Extract from Catalogue essay ‘Albatross Neck’ by Denys Trussell.
Many different ideas and people are pulled together in this exhibition. Nigel Brown has united them in a series of works built around Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Each painting is a tableau connecting with the poem through the use of its verse and themes. Each is also a unique assemblage that can stand alone as a visual unity.
Albatross Neck is not a series of illustrations of a famous literary work. It is a re-enactment of that work in new terms. The poem was first published in 1798. Brown uses material directly from it, but includes events, people and technologies that have arisen since then. In particular there is consistent reference to that increasing emergency of the twenty-first century – the destruction of the natural world.
As a painter in his poem, Coleridge had an inverse role to Nigel Brown in Albatross Neck. Brown builds poetry into his paintings. Coleridge extracts the visual from words and even made a metaphor suggesting the mariner inhabits a painting:
‘Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, ne breath, ne motion,
As idle as a painted Ship
Upon a painted Ocean.’
Unlike Coleridge, Brown inhabits an actual oceanic South. He paints words, almost sculpturally, around his images. The words become structures, objects complementing other objects – the visual forms of humanity and nature. Yet they remain ‘linguistic’. He also ‘lights’ The Ancient Mariner. This is perhaps the first systematic lighting of it by an artist native to the deep southern hemisphere.
He was born below latitude 45 South and has lived many years on our southernmost mainland coast. He has also traveled further ‘down’ than Cook (on the second voyage) or Coleridge (in his imagination) by going to and painting the source of ice and its southernmost light – the Antarctic.
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