Living in Berlin from 1987 to 1988 as a visiting artist, Christopher Le Brun came in contact with several of the Neue Wilden painters1 and later met Anselm Kiefer. Like Kiefer, Le Brun’s use of mythological subjects and expressive painting came at a time of renewed interest in expressive figuration in Europe. Drawing inspiration from European myths and folk tales, Le Brun likens himself to a visionary painter after Joseph Turner or William Blake incorporating imagery and symbolism from literary and poetic sources such as Keats, Blake, Woolf, Joyce and the French symbolist poets. The poetry of Ezra Pound, in particular his ability to place ‘an exquisite image in a sea of language’,2 also made an impact on the young Le Brun.
Le Brun considers that he ‘arrives’ at an image without working from nature or other sources, but rather develops the painting from the scale and shape of the canvas. He works the colour of the palette to establish some kind of recognition, which he moves toward as the image emerges, usually in conflict with a more formal analytical process. Le Brun is not offering the viewer a pastiche of historical imagery but rather a re-definition that conjures up imagery filed away in his imagination of events and presences, motifs and objects that are re-imaged as an echo of something experienced or known but remaining in shadow or half-light.3
Several motifs appear repeatedly in Le Brun’s paintings: the winged horse, trees, wheels and the wreath, as seen in ‘Untitled (wreath II)’. The wreath, or garland, represents a duality of meanings: in life, superiority or sanctity and in death, resurrection or immortality.4 In ‘Untitled (wreath II)’, the laurel wreath is open-ended, signifying victory and the god Apollo, rather than a fully circular wreath of death, eternity and remembrance. The paint, which Le Brun attempts to keep fluid until the conclusion, is violently imposed on the canvas, shifting and squirming as if ready to evolve into another image. This sense of an imminent metamorphosis is reinforced by the intensity and viscosity of the paintwork and the scumbling mirage-like veil through which we eagerly peer, half squinting in order to see beyond the surface. From the light source, which Le Brun considers is inside the painting at the back of the canvas, a horse and chariot ride treacherously toward us through the victorious laurel wreath. The imagery, like the horse and chariot, remains in flux, constantly shifting between victory and death, animal and fire, abstraction and figuration.
1. The term is used in Germany for neo-expressionism
2. Quoted in Bryan Robertson, introduction to ‘Christopher Le Brun: paintings 1991–1994’, Marlborough Fine Art, London 1994
3. Robertson 1994
4. Jack Tresiddor, ‘The Hutchinson dictionary of symbols’, Helicon Publishing, Oxford 1997
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
oil on canvas
254.0 x 290.0 x 3.3 cm stretcher
Signature & date
Signed and dated u.l. verso, black fibre-tipped pen "Christopher/ Le Brun/ 1984".
Mervyn Horton Bequest Fund 1986
Not on display
© Christopher Le Brun
Shown in 4 exhibitions
The British show:
- Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth 19 Feb 1985–24 Mar 1985
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 23 Apr 1985–09 Jun 1985
- Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane 05 Jul 1985–11 Aug 1985
- Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Melbourne 26 Sep 1985–05 Nov 1985
- National Art Gallery, Wellington, Wellington 05 Dec 1985–26 Jan 1986
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 1986–23 Nov 1986
Acquisitions from the Komon, Salkauskas and Horton Funds, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 May 1987–31 May 1987
Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994
Referenced in 9 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986, (illus.). cat.no. 125
Anthony Bond, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Contemporary', pg. 94-108, Sydney, 1988, 100, 101 (colour illus.).
Anthony Bond and Victoria Lynn, AGNSW Collections, 'Contemporary Practice - Here, There, Everywhere ...', pg. 229-285, Sydney, 1994, 248, 249 (colour illus.).
Donna Brett, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Expression and the figure', pg.108-153, Sydney, 2006, 140, 141 (colour illus.).
Lynne Cooke, The British show, 'Christopher LeBrun', pg.95-99, Sydney, 1985, 95 (colour illus.). Lent by Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London
Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales catalogue of British paintings, Sydney, 1987, 108 (illus.).
Anne Kirker and Peter Tomory, British painting 1800–1990 in Australian and New Zealand public collections, Sydney, 1997, 39 (colour illus.), 121. cat.no. 1297
Michael Wardell, Look, 'Mervyn Horton's bequest', pg. 11-12, Sydney, Jun 2004, 11.