Olivia Brown – Reggie’s Roller Palace

Page 1

ISBN: 978-1-905865-38-3

contents introduction Philip Hughes


dogged determination Jane Audas


installations Elvis’ Salon 19 Reggie’s Roller Palace 27 biography






Olivia Brown’s installation is an immersive experience; precisely planned and executed, with an awesome attention to detail. She has created a total environment that asks us to look again at the popular culture that wraps around us, and at how we relate to our four-legged companions. Is Reggie’s Roller Palace the direct descendant of the 20s and 30s dance marathons, or the spate of 1970s US roller disco films? Perhaps. There are clear references here to the secret pleasures we take in competitors’ fortunes and misfortunes as in The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, and Crufts Dog Show, and the styling of her installation certainly chimes with the recent surge of interest in vintage artefacts, lifestyle and memorabilia. Olivia has produced an environment populated with unique personalities, strong or hapless individuals caught up in a situation where her visual gags stop short of slapstick, moderated by the tensions and undercurrents of the competition format. Olivia visualises the total installation, makes each individual piece as part of the total work with a formidable attention to detail, and directs the operations with her steadfast collaborator (and since May 2011, her husband) Andrew Lawes, who composes the music, and provides the voices. Our thanks to Jane Audas for her accompanying essay, to Pete Goodridge and the ArtWorks team for realisation and logistics, and to Jo Scott for ensuring the media ‘got’ the essence of Olivia’s vision. This is an utterly unique installation that inspires and lifts the spirits. At a time when much feels bleak, Olivia Brown reminds us that there is reason to smile, even to laugh out loud – inviting us to see the familiar afresh, and in doing so open up a host of creative possibilities. Philip Hughes Director, Ruthin Craft Centre


Manchester Terrier

dogged determination

When interviewing people, sometimes a story comes out loud and clear and sometimes you have to dig a little. Olivia Brown’s story – like her work – comes over loud and clear. It is a story enlivened with rambunctious animals, old bits of paper, a love of memories and narrative, nostalgia and eclectic taste. But it is also a story of continuous dialogue with her subject, of vision and of (dogged) determination. In the face of a craft community unforgiving of work that leans toward the popular and the theatrical, Brown has triumphed. Reggie’s Roller Palace is the third of her installations and the biggest yet. Her penchant for spectacle was present in her university work. Her degree show at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in 1999 later become Elvis’ Salon, displayed in Debenham’s shop window in central Manchester. It was spotted by the City Gallery, Leicester who promptly commissioned a proper version for themselves in 2001. Operation Jumpsuit was commissioned by Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima) in 2004. It unleashed 400 protesting rats on an unsuspecting public. Reggie’s Roller Palace first pulled up at Stockport Art Gallery in May 2010. But it is new and improved at Ruthin, having had a shake-off: new dogs, new paint, new surroundings. Ready and willing to perform and entertain. The taste for displays, installations, groupings of things reaches even further back in to Brown’s life. Much of her inspiration comes from collections of objects. Piled high, as they might once have been in shop windows. A collection of (framed!) crisp packets covers a wall at her home. And her second studio in Hebden Bridge is full of flotsam from her late grandmother’s house.

Papillon and Reggie’s Roller Palace souvenirs


‘Nana’ comes up a lot in conversation. She sounds like a grand old lady. Her house in Heywood held lots of nice childhood memories for Brown. Particularly playing shop and ‘stealing’ objects from around the house to sell back to Nana. And sold, of course, in real ‘proper’ old paper bags. Their close relationship continued when Brown went off to MMU. She regularly tootled off to visit Nana in her small van, returning each week with a Morrison’s carrier bag containing a tin of stewed steak, a tin of grapefruit, tinned broad beans and a packet of ready salted crisps. The same selection each week. This resulted in tins of stewed steak piling up in her room. Thus were her early installations formed. At the Crewe and Alsager arm of MMU, Brown found herself renting a room on a farm in sunny Sandbach. Which brought her in to close company with animals various and numerous. An unsentimental working farm, it seems an odd place for students to have rented rooms. But Brown loved it – the isolation and the animals. She developed a kinship with a somewhat neglected, nervous Doberman who became the recipient of the many tins of stewed steak from Nana. They gave her (the dog) terrible wind. Despite that, Brown developed a lifelong empathy for neglected, outsider animals. Later would come a rat and more loopy dogs.


Chinese Crested and Boston Terrier

You’d expect it to be a truism, Brown having pets. As all her work is about animals. And it always was. Her obsession with animals as subject matter got her into trouble at university. They tried to insist Brown resist tying down her subject matter before she’d tried other directions. Brown found it frustrating. She wanted to try new materials, all right. But she knew she wanted to use animals as her subject matter. Animal art is a peculiar thing. It runs the gamut from mawkish, cutesy greetings cards to realistic, commissioned sculptures of pets to classical oil paintings and outsized art sculptures. Brown’s work touches on all of these areas. But she can’t (and would rather not) settle on just one medium. She paints, makes ceramic sculptures, does textiles, installations, new media and sound, graphics and products to sell. She is a multi-tasking, multi-media artist. But that can present a difficult proposition for press and galleries. They like to be able to put artists on one particular shelf and leave them there. Makers get known for one thing, make a commercial success of it, and are then expected to keep doing the same thing, ad infinitum. But the creative muse needs constant stimulation and challenge in order to keep producing.

Manchester Terrier and Westie


Brown’s work is more developed, more commercial, than many of her contemporaries in the craft world. Something else that can lead to mixed opinions. When she left university it was with a plan to set up business. Not just to get a studio and contemplate her navel. But to make things, to sell them, to earn a living. She moved in to a studio immediately on graduation, got her head down and her website up. Initially making textiles and paintings, a fortuitous move to a studio at Dean Clough in Halifax meant Brown could re-connect with ceramics and she started making her dogs. Brown has two studios, one in Dean Clough and one in Hebden Bridge, where she lives. They have very different uses. The darker room at Dean Clough (a former mill) is full of things for making her ceramics. The light-filled Hebden Bridge studio houses memories saved from her Nana’s house (who died in 2005) and things Brown has added to the piles over the years. Brown collects things. Lots of things. Invoices (old ones, not her own), bills, the aforementioned crisp packets, children’s books, paper bags. She has had the collecting bug since she was a child and now feeds it with regular trips to flea markets and antique fairs. After an early start collecting 1970s ephemera – items that she might have seen in Nana’s house – Brown has, erm, progressed


Workspace at Hebden Bridge

to collecting almost anything. And she has carried her love of the underdog through in to her collecting, too. Equally thrilled with shredded crisp packets dug up on allotments, Munch Bunch pots (an infamous 1980s yoghurt dessert) that still have Grandfather’s dried paint in them and broken examples of taxidermy. The sillier and sadder, the better. She likes packaging and ephemera in particular, as they have been ‘thrown away.’ Brown could argue this is all research for her work. And indeed the attention to detail in her installations could not have been done without a vast and minute knowledge of graphics, ephemera and, well, stuff, from different eras from which to draw upon. But she values the stories around her collections almost more than she values the things themselves. In the same way, her installations are more than the sum of their parts. Process is the point, really, with works like Reggie’s Roller Palace. Brown handcrafts, individually, the participants at the roller derby. Meticulous attention to detail in all the component parts, whilst it might drive her crazy with frustration, is very important to her. She admits to over-working things but can’t help herself. For Ruthin, Brown has re-worked adverts, film and contextual material. And built more dogs.

Olivia working in her Dean Clough studio


Brown is helped in her endeavours by her husband Drew, an old acquaintance she reconnected with in 2008. Her ‘dog technician’, he is involved in matters musical and logistical. And contributes emotional support that can’t really be quantified. Recently married, the pair curated their wedding to within an inch of its life. From name cards to vintage ice cream machines to printed serviettes to origami cake boxes. A labour of love in both senses of the word. Brown’s other life companions are her pets. If the Doberman in Alsager sounded needy, he was as nothing to pets that came along later. Glen the rat, circa 2003 – 2004, was chosen for his size and ability to be hidden from the landlord in a flat that allowed no pets. Obviously the inspiration for Operation Jumpsuit (her installation of 2004) Glen would meet Brown at the top of the stairs when she returned home each day. And (if Brown can be believed) many an evening found them eating tea and watching TV together on the sofa. Glen even went on holiday with her once. Only to be turned back at the door despite the hotel’s declared pet friendly status. Glen was a rat too far. Then there was the return of the dog. In her art and life. Mr Wolf, an erstwhile racing – but now abandoned – Greyhound, came to wreak havoc on Brown’s existence in 2005. He had the anti-social ability to walk and pee at the same time. And once practised it – to Brown’s mortification, in Rick Stein’s restaurant, all over the other diners. He also caused a riff between Brown and her sister that involved flying stilettos and a year of radio silence. Mr Wolf was followed up by Edith in 2008. Another troubled rescue Greyhound. She can be seen starring in Reggie’s Roller Palace and provided inspiration (and her legs) to some of the advertisements. It feels a little (OK, a lot) like life and craft have become one for Brown. If they were ever separated. Whether Brown walks her craft and her dogs, or they walk her, is hard to say. Either way, she is having a frisky time of it. And making us smile as we watch her go by.

Jane Audas


Overleaf Operation Jumpsuit, the Rat protest, 2004

Wolfie and Glen were both Olivia’s pets

Elvis’ Salon


Elvis the Whippet’s Salon, City Gallery, Leicester 2001



Tony’s Toxigel and Hairpieces advertisements. Tony is a stuffed otter Olivia found in a junk market



L’eau d’Edith and Sylvia’s Slip-ons advertisements. Olivia’s greyhound kindly offered her services for these


Reggie’s Roller Palace

Kenny and the Keneavles

Kenny and Reginauld

A pie vendor and souvenir seller


Education 1999 First Class Honours Degree, Contemporary Craft, Manchester Metropolitan University Selected Exhibitions 2011 Reggie’s Roller Palace, Ruthin Craft Centre, Ruthin, North Wales 2010 Solo painting show, Dean Clough Galleries, Halifax 2010 Solo show, Anstey Galleries, Harrogate 2010 Reggie’s Roller Palace, Stockport Art Gallery 2007 The dogs home, Millennium Galleries, Sheffield 2007 Window Installation, Roger Billcliffe Gallery, Glasgow 2006 Stephanie Hoppen Gallery, London 2004 Operation Jumpsuit, Middlesborough Town Centre 2004–09 Bonemouth Pier (toured around seaside resorts) 2003–04 Medici Galleries, London 2002 Elvis’ Salon, Babylon Gallery, Ely, Cambridgeshire (touring) 2002 Libre les Grenouilles, Crafts Council Gallery Shop, London 2002 Elvis’ Salon, Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford 2002 Elvis’ Salon, Sanderson George and Peach Gallery, Holmfirth 2001 Chelsea Crafts Fair 2001 The City Gallery, Leicester 2000 Elvis’ Salon, Debenhams window display, Manchester Selected Publications Craft & Design Magazine, July/August. 2010 The Craftsman, Feb. 2007 You Magazine, Jan. 2005 Homes and Interiors Scotland, March. 2004 BBC Good homes, Nov. 2002 Elle magazine, April. 2002 Crafts Council calendar, March. 2002 Living etc magazine, March. 2002 AN magazine, March. 2001 The independent, Feb. 2001

Chinese Crested



Olivia would like to thank Ruthin Craft Centre and all the wonderful team there for all the support, for believing in Reggie and being brave enough to take the show on in particular Philip, Pete, Jo, Lisa at Lawn and Jane for the text. I am thrilled beyond words with it all! My mum and dad – Pat and Les Brown for help in the usual ‘last minute frenzies’ which over the years have become such an essential part of ‘the process’. To Andrew Lawes my dear long suffering other half for all the music and voices which are such an integral element of the show and all the extra stuff that doesnt always get recognised. Last but not least my gratitude must go out to Edith the greyhound for keenly offering her modelling services for the advertisements and for being a very special hound. RCC would like to thank: Olivia Brown, Andrew Lawes, Jane Audas, Jo Scott, Pete Goodridge, Curtis Beeby, Dean Button, Nia Roberts, Gregory Parsons, Dewi Tannatt Lloyd, Lisa Rostron, Stephen Heaton. RCC exhibition and education staff: Philip Hughes, Jane Gerrard, Elen Bonner Publication Edited by: Philip Hughes Design: Lisa Rostron, Lawn Creative Photography: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd (cover, p.1, 4, 6–8, 10–11, 14, 28–29, 41, 42, 44). All other images courtesy of Olivia Brown Translation: Nia Roberts Installation Logistics and set-build: Pete Goodridge and ArtWorks Music and voices: Andrew Lawes Ruthin Craft Centre, The Centre for the Applied Arts Park Road, Ruthin, Denbighshire LL15 1BB Tel: +44 (0)1824 704774 www.ruthincraftcentre.org.uk Text © The Authors 2011. ISBN: 978-1-905865-38-3 Published by Ruthin Craft Centre. A Welsh Language version is available. Ruthin Craft Centre is part of Denbighshire County Council and is revenue funded by the Arts Council of Wales. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form without written permission from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-905865-38-3