Herb Brown

(b. 1923)

Herbert L. Brown (Reuben; March 11-31) studied with Max Beckmann, among others, in New York. His style is Expressionist, sometimes abstract, very New York aware. The standout of the show is a series which the artist says "revolves around the figure," which is like describing the wildly inventive and erotic carvings on the houses of Kathmandu as "architectural decorations". The sexuality is plain-painted, swift on the messings of offbeat pigment, and to describe them would imply a sociologizing or Laurentian point of view; an exuberance would be lost, a humorlessness gained. They describe prowess and pleasure, with the rapid organic change of a story going the rounds, or a physical act. A series about the city only sometimes solves the problem of connecting or not connecting a post-Guston Grid to a slickly overcast sky. Oil-on-paper drawings, some of dead puppets ("blood lends itself to my pigment") are also shown.

– James Schuyler, ARTnews, March 1960


Subway Posters Overpainted, 1961-66

“At the present time, when graffiti are scribbled on virtually every available public surface, the idea of scrawling a child's face over a poster or an ad page from a popular magazine might seem obvious. But that was not the case in the early Sixties when Herb Brown began the practice with a vengeance.

Legitimately and by stealth, he acquired stacks of advertising pages and subway posters and used them as the grounds for his paintings. He allowed bits of lettering and illustration to show through, as if the basic issue was the juxtaposition of his hot, personal, calligraphic smear on top and the cool, inert neatness of advertising art underneath… a group of erotic paintings so blatant and ferocious that they may give pause to D. H. Lawrence or, to that matter to Henry Miller, a direct source of Brown's inspiration.”

— Budd Hopkins, 1994

Inquiries welcome. Exhibition catalogue available. To find out more, visit the artist’s website.


Subway Posters Repainted, 1964-66

Herbert Brown's lines are meant not to amuse but to appall; dirty paintings for clean Americans. Commercial art is crucified, and then the whole is smeared with marks, and sealed—to affront. Time does not make the image bland, as familiarity does not make the crude less so. These are not so much hard works to like as hard works to observe. They work on all levels, and if all the viewer sees is dirt—this is part of the complex. If he sees an elegant construction—this is also part of the complex.

What is on the walls at the Janos Gat Gallery arose in a time that should have demanded more than Soup cans. NO!art presages the era of terror, a dirty war, gunmen in the streets, and political ideas as unpopular now as then. The soon-to-follow Pop-artists  displayed the idealized America of Cold-War omnipotence. Brown addresses another U.S., a dirty world, far darker than the neat cartoons that went Whamm-Blamm. This is a world where the Whamm is real, and sex and life is dangerous.

Those who would tolerate the pornographic when it is tastefully done are repelled by the nasty smears and marks. Those who feel that political art should make straight-laced, concrete statements only will be affronted by the knowing artistic care behind the presentation. No one is likely to be happy, and who cares? Hard art is often hard to look at, but in this case, surely worth the trouble. Hard art means not no art but intense, compulsive images—lasting longer than the divine Fifteen minutes.

— J. Bowyer Bell

Inquiries welcome. Exhibition catalogue available. To find out more, visit the artist’s website.