Ralph Brown RA at Eighty: Early Decades Revisited

17 Mar 2009 – 2 May 2009

Pangolin London

London, United Kingdom


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  • Tube: King's Cross St. Pancras

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Pangolin London presents a major show of the early work of celebrated sculptor Ralph Brown, the first in over two decades. Born in Leeds in 1928 Brown was the younger contemporary of the eminent group of Yorkshire sculptors that included Henry Moore, Kenneth Armitage and Barbara Hepworth. Like Moore, who befriended him and encouraged him by buying his work, Brown's art is deeply rooted in the figurative tradition. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when abstraction prevailed in British sculpture, Brown remained faithful to the human figure and he has long stood out among his contemporaries as a master of human anatomy. Brown's ability to capture the human form and condition through modelling is truly outstanding and is in many ways absolutely unique. This exhibition hopes that through revisiting the early decades of Brown's work we will appreciate once more an artist who has for too long been overlooked. Brown's sculptures can be seen as enigmatic contradictions, they are shocking yet sensous, savage yet imbued with a humanist concern for the pathos of the human condition. Their surfaces pulsate with an often erotic energy with clefts and folds, pits and creases, which contrary to popular depiction, explore sculpting the body from the inside out. The graphic genital imagery or ‘erotic equivalent forms' as Brown terms them, were in the 1950s and 60s truly shocking. His sculptures had to be removed from exhibitions and photographs blacked out in catalogues. The ox's gaping body cavity in The Meat Porters is as obvious a metaphor as Sarah Lucas' Chicken Knickers. The Tiresias Head and Female Head pre-empt the Chapman brothers' supplementation of genitalia for facial features decades later. Not all Brown's sculptures convey such forceful sexuality however. His Swimmers series are immensely graceful in their weightlessness. His Child with Wheel is a playful and touching childhood moment captured and his Tragic Group a mournful but dignified response to the horrific revelations after the Second World War of Nazi death camps. Ralph Brown was elected a Royal Academician in 1972 and his work can be found in many public collections including the Arts Council of Great Britain, Bristol City Art Gallery, Leeds City Art Gallery, The National Museum of Wales and the Tate Collection.

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