Let’s call it appropriating. British artist Glenn Brown has made a whole career out of ‘appropriating’ other people’s images and distorting them into twisted new visions. His work has always made him the focus of enraged debate, and back in 2000 he got sued by sci-fi artist Anthony Roberts for breach of copyright. He’s on safer ground these days, though: the dead can’t get litigious. Throughout this neatly curated quasi-museum-y show, Brown mines the works of Boucher, Tiepolo and Delacroix and re-renders them in twisting, liquid-y, swirling brushstrokes. The result is semi-familiar classical art spun through a horrifying kaleidoscope, a fever dream of psychedelic imagery.
It begins with three female heads of curving black-and-white lines, as if they’re made up of countless strands of hair. Next there’s an immense image of Mary and the baby Jesus, another of the swirling clouds of heaven: big monochromatic horror stories. Colour comes slamming into play in clownish, zombie-like paintings of a grinning man (based on a Rembrandt) and a pallid woman. Headless blue and green bodies haunt the following rooms. Throughout, skin is painted like a rippling sea of phlegm and bile in undulating currents of pigment.
A central gallery is filled with black-and-white images; all these faces from antiquity have been brought back to life, but like Frankenstein’s monster, they’re not quite right, they’re mutated and freakish. Brown zombifies the past.
Brown’s got his thing: take some old stuff, make it a bit weird and give it a silly title. I mean, I like it, and he’s clearly a very talented painter, but it just feels like the trick is wearing a bit thin. It helps that the show is made to feel like an old museum gallery: it elevates the work, but the whole thing feels like someone has imagined how the bad guy from the ‘Saw’ movies might curate an exhibition. Surreal, grotesque, but ultimately just a bit silly.