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Emily Brown: The Evolving Landscape

June 4 - September 18, 2005


(above: Emily Brown, Hill, Chester Springs, 1979, oil on linen, 21 x 34 inches, Collection of Samuel G. Hopkins and Eileen M. O'Brien.)


Some landscape painters create romanticized visions of nature, or perhaps simply record the passing of the seasons and the fleeting effects of light and shadow. Emily Brown's landscapes reflect her personal journey as a woman and an artist. Brown first became known for her traditional views of the natural world done in the Philadelphia area and during her summers in Maine. But in the last ten years her work has undergone dramatic changes, as her attention shifted from the green hills of Maine to such mundane subjects as the compost pile in her back yard. Lately she has been making large-scale, ethereal drawings of trees and water. This evolution -- from a conventional landscape style, to earthy "still lifes," to meditative studies of natural forms and rhythms -- grew out of her sense of creative exploration and restlessness, but even more from her own experience of dealing with such universal issues as aging, grief, and freedom. As she has evolved, her work has evolved.
Brian H. Peterson, Senior Curator

As part of its ongoing series highlighting contemporary landscape painters, the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is presenting Emily Brown: The Evolving Landscape. On view from June 4 through September 18 in the Fred Beans Gallery, the exhibition explores three decades of Brown's work in landscape, as her focus has shifted from early, traditional studies to the looser, more abstract paintings of recent years. The exhibition includes more than 50 works from the 1970s to 2004, and includes paintings, prints, and drawings that represent all the major phases of Brown's career. (right: Emily Brown, At the River's Edge, 1998, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches, The Art by Women Collection of Linda Lee Alter.)

One of the Philadelphia area's most distinguished painters, Emily Brown first became known for her traditional landscapes. Many of these focused on her observations of the natural world around her in the Philadelphia region, or the green, hilly country of Waldo County, Maine, where she has spent most of her summers since 1966. "The light is clear and brilliant. The skies are open. There are long views from many hills," Brown says of the Maine landscapes. "The balances between cultivated and wild land particularly interested me," she says.

In the last ten years her work has undergone a dramatic evolution, as her attention shifted to earthy "still lifes" incorporating to such mundane subjects as the compost pile in her back yard -which caught her eye one afternoon while she was painting the plants and flowers nearby. "It struck me as uniquely sensuous and varied-a profoundly physical, immediate situation," Brown says of the compost pile. This seemingly ordinary feature of her domestic landscape where, as she says, "change is constant," seemed to her to reflect the ephemeral nature of own our lives.

Brown's most recent work has a dramatically different look, in part a result of her move to an indoor studio, where she says, "season and weather would no longer control my working habits." The studio environment opened up choices as to subject, scale and working methods. "I shifted to black-and-white to experiment, where tone and texture are potent elements," Brown says. She became particularly attracted to ink drawings, whose execution she describes as "fast and chancy there is no turning back." Her large-scale, ethereal drawings of trees and water focus less on the specific, physical details of the land, but rather become a meditative study of its natural forms and rhythms.

"Rather than simply recording the world around her, Brown's landscapes reflect her personal journey as a woman and an artist," Senior Curator Brian H. Peterson says. "This evolution grew out of her sense of creative exploration and restlessness, but even more from her own experience of dealing with such universal issues as aging, grief, and freedom."

Emily Brown has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards including the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and an Award for Excellence from the Leeway Foundation. She teaches painting and drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts, and has also taught at Philadelphia University and the Moore College of Art. Her work is in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

On Thursday, June 7, at 1 pm Brown will present a lecture in the Museum's Ann and Herman Silverman Pavilion.

Emily Brown: The Evolving Landscape is the third in the Museum's ongoing series of contemporary landscape exhibitions. The next installment in the series, scheduled for summer 2006, will feature the large-scale volcano paintings of the Philadelphia/Bucks County painter Diane Burko, in a show entitled Diane Burko: Fire and Ice. (left: Emily Brown, Compost with egg & potato, 1998, oil on cotton, 9 x 12 inches, Collection of the artist)


Also on exhibit

This summer will be the season for "Lights, camera, action!" at the James A. Michener Art Museum in New Hope, as the Museum presents Selling Dreams: Film Posters 1945-2005, an exhibition of graphic art taken from the world of motion pictures over the last half century. Sponsored by Princeton Packet Publications with additional support from a legislative initiative grant awarded by State Representative Bernie O'Neill, it will be on view from May 20 through September 4 in the Carol and Louis Della Penna Gallery. Drawn from the collection of Mark del Costello, the exhibition features poster art from fifteen countries spanning 60 years, including such film classics as West Side Story, South Pacific, Rebel Without a Cause, Dr. Strangelove, and Chinatown -- as well as recent favorites Silence of the Lambs and Reservoir Dog. (right:: Chinatown (US), 1974, 27 x 41 in., anonymous)

Since the premiere of the first motion picture in 1895, graphic posters have been used to attract public attention. For almost 100 years -- until the 1980s when television largely assumed this role -- film posters were the single most important tool for promoting and advertising motion pictures, and they impacted the public consciousness from Hollywood to Hong Kong. This blatantly commercial form of graphic art had an explicit goal of selling the very appeal of the movies: selling action; selling romance; selling glamour; selling dreams.

"The films represented in this exhibition are some of the most popular and important from their respective eras," del Costello says. The inclusion of non-U.S. posters was important, he says, "so that the exhibit could show American culture through the eyes and art of a wide variety of foreign artists." Many of the films highlighted in Selling Dreams involve artists with Bucks County connections such as Oscar Hammerstein II, Patricia Highsmith and James A. Michener

Del Costello has been a passionate collector of film posters -- as well as music and political posters -- for several decades. "In 1972 after college I was living in Rome, and I would see these incredible, huge posters all over the city," he says. After tracking down the source of these posters, del Costello began to purchase as many as would fit in his suitcase.

He would make return trips to Rome in subsequent years -- and sometimes had his Italian cousins send home footlockers full of posters to his home in New Jersey. "The Italian dealers called me Il pazzo Americano -- the crazy American," he says. By 1979 he had amassed one of the finest collections of film posters in the United States.

Del Costello's original film poster collection, consisting of 933 posters, is housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he worked as a senior cataloguer in the late 1970s, and designed the first computerized cataloguing system for film materials used by film archives worldwide. Del Costello also worked for legendary director Martin Scorsese in the early 1980s, first as a photographer and later as a full-time assistant, while Scorsese was in production on Raging Bull and the King of Comedy, among other projects.

An additional collection, consisting of 500 of del Costello's American posters -- which includes music, Broadway and political-themed posters -- is at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. (right: The Wild One (Argentina), 1954, 29 x 43 in., anonymous)

"The posters in Selling Dreams come from the U.S. as well as 22 other countries," del Costello says, adding that "the 'universality' of the posters represent an extraordinary variety of cultures, and it's fascinating to see how foreign artists perceive and depict American icons."

Among the programs and events scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition are a "Meet the Collector" presentation by Mark del Costello on Thursday, May 26, at 7 pm. Del Costello will also present a talk on the History of Film Advertising on Thursday, June 9 at 7 pm.

In addition, there will be a presentation and discussion on Thursday, June 16, at 7 pm by renowned composer, Joe Renzetti , who has arranged and composed the scores for more than 15 motion pictures, including his Oscar-winning score for the 1978 film "The Buddy Holly Story."

Film critic Bill Wine (KYW-News Radio, Fox Philadelphia WTXF-TV, The Village Voice, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Philadelphia Inquirer ) will discuss the role of the contemporary critic in "Everyone's a Critic," a free presentation on Thursday, June 23, at 7:30 pm. Wine's presentation is a program of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, supported in part by a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

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