Roger Brown - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Surreal, idiosyncratic and resolutely counter-culture – the work of Roger Brown distills the transgressive attitude and vibrancy with which the Chicago Imagists took the art world by storm in the mid-1960s. Known for their bold figurative style, the group was centered around the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Hyde Park Art Center, where such memorable exhibitions as “The Hairy Who,” “The Nonplussed Some,” “False Image” and the eponymous “The Chicago Imagists” garnered young artists such as Brown, Ed Paschke, Christina Ramberg and Ray Yoshida widespread attention.

     "[Brown’s] radiant, panoramic images were as passionately political as they were rigorously visual." —Roberta Smith

    A leading member of the Chicago Imagists, Brown developed an unorthodox aesthetic language that boldly braided the art historical references to non-western, folk and outsider art with the visual language of vernacular culture. Brown’s wide-ranging interests are perhaps nowhere best encapsulated as in his personal collection of artworks by Chicago Imagists, outsider art and artifacts from popular culture, preserved by The Roger Brown Study Collection and available to experience in the form of a virtual walkthrough.

    While there is a conceptual kinship with the work of such contemporaneous artists such as Andy Warhol and John Baldessari, Brown’s oeuvre boldly sets itself apart. His meticulous paintings flirt with the Pop aesthetic, but are deeply embedded with personal history, narrative structure and socio-political critique as they explore themes such as urban isolation, sexuality, natural disasters, and human tragedy in post-war America. 


    Portrait of Roger Brown. Courtesy Venus Over Manhattan, New York, Artwork © The Estate of Roger Brown
    Portrait of Roger Brown. Courtesy Venus Over Manhattan, New York, Artwork © The Estate of Roger Brown

    Brown tragically passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1997, yet his legacy powerfully lives on. As Sarah Rose Sharp put forward, “With recurring themes of political alliance and espionage, callouts of celebrity culture, and a motif of tall buildings populated by indistinct figures, Brown’s visual lexicon feels remarkably prescient of our current moment. Perhaps this is because, as a queer man living through the devastating 1980s AIDS crisis, Brown witnessed many of the failures and intentional cruelties of the systems of US governance that are only now being recognized by mainstream society.”i 


    Roberta Smith on Roger Brown

    “In the late 1960s and early 70s, Mr. Brown was one of a number of artists whose interests and talents coalesced into one of the defining moments in postwar Chicago art. The inspiration for these artists came from European Surrealism, which was prevalent in the city’s public and private collections; contemporary outsider art, which the Imagists helped promote, and popular culture, recently sanctioned by Pop Artists. In addition to Mr. Brown, these artists included Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, Phil Hanson, Ray Yoshida, Karl Wirsum, Barbara Rossi and Gladys Nilsson, almost all of whom he met as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and each of whom braided the city’s disparate cultural strands into a distinctive hybrid of figurative styles.

    Mr. Brown’s hybrid was a powerful combination of flattened, cartoonish images that featured isometric skyscrapers and tract houses, furrowed fields, undulating hills, pillowy clouds and agitated citizens, the latter usually seen in black silhouette at stark yellow windows where they enacted violent or sexual shadow plays.

    Formally dazzling, instantly legible and psychologically charged, this style, which solidified in the early 1970s, adapted to numerous themes and spatial concepts and yielded what were often caustic morality plays masquerading as luminescent, beautifully composed paintings.”

    Roberta Smith, “Roger Brown, 55, Leading Chicago Imagist Painter, Dies”, The New York Times, November 26, 1997, online


    Property from the Collection of the late Betsy Burton

    Betsy Burton (1951-2020) was a true pioneer in her career and her personal life. She distinguished herself as a ‘turnaround CEO’ working with Fortune 500 companies, serving as CEO for Zales, Tower Records, Supercuts and PIP Printing.  Burton also served on eight public boards including Staples, GNC, Sports Authority and Toys “R” Us.  She was an avid art collector and later in her life resided in Palm Desert, California. 


    i Sarah Rose Sharp, “Grappling with Authorship and Acceptance in the Pop Art of Roger Brown”, Hyperallergic, June 6, 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York & Chicago
      Betsy Burton (acquired from the above)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

Property from the Collection of the late Betsy Burton


The Big Bang

titled "THE BIG BANG" on the overlap
oil on canvas
72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
Painted in 1989.

This work is recorded with the Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $42,840

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020