John Brown

RSA William Littlejohn Award 2020


The Strange Wonder began with thoughts about the legacy of the 20th century. That beautiful and disastrous era where the optimism of human scientific discovery and progress was played out against the backdrop of war and natural disasters. As a structure to work with it allowed me the freedom to represent disparate sources which may allude to a particular time period or be from yesterday or the imagination. These individual parts could then build into a complex narrative that might go a small way towards a visual representation of a time.

Before making this work I was trawling through various archives of children’s educational books from the 1950’s and 60’s and finding publications that used watercolour painting to visualise a range of topics to educate and enlighten. There is a clear-cut bright light in many of these illustrations that reflects an optimism for the subject matter that can now, at times, seem misplaced. In the most compelling books (such as encyclopaedias) it was the discordant subject matter and odd juxtapositions that stood out. This breadth of source material has had a strong effect on both the process and format of the multiple I developed with this award.

In the studio whilst making this work I was placing the individual pieces on the floor to see from a distance. The overlapped layering became the way I wanted this work to be installed, no particular orientation, a build of up of a strange mixture of experience and history.