‘Nigel Brown’s work has always had the quality of secular icons. He paints images that carry spiritual importance surrounded by a rubric of words like a chant, often with gold leaf in the background to reinforce the link with religious icons of the past.
Within these paintings he matches local settings with his own catalogue of New Zealand poets and painters, notably Colin McCahon and James K. Baxter with Captain Cook mixed in. In this series he adopts as a symbol the long-necked albatross, the victim of sin against nature in The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The lettering around the edges of the paintings is generally a quotation from the poem. In a painting that features a sorrowing Baxter as well as figures of Everyman and his wife, the lettering reads: “We have lost the albatross that made us strong.”
Other symbols occur. A circle with a yellow pattern within it stands for the Hadron Collider as the emblem of modern science. Other poets also play their part. A portrait of William Blake is very strong but Keats, dressed in the black singlet that identifies Brown’s New Zealand Everyman, rather less so.
All these paintings, with their simplified archetypes, are about human folly and its consequences. As always with Brown the principal effect of the works is to convey deep and meditated sincerity within a style that is instantly recognisable and a dedication to the New Zealand scene. His background painting is of the land and sea around Bluff. His paintings, impressive in themselves, are, however, a warning. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner speaks of redemption but Brown shows that in our modern world such an outcome of our attacks on nature is far less certain’.