Chicago Imagist: Sculptor, Painter and Collector Roger Brown

February 19, 2015

American sculptor, painter, and collector Roger Brown (1941–1997) was a defining figure in the postwar Chicago art scene–but the range of his influences and artistic impact were national in scope. Brown was raised in Alabama, and lived and worked in places as diverse as Chicago, the town of New Buffalo, Michigan, and the village La Conchita near Ventura, California. While attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Brown was introduced to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and René Magritte—artists whose influences are discernible in Brown’s vibrant, clear, and figural work. During this time, Brown formed a deep admiration for self-taught artists such as Henri Rousseau, which led to his becoming an avid and esteemed collector of folk art and “Outsider Art.” In the early 1960s, Brown was a leading member of a cadre of fantastical figurative Chicago painters who styled themselves the “Hairy Who”—a playful moniker meant to mock the self-importance of the art world. Members of the group, and associated artists working in the city at the time, are now best known as the Chicago Imagists.

Lot 286, Roger Brown, Just Around the Corner (Part I & Part II), 1975

Lot 286, Roger Brown, Just Around the Corner (Part I & Part II), 1975
March 1, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Brown’s masterful diptych Just Around the Corner (Part I & Part II) (1975) epitomizes his idiomatic style. The piece depicts a mountainous road under the shadow of 
a group of buildings. The dwellings’ windows reveal silhouettes of people talking, holding hands, or otherwise interacting with each other. The imagery suggests all manner of human exchange, while also referencing industrialization and Chicago’s municipal developments; ailing housing projects. In this work, Brown also explores perspective and dimensionality: the canvases are meant to be installed in a corner of a room, to immerse the viewer in its setting. A letter from Phyllis Kind Gallery in 1982 notes that “this is the only painting to date in which [Brown] utilizes two panels and a corner format.”

Phyllis Kind gave Brown his first solo show in 1971, and her gallery would continue to represent the artist throughout his career. In 1987, Brown’s work was featured in a retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. He received widespread exposure in the 1990s because of his two cover illustrations for Time magazine, and the 54-foot-long mosaic mural he created for the NBC Tower in Chicago. Brown bequeathed his three homes, his art studios, and his entire collection to the Art Institute of Chicago–the buildings and contents are now administered as educational facilities that include the Roger Brown Study Collection in Chicago. The artist was posthumously inducted into Chicago’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Hall of Fame in 2004.

Currently, Roger Brown’s work is under consideration for research projects that will lead to a planned series of 2018 exhibitions on Midwestern art organized by Chicago’s Terra Foundation of American Art. The series will function as a regional program similar to the Getty Foundation’s “Pacific Standard Time” initiative.

Pes, Javier. “An Overview of Roger Brown’s Gifts.” The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
“Terra Foundation Plans ‘Pacific Standard Time’ for Chicago.” The Art Newspaper  Oct. 2014. Web. 17  Nov. 2014.

Lot 286
Roger Brown
Just Around the Corner (Part I & Part II)
Oil on canvas diptych
Each titled on the overlap verso
Canvases each: 36″ x 60″
Together with letter from Phyllis Kind Gallery
LAMA would like to thank Lisa Stone, Curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), for her assistance in cataloguing this work
Provenance: Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago, Illinois;
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 1982)
Exhibited: “The Annual,” Group Exhibition, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, June 5-August 28, 1977
Illustrated: The Annual, June 5-August 28. San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, 1977. N. pag.
Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000

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