“Using the hyper-real or tromp l’oeil technique that has become their calling card, Brown/Green create a window into their universe and bring focus and empathy to issues affecting us globally. The insights they have gained into world conflicts through their travels, and their roles as official war artists, find expression in the objects and images they have woven into this complex and personal painting.”
– Samantha Littley, Curator, UQ Art Museum
About the artists
Since 1989, Lyndell Brown (1961–) and Charles Green (1953–) have worked as one artist at the convergence of painting, photography and digital reproduction – their art explores ideas around visual and cultural archives, and the links between memory and representation.1 In 2007, they served as Australian official war artists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequently collaborated with fellow war artist Jon Cattapan on a number of related research projects. This partnership was foregrounded in the exhibitions Spook country, ARC One and Station, Melbourne (2014) and Lesson plan: A collaboration, Bruce Heiser Gallery, Brisbane (2015). They have also held numerous solo exhibitions. Their co-authored monograph Framing conflict: Contemporary war + aftermath was published by Macmillan Art Publishing in 2014. Brown/Green’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; many state, tertiary and regional collections; and in corporate and private collections in Australia and overseas.
About the work acquired
An end to suffering 2009 presents a tapestry of images that speak to the complex ideas and approaches that Brown/Green have addressed in their collaborative practice. The arresting double self portrait is just one of many elements the artists have woven together to comment on the interconnectedness of art, politics, culture and memory.2 They refer to this organisation of images as ‘the “memory effect” of the artistic atlas through which many artists and theorists – from the early twentieth century until now – have constructed and thus rethought the effect of memory.’3
The painting makes direct reference to Louis-Léopold Boilly’s (1761–1845) The geography lesson (Portrait of Monsieur Gaudry and his daughter) 1812, a genre painting that reflects the globalised world in which it was painted. Boilly survived the turmoil of the French Revolution and the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire to become one of the most respected artists of his generation. He was alive to the geo-political issues of his times as evinced by his choice of subject matter, and his inclusion in the painting of maps and a globe of the world. These objects and Boilly’s highly finished style reflect his interest in Dutch seventeenth-century genre painting, his inclusive attitude and his debt to art history. Brown/Green’s homage to Boilly is reflective of their engagement with art history and contemporary theory, and their commitment to unpacking ideas around representation.4
In contrast to Boilly’s painting, in which the figure of Monsieur Gaudry dominates the slighter, smaller frame of his daughter, Brown/Green give their likenesses equal weight. While Brown’s gaze may capture our attention first, we are drawn to see the couple as a figure group and encouraged to recognise their physical unity and the unanimity of their artistic vision. Apertures and fragments combine in the painting, drawing us in to the artists’ creative world and their distinctive methodology. Concerned with the idea of contemporaneity, rather than the Post-Modernist concept of appropriation, they ask us to contemplate the interconnected nature of existence. In thinking about the approach, one might invoke novelist William Faulkner’s epigram, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’5 We are presented with a painted cabinet of curiosities, a modern-day Wunderkammer replete with references to the artists’ previous work, and the photographs and memories on which they are based. As they explain:
For over two decades, our paintings, installations and photographs have been carefully interrupting and diverting flows between events, images, memories and histories. These works also ask how the past figures in the present, and how it might be accessed and remembered.6
Included in the portrait are, among other things, a postcard of the Boilly painting, an image of a Tibetan painter who Green photographed while visiting the Zanskar Valley in 1984, a view of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty 1970 based on a photograph the artists took when they were in Utah in 2004, and, beneath a small globe that rests between Green’s hands, a compendium of postcards and press clippings that Brown/Green constructed for the purpose.7 As Green describes:
For this painting we actually built a little tower of pages and postcards and documents and maps, stitching the images together with pins and blu-tack over black cloth, photographed it, painted the image, kept it in the studio while we worked.8
The method is central to Brown/Green’s project to dissolve the tensions around documentation and representation, which arise at the juncture between photography and painting.
Significantly, the artists purchased the war rug that Brown is standing on at a military base in the Middle East during their service as official war artists. The image of the boat in the lower right recreates a photograph released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the 2001 Tampa Affair, in which the Howard Government refused the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa, and the 438 Afghani asylum seekers it carried, entry to Australian waters. These references to contemporary social and political events, and the title of the portrait, make clear Brown/Green’s intent to create an image that affirms our humanity across time and the need to transcend conflict. Global ambassadors of sorts, they invite us to apprehend the collective nature of the world and to consider our place within its history.9
- “Lyndell Brown Charles Green: Profile,” ARC One Gallery,
- Brown/Green’s earlier double self portrait The painters’ family 2007, the first in a proposed series, is held in the private collection of banker Harrison Young. Refer to Charles Green, email to the author, 30 March 2016, UQ Art Museum artist’s file.
- Amelia Barikin, Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, “The museum in hiding: Framing conflict,” The International handbooks of museum studies: Museum theory, ed. Andrea Witcomb and Kylie Message (John Wiley & Sons Ltd., UK, 2015), 485.
- Professor Charles Green lectures in Art History at the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne.
The quote is one of Faulkner’s best known lines and comes from his 1951 novel Requiem for a nun, first published by Random House.
- Charles Green in an email from Bruce Heiser, 29 March 2016, UQ Art Museum artist’s file.
- The current Director of the UQ Art Museum Dr Campbell Gray took Brown/Green to see the Jetty, as Green recalls: ‘It’s a dusk view of Robert Smithton’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, from a hill high above Great Salt Lake. Campbell drove us there when he was at Salt Lake City (actually he was at Provo, a twin city). Smithson had an enormous impact on our art: his theories of entropy, science fiction, dislocated images.’ Other images represented in the compendium include a photograph taken by Australian photojournalist Stephen Dupont depicting Gurkha soldiers in Helmand province, Afghanistan, which was published in a New York Review of Books article and informs Brown/Green’s Empire 2010; a newspaper clipping relating to Mohamed Haneef, the Brisbane doctor of Indian origin who in was arrested in 2007 for terror-related offences but later released without charge; and a photograph of a ‘Tibet will be free’ banner taken at the Beijing Olympics. Refer to Charles Green, emails to the author, 30 and 31 March and 1 April 2016, UQ Art Museum artist’s file.
- Charles Green, email to the author 30 March 2016, UQ Art Museum artist’s file.
- Rich with allusions to art, travel, politics and culture, Brown/Green’s self portrait is as much a tribute to Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors 1533, as it is to the Boilly painting on which it is directly based.