Born in Invercargill in 1949, Nigel Brown grew up in Tauranga and was fortunate to have Fred Graham as an art teacher at Tauranga Boys’ College. Brown enrolled at Elam School of Art in 1968 where he was taught by Pat Hanly, Colin McCahon, Garth Tapper, Greer Twiss and Robert Ellis. McCahon encouraged Brown to pursue his own personal vision and utilize distinct motifs in his work. Brown graduated in 1971 and began exhibiting the following year. He cemented his reputation as an artist in 1977 with his highly acclaimed Lemon Tree series (1977).
Brown is one of the most important figurative artists working in New Zealand and his distinctive work expresses fundamental spiritual and humanistic concerns common to mankind. He examines the varied plight of the individual and environment with an emotional, intuitive sympathy which is accurate, incisive and clothed in a vernacular of the human condition.
Brown has a systematic and workmanlike approach to painting. He works from an initial concept, which is the result of reading and extensive research. Sketches, photographs and other sources are used as a visual back up to develop specifics, leading to works on paper and trial paintings. The artist works from a gesso ground on which he applies a base coat of yellow ochre. The main ideas and words of each work are then sketched in by brush, followed by the initial lines and tones, and the first of five layers or more of paint. Brown directly and selectively employs history, literature and politics as devices in his artworks. He also uses words in his paintings, a technique that was heavily influenced by the English poet and painter William Blake. At Elam, McCahon suggested that Brown contain his text in a border or boundary, a technique he still employs today.
Brown has received numerous awards throughout his career including; the QEII Arts Council Grant (1981), Inaugural Artists to Antarctica Award (1998) and in 2004 Brown was awarded the ONZM for services to painting and printmaking. In 2005 Brown took up an artist residency at the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow, hosted by New Zealand’s Russian ambassador Stuart Prior. In 2009, The Brown Years, an exhibition at the Tauranga Art Gallery, celebrated the formative years of the artist’s career. In 2011 Brown was chosen to participate in The Depot’s Cultural Icons project. The project celebrated individuals who had contributed significantly to New Zealand’s creative landscape.
In addition to his painting Brown is also a printmaker and he has undertaken two significant stained glass window designs – St Mary’s Catholic Church, Auckland (1991) and Auckland Cathedral, Parnell (1998). Most recently Brown completed Seven Last Words (2009) a suite of lithographs commissioned by Chamber Music NZ in association with the String Quartet in honour of the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death. Brown has exhibited extensively in public and private galleries throughout New Zealand and has had several touring exhibitions.