Collection Artwork
Alex Brown (Des Moines, Iowa, 1966 – 2019, Des Moines, Iowa)
Scorpio
1997
oil on canvas
canvas size: 70 x 56 x 1 3/8 in.
Gift of Johanna Reinfeld Kolodny, in memory of Hudson, Feature, Inc.
2015.37.8
(Feature, Inc., New York, New York); purchased by Johanna Reinfeld Kolodny, New York, New York, July 1998; given to the Tang Teaching Museum, 2015.

Object Label

Alex Brown’s, Scorpio, initially looks like a computerized image of a topless woman, but is actually an oil painting. In his works, he takes found images and then obscures them, making a new composition out of it. In Brown’s, Gate, he takes this aesthetic farther and blurs his original image so much that his work becomes an abstraction, eliminating the potential to visually determine the image. His style touches upon issues relevant in painting as he references photography and originality.

In using this digitized aesthetic, he questions the artist’s role in a work. Firstly, he uses someone else’s photograph and appropriates it as his own by altering it. Brown also eliminates any sign of his own presence by manipulating the viewer into thinking his painting is computer generated at first glance. As discussed by Roland Barthes, “the birth of the reader must come at the death of the author.” However, once the viewer realizes it is in fact a painting, the artist’s role in the work reemerges. Brown employs an elaborate patterning system as he uses a filtering process to create a mosaic or digital-like effect. This process also seems to resurface Brown’s presence, as his process seems to make the image more his own.

Brown uses his title to show the potential for “pluralism in interpretation.” One may first view his works as computer images, as a painting of an objectified woman standing mostly topless in front of the viewer without a clear identity, or as a blue and yellow-ish screen that seems scrambled. If the viewer knows the title, “Scorpio,” one may associate it with the astrological sign and perhaps the woman’s identity. One may also think of a Scorpian, a dangerous insect, which could imply danger. This title, however, echoes his style as it tries to leave the interpretation of this work up to the viewer, showing the possibility for many interpretations. Once the viewer knows the title, “Gate,” then they will likely understand the work as a blurred image of a gate. Brown seems to aim at eliminating his presence as the artist/creator. He tries to release his work from the limitations of his own identity, and speaks to a larger issue in art: the artist’s role in how one interprets a work of art.

–Clare Cosman, Skidmore College ’04

From the exhibition: About Painting (June 26 – September 26, 2004)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.
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