Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Glenn Brown
signed and dated 1995 on the reverse
oil on canvas mounted on board
50 by 70cm.; 19 3/4 by 27 1/2 in.
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Karsten Schubert Ltd., London
Private Collection
Sale: Christie's, London, Contemporary Art, 9 February 2001, Lot 243
Private Collection, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Hexham, Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Glenn Brown, 1996, n.p., no. 10, illustrated in colour
London, Serpentine Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2004, p. 35, illustrated in colour


Eerily familiar and yet highly unnatural, Glenn Brown’s sublime Exercise One (for Ian Curtis) after Chris Foss remarkably encapsulates the rich aesthetic lexicon that characterises his science-fiction paintings. Dominating the epic scene, a massive glacier hovers weightlessly in outer space, dramatically illuminated by a mysterious light source which suggests another colossal presence and further enhances the overall theatrical effect.

A partial copy of seminal sci-fi illustration artist Chris Foss’s Futuristic Oil Tanker (or Red Oil Tanker) from 1970, the present work offers a breath-taking vision of awe-inspiring and fantastical beauty, evocative of nineteenth century Romantic Alpine scenes. In Chris Foss’s original version, the floating icy formation is being hauled by a space shuttle, whilst buildings visible on the glacier’s plain suggest remnants of a civilization in a post-apocalyptic world. These elements which suggest a narrative of destruction and vestiges of humanity in Futuristic Oil Tanker (or Red Oil Tanker) have disappeared in Glenn Brown’s emulation of the scene, leaving the onlooker with the sole contemplation of a majestic fantasised spacescape. “One of the reasons I liked making the science-fiction paintings was that there was something very abstract about them. I think science-fiction is an abstract space where anything can happen, really. It’s a blank canvas on which to invent what you like.” (The artist quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London and New York, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown: Three Exhibitions 2004-09, p. 71)

As it is recurrent in Brown’s science fiction paintings, the present work’s title pays homage to Ian Curtis, and bears the title of Joy Division’s Exercise One – the first track on the posthumous album Still. Calling to mind a multitude of references – from post-punk to German Romantic landscapes, Magritte’s surrealist floating mountain in Castle in the Pyrenees or Sci-Fi illustration - the present work reflects the importance of sampling and sheer diversity of influences in Glenn Brown’s work. Not merely just image but cinematic experience in its own right, with a theme song riddled with teen angst, Exercise One (for Ian Curtis) after Chris Foss is an ode to escapism, urging the beholder to bask into the Sublime of the cosmic realm.

Treated with stunningly unifying trompe-l’oeil sfumato brushwork in places and painstaking attention to detail in others, Exercise One (for Ian Curtis) after Chris Foss brilliantly embodies Glenn Brown’s masterful synthesis of various sources and techniques. With his trademark virtuosity and unmatched mastery of oil painting, Brown’s photorealist depictions of a fictional outer space indisputably belong at the very highest tier of his artistic production.

Contemporary Art Day Auction