Christian Brown meticulously constructs intricate collages that teem with labyrinthine patterns. On view at this intimate gallery were five large, semiabstract compositions, displaying the healthy flexibility of his relatively compact vocabulary. Brown uses paper with preexisting color and text such as phone book pages, play scripts and Chinese take-out menus, obscuring the print with drawn and/or scanned images and patterns that are superimposed using a laser printer. Bits of the original graphic material peek through the heavy black printed layer, establishing the basis for his busy surfaces. Brown’s choice of paper restricts his palette, with one color dominant in each collage.
In Winter Holiday (2009), zigzagging strips of sherbet-orange copy paper form a framework of haphazard polygons on a coffee-bean-paved background. Brown scatters a bizarre assortment of objects in the shallow foreground: a severed elephant foot, a post horn and a bow pulled taut with a broken arrow. Aside from the elephant foot—which was clearly hand-painted atop the collaged paper—it is difficult to discern, here as in other works, which images Brown appropriates and which he deftly draws.
The largest piece in the show, Lousy Wall, Outside the Library (2009, 541⁄2 by 70 inches), mainly comprises paper rectangles stacked to resemble a brick wall, yet the image is hardly static. Brown sets his “bricks” askew, creating a sense of jerky movement and the illusion that some protrude while others recede. The surface is embellished with irregular loops made by the scanned edges of curled book pages, and patterned bands of paper have been folded at right angles to accentuate the contours of the bricks. The artist used strips of menus to make a bridgelike shape across the bottom of the composition, above which floats a yellow brain that he modeled with clay, then scanned and printed on phone book paper. In the upper-right corner is a mysterious, nearly hidden clock, with keyholes in place of numbers and elongated keys as hands.
Elements of architecture, geometry, mechanics, electricity and measurement are present in this group of collages, their precision contrasting with the slightly off-kilter layouts. While it is evident that Brown painstakingly cuts each piece and affixes it exactly where he wants it, what emerges are perplexing, irrational-seeming realms. Brown’s work bears striking similarities to Dada collage, but he has created a distinct visual language as captivating as it is cryptic.
Photo: Christian Brown: Winter Holiday, 2009, ink and paint on paper on panel, 45 by 46 inches; at Open Source.