Glenn Brown, Dark Angel? // Patrick

Glenn Brown’s painting Dark Angel (for Ian Curtis)  after Chris Foss, may seem to sit oddly in an exhibition inspired by bands Joy Division and New Order, but Brown, a celebrated British artist, dedicated a series of paintings to Ian Curtis in recognition of the influence the music had had on him. Originally though, he didn’t do the same for the artists whose work inspired him.

 Glenn Brown  Dark Angel (for Ian Curtis) after Chris Foss  2002 ©Glenn Brown Artworks

Glenn Brown Dark Angel (for Ian Curtis) after Chris Foss 2002
©Glenn Brown Artworks

Glenn Brown’s work is controversial in that he “borrows” from the work of other artists, living and dead. In 2000, his Turner Prize shortlisted painting  Love of Shepherds hit the headlines when he was accused of plagiarism, his work being an almost identical copy of an old science fiction book cover by Anthony Roberts. Roberts sued Brown for copyright infringement. The claim was eventually settled out of court and the words After Antony Robert added to the title.

Left Image: Anthony Roberts Double Star 1973 // © Lo9 Right Image: Glenn Brown The Love of Shepherds (After 'Double Star' by Tony Roberts 2000  © Glenn Brown Artworks  

At the time, Brown also used the work of Chris Foss, another prominent science fiction book cover artist, whose work in the 1970s and 80s, epitomised science fiction novels in the same way that Roger Dean became associated with the prog rock album covers of the same period. Chris Foss was also the illustrator for the original edition of the Joy of Sex  and his concept designs recently graced the Hollywood blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Brown’s Dark Angel is only one of a number of variations on Foss’ Floating Cities. 

 Left image: Chris Foss  Floating Cities  // ©ChrisFossArt Right image: Glenn Brown  Bocklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities' by Chris Foss)  1998    // © Glenn Brown Artworks

Left image: Chris Foss Floating Cities // ©ChrisFossArt
Right image: Glenn Brown Bocklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities' by Chris Foss) 1998  // © Glenn Brown Artworks

Foss actually turned up to Brown’s 2004 Serpentine exhibition to confront the artist in person. The gallery director only calmed him down by agreeing that Brown would cite Foss as a source in future.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that, while Foss was paid hundreds of pounds for his original work, in 2014 Brown’s 1994 "Ornamental despair (painting for Ian Curtis)" another copy of Foss’s work, sold at auction for £3.5 million.

The backlash on the internet was heated and science fiction author Scott Edelman vehemently fought Foss’ corner against the perceived plagiarism.

Appropriation of popular culture by the art world  is not a new thing as the work of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book panels (who has heard of the original artists, Jerry Grandenetti, Russ Heath or Irv Novik?), Richard Prince’s Instagram art, and Jeff Koons’ kitsch “Banality” ceramics will testify. Koons was sued for copyright infringement several times.

In his article, How Plagiarised Art Sells for millions, Glendon Mellow explains that the art world is one of art movements, each one reacting and responding to the work of the ones that came before, and that appropriation was one Post-Modernist response to the previous artistic ‘purity’ of Modernism.

Above, the works of Foss and Brown are shown to be similar in size. Foss’s work, however, was little more than A3 size, and intended for reproduction at an even smaller size. Brown’s work is painted on a huge scale, 7ft by 11ft, designed to dominate the viewer’s field of vision. It also needed extra details not present in Foss’s much smaller original. In his 2009 exhibition, the Tate Liverpool held that this was why Glenn Brown’s work was not merely copying, but transformative in that he had created completely different pieces.

“By enlarging them so dramatically, Brown merges the conventions of science fiction illustration with the spectacle of large-scale history or landscape painting by artists such as… J.M.W. Turner.”

“…Size, colour, surface texture and brushwork are elements by which original works are transformed from the familiar into the alien…”

In defence of Glenn Brown also makes a compelling argument for the transformative nature of Brown’s later work as creating something completely different in intent from their original inspiration. However, Sotheby’s sales pitch for another of Brown’s Foss-inspired works overeggs the pudding somewhat; Brown’s work, held up by some as plagiarism, is seen by others as part of an artistic tradition of appropriation and reinterpretation to create something substantially different from the original source. Has the crediting of Foss, as the original artist, gone some way to legitimising his ‘borrowing’ so heavily from him in his early career?

Glenn Brown ©Sotheby's

Brown’s work, held up by some as plagiarism, is seen by others as part of an artistic tradition of appropriation and reinterpretation to create something substantially different from the original source. Has the crediting of Foss, as the original artist, gone some way to legitimising his ‘borrowing’ so heavily from him in his early career?

One thing is undeniable, the visual impact of Brown’s work can’t really be appreciated on the screen. It should be seen in person to understand the true scale of the piece. It’s the difference between listening to the download of a band, and seeing them live - which brings us back to Joy Division and New Order.

So, Glenn Brown’s Dark Angel; Post-Modernist masterpiece or plagiarism, what do you think?