The Ghost of Life Echoed in Books

The Ghost of Life Echoed in Books

  • <p>Gordon H. Brown,<em> The Ghost of Life Echoed in Books</em>, 1954, Linocut, 130 x 175mm, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, gift of the artist 2015.</p>

Story by Clive Pearson

Museums and Heritage Studies, 2021

The Linocut

The linocut itself shows an oddly contorted figure looks down at what could be a turnip held in one hand. The other is raised up above him in likeness to Greco-Roman artwork. In the top left corner, a pair of abstracted eyes look down on the figure. The title of this linocut, The Ghost of Life Echoed in Books, makes a strong literary connection, encouraging the viewer to. The artist, Gordon H. Brown, lived a life dedicated to books. Even the size of the artwork, only a few millimetres out on each side of being the same dimensions as a standard A format book page - 130x170mm compared to 110x178mm. Brown’s career started off in artistry, before he moved towards becoming a librarian, art curator and lecturer - with this in mind, could it be intentional that the linocut reflects the size of a book page? Could the background, black with an offset cross section in white, represent the different directions that not only life may take, but how a story or novel may also? Are the ‘eyes’ a fantastic cross-representation of the third-person omniscient writing style?

The ‘Ghost’

The title of the work is derived from the poetry of American poet William Carlos Williams. Both a physician and a poet in the early twentieth century, he wrote a lot of his work in the Modernist and Imaginist style– much like the art style of Gordon H. Brown. A poem by Williams, taken from his work Patterson: Book III, The Library, is a great example of the inspiration taken by Brown to produce his art. For there is a wind or ghost of a wind in all books echoing the life there, a high wind that fills the tubes of the ear until we think we hear a wind - Williams refers to how books can create a wind that can carry the mind away, shown in Brown’s linocut with the fluttering banners, the figure representing the ghost.

A Life Echoed in Books

Gordon H. Brown was born in 1931 in Wellington, New Zealand. Brown was trained in realist art, which was commonly taught in New Zealand schools in the late 40s and 50s. There have been multiple exhibitions focused around his art, namely by Elizabeth Eastmond in her exhibition Tivoli Art/Books/Film on Waiheke Island, and with Janet Bayly at Mahara Gallery before it was brought to Te Pataka Toi.

Chiefly known as an art historian, Brown’s career included being a librarian, curator, director and a writer. He was the biographer for Colin McCahon, one of New Zealand’s most prominent artists. Like Brown, McCahon’s art was similarly influenced by literature, his works being abstract and often heavily featuring text. Constant throughout Brown’s career was his passion for and deep attachment to the intimacy and imaginative possibilities of the book.

Gordon H. Brown has a long attachment to Victoria University of Wellington, and has gifted paintings, journals, books and works on paper from his own personal collection. Victoria’s annual art heritage lecture is named the Gordon H. Brown Lecture Series in his honour.