Siamese Twin (1990)
Oil on Canvas
172.0 x 172.0 x 10.0
University Club of Chicago
Born and reared in Alabama, Roger Brown (1941–1997) moved to Chicago in 1962 to pursue his interests in art. Brown attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, studying painting, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1968 and his Master of Fine Arts in 1970. Artworks by Roger Brown and a number of fellow students were recognized and promoted by curator Don Baum, who organized a series of exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
In addition to other artists, these individuals became known as the “Chicago Imagists,” a loosely affiliated group who used unconventional source materials, such as comic books, self-taught artists, and pop-culture, to create highly personal and vibrant artwork. Brown was a leader of the Imagist group and his paintings are comprised of bold color, iconic silhouettes, clean and stylized shapes and lines, and at times, confusing or unrealistic perspectives.
Brown experienced substantial artistic recognition throughout the 1970s, and in 1980 he had his first retrospective at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. His early work explored ideas of spectacle, dichotomies such as boredom and shock, mass media, and the American landscape. In the 80s and 90s, Brown began using the formal qualities of “side-show” circus banners to boldly address political and social topics.
Intent on creating highly readable images for a general audience, during his career, Brown illustrated two covers for Time magazine and designed five public murals for architectural settings in Chicago and Manhattan. Facing the long-term effects of his HIV positive health status, in 1995, Brown began the process of transferring his three homes and art collections to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Roger Brown Study Collection, Brown’s 1926 North Halsted home in Chicago, was established as an artist’s study collection and archive in 1997. Brown died on November 22, 1997.
Siamese Twin (1990) contains many of Brown’s iconic artistic themes. In the early 1970s, Brown became well known for painting American landscapes and sweeping city scenes.
Siamese Twin was painted in the latter part of Brown’s career and displays both an urban metropolitan in the foreground and mountain landscape in the background. Brown’s use of bold highlights and rich color creates a sweeping mountain terrain and cloud-filled, ominous skyline that contrasts with the urban scene in the foreground.
Brown positions the viewer to have a distant, birds-eye view of the surreal, high-rise architecture and urban scene. The central high-rise building is the main subject of the painting and towers high above the street scene and surrounding one-story architecture.
In the middle of the canvas, the high-rise splits into two tilting towers, each with two smaller “appendage-like” additions protruding from the two sides. Brown was inspired by Surrealism and the fantastic, but emphasized throughout his career that his paintings were not Surrealist paintings.
This playful depiction of a Siamese twin high-rise demonstrates that Surrealist influence, but not imitation, found in Brown’s career. Throughout his career, Brown employed the themes of voyeurism and spectacle when depicting urban landscapes by backlighting interior spaces, depicting silhouetted figures, and allowing the viewer to peer into open windows and doorways.
The glowing windows and silhouetted figures in the city offer the viewer an intimate glimpse inside the urban private spaces. Each figure is animated in their individual space, but the viewer is left with little knowledge of what their gestures and emotions reference, creating an opportunity for contemplating imagined dialogue, scenarios, and narratives.
Many of his figures are depicted using the silhouettes of his mother and father from the 1940s, a technique that he used throughout his career. Siamese Twin captures the darker humor and mature style of Roger Brown: A city scene layered in front of an ominous mountain terrain is transformed into an animated, illogical structure filled with glowing windows and silhouetted figures.