In and around 1770, French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) created a series of approximately 15 “portraits de fantasie” by reinventing the compositions of fellow artists. It is no small irony that Brown continues (and amplifies) this “fundamentally appropriative” practice centuries later and samples a number of Fragonard portraits in the process. Such is the case in The Shallow End, where Brown transforms the c.1771 portrait of an anonymous elder into a grotesque, anachronistic visage in an ostensible state of decomposition. With eyes removed, nose melting, and his mouth lost in a swirling, almost sentient beard this figure hovers on the brink of becoming complete abstraction. The addition of a green stripe on the far right side of this oval-shaped canvas adds further to this suggestion, flattening the canvas and creating an element that is incongruous, disorienting and, in Brown’s words, “annoying.” If this figure is on the brink of expiry, he does not go quietly into that good night – railing against the proverbial “shallow end” (or quiet death) that the title suggests.
– Steven Matijcio, Curator, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, USA