Arc One Gallery has, “The Approaching Storm” an exhibition of Lyndell Brown and Charles Green’s photography. “And” paintings, the “and” is written on the wall connecting the small side gallery. Brown and Green are best known for their paintings that are cut and paste works based on photographs. Exhibiting photographs could be like an actor appearing out of character and breaking the illusion but it is not like that with “The Approaching Storm”. The photographs are clearly photographs just as Brown and Green’s paintings are clearly paintings, even if they are sourced from photographic images.
I have admired the art of Lyndell Brown and Charles Green for many years. Their faux collage paintings juxtaposing diverse images seemed quintessentially post-modern. Brown and Green have been working together since 1989.
The photographs in“The Approaching Storm” were taken when Lyndell Brown and Charles Green traveled for six weeks through the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf as the Australian War Memorial’s official war artists. Attached to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), they visited various Australian bases. I’m uneasy about this kind of collaboration. How would the hand of the ADF influence their art?
Brown and Green don’t forget why the war is being fought, quoting from the artists’ statement describing the photographs as a “portrait of force, of the hard edge of globalization”. In their paintings Brown and Green are more direct. In both paintings they juxtaposing the newspaper photo of the innocent victim, Dr Mohamed Haneef, “facing uncertainty” with images of Bollywood and mountain passes. In one painting they juxtapose an old illustration of the tree of life that places humans at the top with actual Afghans.
There are enough mass media images of the war in Afghanistan but Brown and Green focus on other aspects, the landscape and the changing light. The hand of the ADF is evident on the bleak landscapes and military architecture. The rows of concrete blast walls are covered in painted insignia and other emblems. The best photograph captures the Australian troops own subversion of the meaning of the war: “ROAD TO NOWHERE” is stenciled on the door of an Australian army vehicle; it’s small flag at half-mast.
I have not seen a great deal of quality art about “the war on terror”; war as the subject of art has lost its ethics, its romance and its purpose. Brown and Green’s paintings and photographs do not glorify, vilify, sympathize or empathize but exist as artistic documents about the war.