Estate of Roger Brown American, Alabama, 1941-1997


Roger Brown is renowned for using a pop aesthetic to investigate a range of sociopolitical issues. Late-capitalist critic, 20th century Shakespeare, Pictorial Prophet of the Prairie: Brown summarized, glamorized, and satirized the nightly preoccupations and daily desires that define what it means to be an American.


Brown’s work is of startling contemporary relevance, cleverly approaching many topics: the natural and built environment, disaster, religion, popular culture, the art world, art history, eroticism, and sociopolitical concerns, from modern warfare to mortality during the HIV/AIDS crisis. In a world ever more dominated and challenged by the American myths that Brown so dutifully and brilliantly addressed in his work, we are called now more than ever to look to the humor, beauty, and intelligence of this artist who worked beyond the boundaries of his own time.


More succinctly than any other artist of his generation, Brown captured both the tenderness and the hubris of his home nation, even as that same nation seemed unwilling to create a safe space for him to be truly free.


As a gay man born in the Deep South, Brown had a crystal clear understanding of otherism, and of the insidious reach of American puritanism and political hypocrisy. When he was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1988, he joined the tens of millions of other victims of humanity’s other ongoing pandemic who even now are often a target for scorn and shame.


Yet, while informed brilliantly by his personal history and identity, Brown’s oeuvre was anything but one sided. His work took on every topic of conceivable interest to the socially conscious public of his time. His imagist interests spanned from Broadway to the Midwestern cornfields; from ancient architecture to future wars; from the mean streets of Hollywood to the winding roads of remote villages.


Ironically, even Brown’s idiosyncratic artistic position set him up for criticism. Rooted in classical figuration and illustration, his paintings suggest a fairytale aesthetic—a clear visual outlier during a time when the art field was dominated by conceptualism, experientialism, and suspicion of the artist-made object.


Despite Brown’s outsider status, he grew to be regarded by many as a modern master before his death in 1997 from complications related to AIDS. He possessed the highest credentials, earning both his BFA and MFA from the renowned School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1960s, partly under the tutelage of Ray Yoshida, as one of a generation who would later become known as the Hairy Who, or the Chicago Imagists.


The Roger Brown Study Collection, maintained by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, makes Brown’s prolific art collection and archive available to the public. Brown’s paintings have recently been featured in group exhibitions at the Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy, and MoMA PS1, New York, USA, and his Virtual Still Life works were highlighted in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Arts & Design, New York. The artist’s work is included in notable private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, National Gallery of Art, and The National Portrait Gallery.