"Dead Can Dance"

Georgia Perkins
Aug 10, 2014 5:22PM
Suffer Well, 2007
Gagosian Gallery

The title of Glenn Brown’s painting ‘Suffer Well’ is an oxymoron since suffering is not normally aligned with being well. This is because our vision of death is negative and Brown suggests that perhaps it shouldn’t be. In contrast, the painting by Vincent van Gogh named ‘Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette’ has more pessimistic connotations with the black background, (there is obviously a more modern link between death and smoking)  whereas ‘Suffer Well’ has a light blue background which is usually associated with birth and serenity. Brown could therefore be suggesting that death is a positive re-birth as is believed in many Eastern religions.

However, optimism is not the only aspect of Brown’s outlook on death; this is because the posture of the skeleton is leaning forward with the skull looking towards the floor and therefore suggesting that he/she is unhappy or ‘suffering’ from the afterlife.  The complexity of the brush strokes in the detail of Brown’s subject could also suggest that death is a ‘waste’ of the intricate creation of life. The idea of waste is further emphasised by the brown and yellow colours of the skeleton, which suggests decay.  Finally the black triangular shape on the top left hand corner of the panel could connote western societies perspective of death as final. The skeleton is usually the symbol for hell, although Brown has created a halo around the subject through using the white tone.  This creates an interesting juxtaposition as the halo is usually associated with heaven and the skull with something earthly.  Therefore Glenn Brown could be questioning what makes something hellish or heavenly.

Georgia Perkins