Deborah Brown’s images come from her imagination. Women, stripped of their protective and identifying clothing, navigate a familiar landscape as if in a dream. Female protagonists occupy a variety of spaces–climbing cliffs, paddling canoes and inhabiting treehouses–far from the quotidian activities of civilization. Their nudity makes them seem simultaneously vulnerable and powerful, as if they have returned to elemental or archaic origins. The presence of canine companions implies a departure or exile from a domestic setting, as well as an unseen threat that might require their protective services. The compositions and their implied narratives sometimes suggest contemporary re-enactments of myths from antiquity and the Bible commonly found in the canon of Western Art. The artist’s decision to remove the male characters implies a new gender order in which the female characters appear unrestricted by assumptions of female vulnerability and dependence on male actors for their legitimacy. In this body of work, Brown revisits themes explored by male artists, subverting expectations and readings of familiar Western images while changing the dynamic of the male gaze.
The paintings are composed of vigorous brushwork punctuated by linear passages and off-register color patches, a fractured, brooding landscape that mirrors the psyche and consciousness of the protagonist. In her practice, the artist tries to suspend intellectual control over her characters’ depiction so that the images might result from the painting process itself to create unexpected but desired resonances. Through their picaresque sprit, the paintings channel myths, fairy tales and contemporary science fiction to tell a story whose meaning is mysterious and which must be unraveled by the viewer. The paintings channel feelings of abjection, strength and freedom, offering a subtext of feminine empowerment and artistic discovery.