collection