>>> Scratch and win: John Brown scores by layering and gouging

JOHN BROWN at Olga Korper Gallery (17.

JOHN BROWN at Olga Korper Gallery (17 Morrow), to December 18. 416-538-8220. Rating: NNNN

John Brown likes to say about his work, “I don’t like painting, but I like paintings.” And the paintings he produces are impossible not to like: handsome, monumental affairs that pack an immediate visual wallop.

Yet their weighty presence is the result not so much of application but of subtraction. Usually painting a faint image as a starting point, Brown then starts to scrape away, only to re-apply and scrape away again, layer after layer. 

This makes for a lot of visual drama, as you can see in his New Paintings show. Figures, architectural forms, fragments of objects teeter on the edge of legibility, veiled in layers of texture punctuated with lush smears of colour. But these areas are always in dialogue with large, spare patches gouged away in a flurry of scars and markings. This applying and scraping seems to form the underlying syntax of his work.

Grimm #96, a portrait of the head of man, is mostly black-and-white, scraped to create a ghostly, almost classical piece of portraiture accented with thick dabs of yellow ochre. 

Elsewhere, Brown allows large patches of colour to inform the surface. Imaginary Portrait Of Roy Orbison Singing Crying is dominated by dark, nearly black swathes of cobalt blue. An enigmatic, U-shaped line of powdery light blue surrounds an amorphous blackish figure. It could be the singer standing in the centre of the canvas, or perhaps the whole is a visual tone poem composed while listening to a recording of the singer blasting in his studio. Either way, it’s awash in emotion. 

Over the course of his decades-long career, Brown’s intensely muscular, intuitive engagement with texture, colour and surface have earned him the prized epithet “a painter’s painter.”

art@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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