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Deborah Brown: Street Smarts

GAVLAK Palm Beach

December 22, 2023 – January 14, 2024

Installation view, Deborah Brown: Street Smarts, 2023  GAVLAK Palm Beach
Installation view, Deborah Brown: Street Smarts, 2023  GAVLAK Palm Beach
Installation view, Deborah Brown: Street Smarts, 2023  GAVLAK Palm Beach
Installation view, Deborah Brown: Street Smarts, 2023  GAVLAK Palm Beach
Deborah Brown, Dragon and Rabbits, 2023
Deborah Brown, Orchids for Sale, 2023
Deborah Brown, Takeaway Duck, 2023
Deborah Brown, Louis Vuitton, 2023
Deborah Brown, Name Brand, 2023
Deborah Brown  Chanel, Gucci, Fendi
Deborah Brown Fish Tale

Press Release

Deborah Brown: Street Smarts

GAVLAK Palm Beach is pleased to present "Street Smarts", Brooklyn-based artist Deborah Brown's second solo presentation with the gallery. The exhibition consists of new oil paintings depicting the street vendors and storefronts from the streets of Manhattan's Chinatown. The show will be on view from December 22, 2023 to January 14, 2024. There will be an artist reception and walkthrough on Friday, December 22 from 5 to 7pm.

In "Street Smarts", Deborah Brown presents paintings that capture the street vendors that sell fake versions of luxury designer goods that are an iconic fixture on the corners of Broadway and Canal Street in Chinatown. She started the process of working on these paintings in January of 2023 at the time of Chinese New Year by photographing the vendors and the local store fronts. As a painter of modern life, Brown has always been interested in documenting her surroundings, especially the streets of New York, as she famously did in her "Shadow Paintings" series during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. In this series, she painted the empty streets of her neighborhood in Brooklyn, each with her and her dog Trout's shadows jutting out in the foreground, to enhance the sense of loneliness.

In a stark contrast to this, the streets in her new paintings bustle with people and activity. Brown uses vibrant colors and rough brushstrokes to capture the fast-paced nature of New York City. She draws focus on immigrant communities that are an integral part of the city and contribute to micro and macro economies. She is particularly interested in the merchandise sold by African vendors, each equipped with their own swagger and attitude. This is captured beautifully in Star Baller and I Love NY, both of which show vendors posing on street corners in front of neatly arranged rows of designer bags. Brown is fascinated by this visual opulence and the way in which each vendor uniquely occupies their allotted space, enticing the passersby to stop and make a purchase.

The storefronts of the shops and restaurants in Chinatown also play a prominent role. For those who know the neighborhood, these works evoke an immediate sense of familiarity. As the paintings are based on the photographs of the streets as they were decorated and lit for the New Year's celebrations, they glow in an ethereal way. The artist's particularly vivid way of using color creates a mystifying effect making the time of day indistinguishable. Even so, it is easy to be transported to the sidewalks depicted in two of the paintings in particular, Dragon and Rabbits and Fish Tale. Dragon and Rabbits shows a shop selling decorations for Chinese New Year, and Fish Tale depicts fresh fish on display in crates outside a Chinese grocery store.

Deborah Brown successfully draws a line between consumerism, sustainability, and access with this new body of work.  Through an outsider's lens, Brown raises questions about the aspirational aspect of fast fashion and the commercialism entrenched in New York City. The streets are the star of her paintings on which this tableau of commerce takes place. In an ever-changing city, these paintings memorialize a small, yet quintessential, corner of it.

Text by Neha Jambhekar



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