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.