Birch Contemporary

Howard Lonn: Requiem for John Brown 1953-2020

requiem-for-john-brown-1953-2020

Works in the exhibition

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My 43 year friendship with Jack began in 1977 at OCAD, in our foundation year. It was in 1982, having recently returned from a year in Italy, when Jack and I began a lifetime of close friendship, deep conversations, studio visits and letter writing (when one or the other of us was out of the country). For nearly two years (1986-1988) we shared studio space (along with Jack's nephew Jeff Noonan) on Richmond St. W close to Spadina. That time was foundational for me, both as a painter and as a person. Jack six years my elder, possessed a far more defined identity as an artist. At that time, I was just beginning to stand on my own legs as a painter, while Jack was making pivotal moves towards the mature work he is known best for today. Our conversations evolved over the decades from the fervid, youthful staking out of aesthetic positions to the more painful, heartfelt commiserations of more recent years with a lot of discussion of social justice, music and with outrageous laughter in between. Jack died unexpectedly, very early in the morning of March 21, 2020. I was in my studio in the early afternoon of that day completing the priming and stretching of three large canvases when I received an email from a friend breaking that most unwelcome news. Once I was able to compose my thoughts and regain a little of my balance I was struck by the impulse to paint those three canvases as a personal memorial for Jack. I needed to do something; this was all I could do. Ideas for those three initial canvases began to spill over to smaller surfaces I had hanging in the studio. Gradually I came to understand that this project would not be a memorial triptych, but rather the small group of paintings in this exhibition. Early autumn this year, I saw, in addition to creating this work as a memorial, it also served me as a vessel to contain some portion of my surging grief. Painting had never been “a way of getting through” for me, however, I now know that it did; that it served as a way through the past twenty months. To my eyes these works will always reverberate with the silence and solitude of the pandemic lockdowns, the loss and grief shared amongst myself, and close mutual friends of Jack's, against the backdrop of a burning planet, democracies capsizing, and well, the rest of it. Howard Lonn December 2021