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Art review: Hannah Brown

According to Germaine Greer, the fact there are few women landscape artists “has to do with authority". Not so in the work of Hannah Brown, says Anna McNay.

Mon, 05 Nov 2012 18:31:12 GMT | Updated 4 years today

"I have never understood why more women did not paint landscape," bemoaned Germaine Greer in The Guardian a couple of years ago. Indeed, despite the number of Victorian women who ventured out to make sketches in pencil and watercolour, very few turned these into finished works.


Hannah Brown is a contemporary exception. Her current exhibition, her second solo show since graduating with an MA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art in 2006, contains a carefully hung selection of ten small-scale landscapes, oil on plywood and oak, waxed rather than varnished, and each one "typically English".


Working with views from the area of Devon - Uton - in which she grew up, Brown seeks out untypical angles, often composed as if she had stood with a vast expansive view, and then turned slightly askance, so as to choose something less dramatic and more intimate. All of her views contain water, albeit some more obviously than others, and hedges and lines of trees also abound. Fences, signs of humanity, and other "interferences" are edited out, however, as is any hint of blue in the sky. Working from photographs, Brown alters her pictures as she turns them into paintings, and introducing a dull grey firmament is always her first task. The light and shadows falling on and cast by the trees remain, however, giving the flat and shiny works a strange and eerie feel, as if all were not quite right. The lush greenness loses something of its viridity by being flattened to such an extent, and the depth of field and horizon melt away.


Nevertheless, there is an enchanting quality to Brown's landscapes, echoed by the public response, since nearly all of the works sold on the first night of the show. The limited edition screenprint, pictured (the first Brown has ever made) is also proving popular, being somewhat lighter and brighter than the paintings, with the standard benday dot system providing four layers of colour, layered over with extra yellow to give the look of a Claude glass (a small, round, black mirror, commonly used by amateur landscape artists, and named after the 17th century French landscape painter, Claude Lorrain), and finished with a coat of varnish.


The paintings are hung at a slightly lower level than is usual for a gallery, to draw the viewers in, so they are engaged with the work, and the relationship between them and the artwork is not passive. "Landscapes, by their very nature, can comfortably recede into scenery," explains Brown. "I try to not let this happen too much, for the same reason as omitting all people and structures from the images, I'd like the landscape itself to be the whole focus and not act as a backdrop." 


To return to Greer's argument, she proposes that the absence of women landscape artists "has to do with authority, with the act of throwing a frame around a feature of the seen world and detaching it." But detaching it is precisely what Brown strives to do, and it is this very act which makes her work so successful.



Hannah Brown: The Unseen Landscape

Until 17 November 2012






Anna McNay

twitter: @annamcnay




© and courtesy the artist (Hannah Brown)


Claude 6A


Screenprint on somerset velvet

43.5 x 43.5cm

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