Journal / 2018

September 2018

Shifts and Changes

It’s been quite disruptive shifting house in the last month and soon I will be shifting studio. All this can be stimulating and also a time to pause and reflect. Space and location changes, with shifting, help creativity as much as they may break threads in thinking.

While ‘Concerning Nurture’ was not fully understood as a body of work by some it was a major undertaking in terms of expressing a human conservation ethic.  It was off track to equate it with good keen men or Pointillism.  Even my late father the poet R.F. Brown could not be done justice by comparison with Barry Crump and I feel the same.

A plywood work in progress in the artist’s studio, September 2018
A plywood work in progress in the artist’s studio, September 2018

The insistence in describing my dots as Pointillism is inaccurate.  I raise this again but there seems a mind set standing in the way here. My intuitive approach has nothing in common with the scientific arrangement of colour dots which is what Pointillism proper was all about. In contrast while I have been inspired by Aborigine painting and indeed have owned a bark painting since the 1970's as well as a Sepik storyboard these have often raised more questions than answers for me as an artist. In a similar way most art of the indigenous Pacific area challenges the Western traditions and realism as a way of seeing or not seeing.  It is also likely indigenous art challenges our consumer capitalist system and relationship with nature  although it risks being consumed accordingly.

This last month has seen the release of my son in law Dudley Benson’s ‘Zealandia’ music album and he talks about decolonising ourselves.  How far we go or can go is a moot point and where our tribal self resides is another. It becomes more urgent in a climate change world with collapsing refence points, head in the sand reactions and polluted certainties. As I shape a piece of wood even a crushed layered plywood one I know I am in contact with a tree and that energy to adapt and push upwards. Escape from the rectangle seems possible.

February 2018

Concerning Nuture

The fine essay for “Concerning Nurture” written by Angela Middleton can be downloaded here

The opening of “Concerning Nurture” on the second of February 2018 at Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi was a particularly satisfying event for both myself, whanau and friends. The show was wonderfully hung and organised with special thanks to Caitlin. Also special thanks to Vanessa and Glenn of Milford Galleries Dunedin.

To have a Prime Minister particularly one we are most enthusiastic about in the person of Jacinda Arden actually open it was quite extraordinary. To hear her talk of purchasing a Muka lithograph of mine with two weeks of her fish and chip shop wage when young and being attracted by its words about life and social concern was a delight. Also present were some MPs from the Coalition facing the challenge that Waitingi day can present. I think our granddaughters Vita and Poppy will remember the day as much as we all will.

Nigel's granddaughters Poppy and Vita with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Waitangi, February 2018
Nigel's granddaughters Poppy and Vita with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Waitangi, February 2018

Dudley Benson sang an acapella version of his song ‘Rutu’ from his forthcoming album Zealandia.

Next day thanks to Kelvin Davis we attended Te Karetu Marae which is the home of Ngati Manu. This was very important for Sue who is Ngati Manu and we enjoyed the warmth and dignity of the occasion. Sue has now been welcomed onto her home marae.

We also enjoyed seeing Jacinda and other labour party MPs of Ngati Manu descent welcomed onto the marae later that morning.

A few days of sun and swims at Pahia completed a very memorable experience.

September 2017

An Association With Poetry

At present I have been working in the Press Room at Otago University with printer John Holmes on a book of poems by David Eggelton. I’m providing the wood cuts. The aim is an edition of a hundred bound copies. Title ‘Snap’

Woodcut blocks for ’Snap’
Woodcut blocks for ’Snap’

When I was emerging in the seventies there was for me not only my father’s poetry, but also Baxter’s but Modernism was in full stride and the literary and illustrational were seen as a bit suspect. These days painting is once more open to all the possibilities.

Over the years I’ve illustrated quite a bit of poetry and its been mentally rewarding if nothing else. The list includes R.F.Brown, James K Baxter, Brian Gregory, Denys Trussell, Glenn Colqhoun, Riemke Ensing, Alistair Patterson, Bill Millet, Bill Manhire, Chris Orsman, Coleridge, Blake and Shakespeare. I have always written my own poetry and used text borders in my paintings. The principal monograph on my early work was by poet Gregory O’ Brien. Denys Trussell has written on my work also.

Last year I got a lot of inspiration out of illustrating ‘Manifesto Aotearoa’ a collection of poets exploring social issues. The word ‘illustrating’ clashes with some of my modernist leanings but I have long realised I am a mix of approaches. What never changes in my paintings is an affinity with poets and poetry.

I am now fortunate to live in a designated City of Literature. So a toast to poetry with its great complexities and rewards and the flow of ideas into other art forms.

Woodcut for ‘Ashes Curse’
Woodcut for ‘Ashes Curse’

Woodcut for the poem ‘Yank’
Woodcut for the poem ‘Yank’

July 2017

Peace Interview

An interview is now online done through the University of Otago called Public Conversation: Nigel Brown Peace Artist, with Professor Kevin Clements.This was a welcome opportunity to bring out some peace works and explore issues and background in relation to peace.It’s never more important, some dialogue, as we struggle with a world that often fails to learn and promotes militarism in a reckless and foolish manner.

Kererū peace dove in studio. Acrylic on ply.
Kererū peace dove in studio. Acrylic on ply.

May 2017


Been a busy time since the Provocations show in 2016 at Milford gallery in Dunedin.

The touring show I am /we are which was initiated by Timaru Aigantighe gallery with Jess Mio as curator. It has been shown at four venues, Timaru Aigantighe Gallery, Napier MTG Hawke’s Bay, Alexandra’s Southern stories and Forrester Gallery Oamaru with good sized audiences at my talks. The next venue will be in the North Island. Read the full essay by author and Professor at the University of Otago’s Department of History, Erik Olssen.

This year I’ve had dealer shows at The Diversion gallery in Picton, who produced a particularly nice catalogue with my notes on my organic thinking which is what is driving me at the moment.

I also had a show at Milford Queenstown which particularly featured my bird paintings in ‘Bird in the hand’. My bird paintings are primarily about relating to nature rather than just the specimen aspect.

I see this as more urgent with climate change and a greater awareness and empathy.

I have work in Tamatea which is a travelling exhibition initiated by The Department of Conservation after trips by artists to Dusky Sound.

The NZ Medallion group of which I’m a member have a new display case coming soon to Artis gallery, Auckland after a great touring show.

I did the cover and illustrations for a book of 101 political poems, Manifesto Aotearoa, published this year by Otago University Press. It was inspiring to feel the passion and energy in such a wide range of poets.They seem to be popping out from nowhere. Perhaps its a side effect of the disconcerting times we live in.

I have just done a filmed interview with Kevin Clements about my peace works in conjunction with Otago university and Department of Peace and Conflict. With all the war remembrance that’s gone on in recent years its important I feel to not forget protest history, the ongoing nuclear threat and peace as an ideal. The interview will be available as a podcast soon.

Artists paper cut out of Cook at Ships cove, Nelson, March 2017
Artists paper cut out of Cook at Ships cove, Nelson, March 2017

October 2016

Upcoming shows

Now more settled, I have been busy on various bird paintings for showing next year as well as finishing large works on paper. The show Tamatea, Art and Conservation which includes a couple of my works opens at Bowen House Wellington on the 9th of November and at Southland museum on the 16th of December.

A couple of illustration projects to do with poets have been successfully completed this year and will appear eventually. I find what poetry can do is often what i seek in my painting.

The touring show of the NZ Medallion group ,which includes my work, has been wonderfully organised and hosted. The new base gallery for the group is Artis in Auckland.

My touring painting show I am/ We are has been on in Napier this year and will be at Ashburton public gallery before Christmas. In February 2017 it will be at Central Stories, Alexander. I am speaking at each venue.

My next dealer show is Organic Thinking at The Diversion gallery , Picton in February, 2017.

June 2016

Shift to Dunedin

We have been shifted to Dunedin for over three months after an enormous move from Cosy Nook. Our two-storey house dates back to 1910 and is in Roslyn by the green belt with plenty of kereru, a laurel tree and a good many other trees surrounding it. There is an elaborate staircase and kauri timber given an oak look.

All is very different in Dunedin from the rural scene at Cosy Nook by wild Foveaux Strait. We daily encounter many more people, have access to better films and libraries, concerts and the university town vitality. Everything is conveniently close by. The sea which we came to see as a little too powerful down South is tucked far well away from us. We miss our cattle, the rocks and islands and the space for bonfires. We don’t miss looking after 16 acres.

My warehouse studio In Dunedin is in an industrial area and has a roller door, good light from sky lights, and is not far from the inner harbour.

My touring I am /We are show is now at MTG in Napier and had a good crowd at its opening and my talk. It goes on to a range of venues nationwide after being initiated in Timaru.

March 2016


Currently at Milford Galleries Dunedin – PROVOCATIONS – 11th March-6th April.

“The works now hung and curated I first saw backstage at Milford Galleries Dunedin. Being mainly familiar with the muscly black-singletted bloke, the iconic if not archetypal Kiwi male, set within thick enclosing boundaries, my first impression was of the difference in scale. Not only are these paintings big, but the bounded edges were so dominant that they almost became the pictures, while tucked away in the middle, as if through a key-hole or in a little alcove, was a figurative figure. At first glance these multi-coloured mosaics caught my eye. As I moved closer some large words, rough painted, imposed themselves, as did the figure within the alcove or keyhole. Then the mosaic fragments themselves morphed into words strung like roughly hand-made beads, strings of them, encasing the figure in the middle. Occasionally I recognised a name, such as John A. Lee, Aunt Daisy, Nelson Mandela or Hone Heke. As I wandered around the big paintings, propped at various angles against any spare table or wall capable of coping with the load, I sometimes paused to peer at the strings of letters and words as if they would make sense if only I looked a little harder. As a rule they did not, reminding me of language before grammar, deep time; but also tempting me to provide a grammar that would give the seemingly random words some meaning. My mind trailed away – random, survey, controlled experiment, statistics, probability. And then suddenly, somewhere amid the verbiage, a sentence was there, rewarding the patient explorer. At other times, as in ‘A Full List for You to Remember’, even the tyranny of the alphabet appeared to be under challenge.”

Click to read the full essay by author and Professor at the University of Otago’s Department of History, Erik Olssen.

August 2015

Belong Belong

This selection of works is grounded in New Zealand, although in a general way beyond content or specifics, the dot technique in some works owes something to Aboriginal art across the Tasman. In some works, or parts of works, I am developing loose dots in a layered, open build up of tone and intricacy. The spatial layout remains in the Western tradition of foreground and horizon. The underlying linear structure gets honed back.

The title of the show suggests a chant of sorts, and these works could be seen as distilled concentrations with a certain repetitive iconic format. There are no rigid tribal or religious agendas but there are tensions between the vernacular, historical figures, contemporary events and the varying painterly approaches.

My spiritual agendas tend to be a crying out for the land and birds, and envisage nurturing in a heightened manner. Recent influences such as Richard Nunns and Glenn Colquhoun, as well as the English Romantic poets have focused me on the painting as song, poem or chant. For some years now my son-in-law Dudley Benson and his work with albums such as ‘Forest’, has been a pointer to nature, and birds in particular. I think his lament ’ Kiwi’ really explores a new nature relationship in an intense way, building on Hirini Melbourne.

In contemporary living, much expression has been stripped away by Functionalism and Modernism. So I’m retrieving and reviving. The black singlet man and woman become the essential human element to complete the belonging story. I don’t want to see birds as separate from us so I exaggerate the intimacy.

I want the now to link to the past and organic nature. I want ancestors to come alive with contemporary relevance. I want the belonging to be a pulsation and a continuum.

April 2015

Albatross Neck

March 2015

Leaving Cosy Nook

The day has come to sell up at Cosy Nook. This will happen over the coming months. Ownership is the wrong word for a piece of wild coastline like this being in your life. We have joked about our own private beach but it has felt that way!

The beach and Pene Rock at Cosy Nook
The beach and Pene Rock at Cosy Nook

Granddaughters Vita and Poppy climb on the sculptured rocks, Cosy Nook
Granddaughters Vita and Poppy climb on the sculptured rocks, Cosy Nook

It’s more of a deep privilege to be daily part of the rocks and sea and trees. It really unquestionably belongs to the birds. More off shore islands provide homes for seabirds – mainly karoro, terns and two species of shags. There are spectacular swarming of titi (mutton birds) diving before you. Spotted shags gathering seaweed at nesting time. It gets under your skin. You feel alive.

I’d like to acknowledge our highland cattle for their quiet munching lives and the soft eyes of our Orpington chooks. For us Cosy Nook has been a nature sanctuary.

We will leave here full of memories of campfires on the beach, excited visitors and family gatherings but of course someone else will now have an opportunity to take up the challenge this southern life style represents. It’s hard to imagine a more exciting place for people, for poets, for musicians, for children into rocks and islands, for anyone open to nature. It’s been so inspirational to me as an artist and a defining experience. A dramatic situation of seascapes and big skies, A sheltered and intimate pastoral sanctuary next to bush capped Pahia hill.

Nigel & Sue

February 2015

Tranquility Disturb'd

This large loose canvas was finished in 2014 and taken down to be rolled and sent recently for showing at the National Portrait Gallery in Wellington. Tranquillity Disturb’d is a three person show with Lisa Reihana and Gavin Hurley.

I’m pleased to honour a few poets and the concept of freedom for writers and poets. I also assert the freedom for artists to push boundaries, surprise, alarm and stimulate. Whatever the shabby politics of the day, the threats to nature, the crass cynicism, there are creative beings with plenty to offer. In the now and in the past they inspire.

This canvas is also a lead into my one-man show Albatross Neck coming up at Artis in Auckland.

Nature of Freedom, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 2940 x 1950
Nature of Freedom, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 2940 x 1950

December 2014

Intuitive Mind

Released this month via Cosy Nook Press Ltd is Nigel Brown’s first self-published book in many years – Intuitive Mind. A limited edition collection of drawings with an introduction by Nigel Brown, Intuitive Mind explores instinct, the heart, and spontaneity through a series of bold pen-on-paper drawings. Intuitive Mind was printed and bound in an edition of 150 in Dunedin. 

Intuitive Mind cover
Intuitive Mind cover

November 2014

Wettest November

I’m looking out my studio window in the wettest November. The objects on the sill are what I do to amuse myself when not painting. Somewhere we have our Sebastopol goose in hiding trying again with eggs. In the chook house on the earth floor part we have an Orpington hen sitting on eggs also. Grass is growing relentlessly. From the south the wind whips the sea.


September 2014

Museum of the Vernacular

September 2014

Away and Towards

For Away and Towards, his May 2014 exhibition of selected works at Milford Galleries Dunedin, Nigel gave a floor talk on specific paintings within the show. This was filmed, and we’re happy to share it below.

Nigel Brown | Away and Towards floortalk from CosyNook Art on Vimeo.

August 2014

Sustainability Mural

A couple of months ago I completed a mural in one of our paddocks over looking a nearby bay that over the last ten years has been steadily eroding. Sue and I have opposed a sea wall along the coastline of Mullet Rd, and submitted numerously against it. The whole process was flawed and in the long term not viable because the surrounding cliffs will continue to collapse. The road will be threatened again in the near future. Even though the sea wall is going ahead we felt we managed some minor protection and stringent monitoring.

It was certainly an eye opener to the limitations of local coastal management and total disregard for coastal eco systems.

Sustainability Mural, Cosy Nook, Southland 2014
Sustainability Mural, Cosy Nook, Southland 2014

May 2014

Away and Towards

This extensive exhibition runs from 10th May – 4th June 2014 at Milford Galleries Dunedin, with an opening on Friday 9th May 2014 at 5pm. Away and Towards spans paintings from 1978 to examples of the recent Provocation series. Featuring work selected by the artist and Milford Galleries director Stephen Higginson, Away and Towards includes important large works as well as smaller pieces. An extensive online catalogue is available through the Milford Galleries website. Nigel wishes to thank Susan McLaughlin and all the staff at Milford Galleries for their effort and the support received.

February 2014

Waterfalls, Dancing Star, Artis Gallery

– Waterfalls is Nigel’s new exhibition at Wellington’s Solander Gallery. More information here.

– Nigel is currently guest artist of the Dancing Star Foundation. From their website: Dancing Star Foundation is honoured to present its second Guest Artist, Nigel Brown. Nigel is one of New Zealand’s most important and provocative contemporary artists. His work reflects a deep and abiding passion for the environment that has stirred hearts and minds throughout the world. Click to head to the Dancing Star website, who have published a piece Nigel has written about his concerns, motivations and work. 

– Nigel’s new dealer gallery in Auckland is Artis Gallery

January 2014

Two Books and The Vernacular

Two books came my way lately as gifts from Sue.

The first was Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen, published by Doubleday. This book said it all in terms of identity and food. In this multi-ethnic saga of the collapse of the USSR, it is fascinating how food and the vernacular are intertwined. Food can be a distinctly local or a foreign influence creeping into societies. In Russia under Peter the Great and later Stalin, food and the State reached new levels of interconnection. The difference in food in the past between Moscow and Saint Petersburg with the later city coming to look to the West was marked. Under communism food was manipulated in complex, blatant and disastrous ways. Finally, difference is faced as the food writer and her mother, having emigrated, find massive change on their return to Putin’s celebrity-focused Moscow.

In effect this book gives you a passionate nostalgia, balanced by an eye for the conflict between unique local food and the vernacular versus the allure of the exotic that is now a worldwide phenomenon.

The second book I came to have was Coast, a New Zealand journey by Bruce Ansley and Jane Usher, published by Godwit. Strong photography, great compositions, romanticism, integrity on a level beyond the usual coffee table New Zealand variety, and a depth of searching into vernacular coastal mythology. It’s moody and rich and full of unique material. It’s also a fabrication in a way in terms of what is left out of changing Aotearoa but that’s okay. Identity almost appears timeless and impregnable.

Putting the two books side by side you may ponder the role of the state and global forces both in New Zealand and seemingly different Russia, but be appreciative of the individuals who treasure uniqueness, and record or write about it in dedicated ways – not just swept along in it all.

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