Michael Browne, a New Zealand abstractionist painter, trained at the Royal College and went on to teach at Hammersmith, and Chelsea School of Art.
Michael Browne, an Artist From Artists
Michael, today a well-known abstractionist, arrived back in New Zealand in 1933 and lived with his mother at Franz Josef until 1940. Ruth supported them by painting, eventually having reproductions made of her work which sold more readily to the tourists who visited Franz Josef. Michael’s father was also an artist, as well as a mountain climber and guide at Mt Cook and Fox Glacier. Painter, Ethel Richardson, known as Aunty Fluff, had bought him paints and sent him to Canterbury College of Art (CCA) where he met Ruth in 1928. Ruth was then winning art prizes ahead of Rita Angus and Russell Clark who were also at CCA.
Michael grew up around his mother painting, but he didn’t learn the skills from her. “Her paintings were around the house,” he says, “and she clearly loved it. I learnt from her, probably by osmosis, to always buy the best possible materials.”
When he left school, Michael worked for five years in advertising agencies and eventually in 1954 attended CCA to become a better commercial artist. “I got one whiff of oil paint and decided to give up commercial art,” he says. “Russell Clark, Bill Sutton and Ivy Fife were the tutors then. 1954 was a ground-breaking period to be at CCA. There were so many great students: Pat Hanly, Gil Tavener (Hanly), Edward Bullmore, Bill Culbert, Phyllis Hamilton (Ross), Karen McFarlane, Bill Williams, Hamish Keith and others, all influenced by Toss Woollaston and Colin McCahon via Bill Sutton.
After one term at CCA Michael won the National Art Gallery Travelling Scholarship and attended the Royal College of Art in London in 1958. He then spent a year in Paris, printmaking in the ateliers of S W Haytors and Friedlander. One day in 1960 a letter fell through the mail slot in Paris inviting him to take up a fellowship with the Netherlands International Cultural Relations. He accepted the invitation and worked for a year at the Rijkes Academy in Amsterdam.
Michael Browne Tutor in Arts Schools
With an ARCA from the Royal College, Michael went on to teach in art schools in the UK including at Hammersmith College of Art, and as senior lecturer in charge of vocational fine art at Chelsea School of Art. In 1986 he officially retired and has painted full time ever since.
Michael Browne influences and working mode
He works in oils around a variety of themes, and apart from an expected influence from his mother, he counts as important NZ influences, Russell Clark and Bill Sutton, while English ones include John Minton, and Ruskin Spear. The writings of Leonardo, Delacroix, Cezanne, and Paul Klee have also had an impact.
“During the 1960s I realised that I had stopped looking – I was like an overdrawn bank account ever struggling to pull another image from my head without depositing anything in there, so I had to start looking again. Gradually I developed my visual memory and now am able to look/glance, digest, and produce work which relates to my experiences, and coincidentally, connects up with my work of the ’60s. Wherever I go, I look, with work in mind. Primarily my work expresses a need to be true to myself and to create a positive influence.”
Based in Wellington and working most afternoons for five hours, Michael has always preferred to share studios. “In London I shared with several other artists for 31 years, and in NZ I’ve shared several studios with others; not necessarily painters but 3D artists and printmakers too. I enjoy the communication that working around others brings, and the sense of commitment.”
Currently he shares a working environment with painter, Jeanne Macaskill, multi-disciplined Carlos Wedde (Ian’s son), printmaker Basia Smolniki, and others at Shelly Bay which looks across the harbour towards Wellington. He says that while he gave up printmaking in the 1960s, he’s about to start again.
Michael Browne works in public collections
Michael Browne’s work is held in the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Ministry of External Affairs NZ, Sarjeant Gallery NZ, Rutherford Collection NZ, Government House NZ, Gemeendt Museum – the Hague, the Stuyvesant Collection, Inner London Education Authority UK, as well as in many private collections around the world.
Source: Theresa Sjoquist Interview with Michael Browne