- Tauranga Boys’ College
- Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland (BFA)
What makes Nigel Brown’s art practice so appealing is his direct and personal articulation of the realities of the human condition. He is profoundly aware of the relationship between human beings and their environment. In his hands symbolism is a powerful and evocative instrument. The fern, black singlet, dog and driveway, James K. Baxter and Captain Cook, all reflect his experience, his observations and his beliefs. He has woven these into a complex web over a period of more than forty years. In his early work he combined a tension and personal narrative centred on social issues in New Zealand topography. His later work included the socio-political world of the distinctly New South Pacific, while in his current practice, he continues to emphasise his vision of a New Zealand identity.
Born in Invercargill in 1949, Brown grew up in Tauranga and was fortunate to have the established artist Fred Graham as an art teacher at Tauranga Boys’ College. Between 1968 and 1971 he attended Elam School of Art, gaining valuable wisdom and inspiration from teachers Robert Ellis, Pat Hanly, Colin McCahon, Garth Tapper and Greer Twiss. Brown first began exhibiting in 1972 and his highly praised Lemon Tree series (1977) helped to consolidate his position in the art scene. In 1981 he was awarded a QEII Arts Council Grant for travel to the U.S., the U.K. and Western Europe. On his return, the impact of the 1981 Springbok tour protests, as well as a period living with fellow neo-expressionist artist Philip Clairmont that same year, had a lasting impression on Brown. A founding member of the pressure group VAANA (Visual Artists Against Nuclear Arms) in 1984, Brown’s paintings and prints of this period tackled relevant issues not only on nuclear weaponry but also on feminism and the peace movement. This culminated in his 1985 exhibition Living in the Bomb Age, at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
Brown’s subject matter centred, for the most part, on Captain Cook and the Pacific during the 1990s. By this stage he had established a successful reputation and was awarded several regional residencies as well as completing two major stained-glass window commissions. In 1991 Gregory O’Brien’s monograph Nigel Brown was published and in the following year, he embarked on the touring survey exhibition entitled Living Here, Aotearoa. He was the first visual artist to receive the Inaugural Artists to Antarctica Award in 1998 and spent the following years immersed in related subject matter. In 2001 Brown and his partner Susan McLaughlin moved from Auckland to live in Cosy Nook near Invercargill. The year also marked the first of the artist’s I AM series (2001-2004) and in 2004 he was awarded the ONZM for services to painting and printmaking.
Brown has attained something of an ‘elder statesmen’s’ status in the New Zealand art world and in recent years, has continued to receive artistic acclaim. In 2005 he took up an artist residency at the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow and in 2007 went on to enjoy the Caselberg Trust inaugural Breaksea Girl Residency. In 2009 The Brown Years, an exhibition at the Tauranga Art Gallery, celebrated the formative years of the artist. He was a natural choice as a participant in TVNZ’s documentary The Waterfall (2010). In 2011 Brown was chosen to participate in The Depot’s Cultural Icons project and toured his Travel to Travel exhibition. – Lydia Baxendell, 2012