I don’t know art but I know what I like: launching into these intros with ‘I don’t know art but I know what I like.’
I also really like detailed and borderline photographic paintings, and Sydney artist Simon Brown paints exactly that. Simon’s paintings make you stop and say, ‘Why didn’t you just take a photo, man?’ But then you realize it looks much better than a photo because where photos are made up of tiny stipples, a painting is built with brushstrokes, all made by hand and all carrying intention and emotion, charging the work with, as the French say, a le certain something le something. I had a chat with Simon in the early stages of his new body of work.
How old are you, where are you from, what star sign, and how are you today?
I’m doing great, thank you! How are you doing?
I’m good, baby. Tell me about yourself.
I’m 29, touching on 30.. despite what the white hairs and beard would tell you! I’m your quintessential Libran: super indecisive. Gotta say, I’m not a huge believer in star signs but damn they are accurate (laughs). Oh god, ‘where I’m from’ is a bit of a journey… The beginning takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, the next chapter continues in Auckland, New Zealand, and finally lands up here in Sydney, Australia where all the real growing up has taken place.
You launched into a new series of paintings for an upcoming show, correct?
I certainly did. The show is more of a goal than a determined deadline with a date though. I want to complete a portion of the works for the ability to use them as samples to show galleries my work and hopefully get into a space for an exhibition. Nothing is set yet, but I know for sure that’s what I want to work towards. Worst case, I am more than happy to rent a space and put on a show myself.
Somehow I don’t think it’ll come to that. It’s incredible work, particularly the portrait of our old mate Jamie. How long is this taking you to do? It must be a tedious process. Talk us through it.
Thank you very much! That portrait has to go down as one of, if not, my absolute favourites ever. At a guess, it took roughly between 100 and 120 hours, I think? I normally keep a log of dates and times when completing work for assistance in the future to determine time frames for quotes if I was to receive one for a particular style, size, etc. In this case, I kept nothing—whoopsies (laughs)—I was just totally engrossed in the assignment. I would on most occasions call the process tedious, but with this work, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole journey and barely felt like it was a chore or took notice of the painstaking methods. I taught and pushed myself further and harder than I ever had to produce this piece. From start to finish, I loved every second of working on this portrait.
Tell me about that process, though. Must take some patience.
The process started and built up astonishingly quickly, to be honest. I wanted to portray a number of things in this work. Both Jamie and I share Chuck (Close) as an influence to some degree like his methods, the rest is a blur, a huge amount of patience, ‘trusting in the process’ and building layers upon layers,
Big greasy namedrop: I met Chuck briefly and he was mad grumpy—are you mad grumpy, and who are your guys, who are the artists you look up to?
(Laughs)I’m only grumpy without a morning coffee or when I feel I didn’t get as much done as I planned to. Chuck is one of a number of influences, I tend to take little bits and pieces from all kinds of artists, allowing myself to be influenced by many. Whether or not they paint in a different style or have walked a different path, I think there’s a lot to be learned and taken on from others. I admire and draw upon different people, not just artists—but mainly, almost entirely artists—it might be their style, their technique, their message or their delivery of a message, their journey to their successes or achievements. Jamie is one of those people, with a crazy work ethic, and he’s given me an abundance of time and guidance. Abdul Abdullah, whom I have painted before and would love to paint again someday. I’d throw Kim Leutwyler, Michael Zavros and Jonathan Dalton in there too. Oh, and of course ye old classics: Rembrandt, Sargent and Caravaggio.
Talk us through a typical day in the life of Simon Brown. Don’t leave out anything, toilet trips, the lot. Just kidding, but what’s your work day like?
A day in the life would normally consist of a religious routine of coffee within minutes of waking up—after very little sleep most likely—and then quickly scurrying off to the studio space to dive into a full day of painting. Most days, I barely have time to eat lunch, but I’m rarely hungry enough to put the brush down anwyway. Weighing up my choices, stopping to eat vs. getting more work done… I’m picking work almost every time. Then a quick walk in the fresh air with my little doggo always goes down a treat at some point in the day, too. Stepping away for a breather is super important, as much for me as it is for my little studio assistant. After this, it’s off to the other job! In between waking up and putting the brush down in the late afternoon to get ready for work, there are a bunch of toilet trips too.
Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
I do but I don’t at the same time. I always nit-pick my own works and pick up flaws or find things I could have done better or differently; I think that’s just the ‘own harshest critic’ coming out. By all means, I will always strive to do my absolute best work, constantly pushing my own limits to be better, but as some wise man once said, ‘don’t fear perfection, you will never get there’.
That’s wise as hell.
I know. I also feel like with art being so subjective, one person’s view of perfection might not be another’s, and maybe they’ll think a style of work is trash, so it’s really quite open.
Are you a procrastinating perfectionist?
I certainly can’t say I’ve never had a day where I just wasn’t feeling it and procrastinated the whole time. I suppose it really comes down to a number of things, like deadlines or how producing the work makes me feel, like, am I really into it or not? Is the end goal something that gives me satisfaction such as the purpose of the work? I’ve learned that if it’s just one of those days, I would rather walk away and ‘write the day off,’ so to speak, instead of forcing it, getting frustrated and making mistakes. I can honestly say though, that my procrastination involves a lot of trawling through Instagram, discovering other artists or checking up on the current ones I follow. Or just browsing sneakers (laughs).
How many pieces are you planning on showing?
I would love to show, at minimum, a series of 8 to 10 works. I have a lot of ideas flying around that I’m dying to get down onto canvas; a couple of conceptual compositions that might make for fun show pieces too.
Are you freaking out, or are you totally chill and happy with your progress?
I’m always freaking out, always feeling like more could be done even if it wasn’t feasibly possible at all. So far I’m really enjoying the process, these new works are really something quite different for me, and hopefully I can get people excited about it and get around what I’m producing.
What will you do the day after the opening?
I think there could be a common feeling amongst artists—although I won’t speak for them all, of course—that there’s a weird void you get left with once you’ve finished and begun showing your work to a wider audience. Almost like a bit of a deep depression: you’ve worked so hard to get to a point, to meet a deadline and there’s this huge build-up of energy and anxiety leading to a moment. Then, nothing. Done. So, most likely, I’ll be trying to relax, breathe and soak up the feedback and make the most of the moment that I will have—most likely—almost worked myself to death to create. Hopefully, it’s full of positivity and gives me the drive to do it all over again.