The Artist Formally Known As William McClure Brown
By Colin Jones
So here is what I remember about my good friend William, his remarkable take on a reality and the work he left behind for us all to enjoy. Welcome to my therapy.
I need to get something out. Of my system. Out of my head. You’ll excuse my rambling, Rose. There’s a thing about some stuff that’s vitally important and I might just be able to take a stab at remembering the after-image of a shadow of a half-truth. The half-life of memories is merely the blink of an eye.
A car journey to William’s studio, the only time I ever saw him drive. A reflection in the windscreen of an object on the dashboard just before we make a book. The reflection of the book he was yet to illustrate.
The Mari Lwyd ritual I’d been involved in some thirty years before, alive but thankfully trapped in its prison of a picture. Forever captured by the painted frame around the image. Out of time.
The woman who came into our stall in the Eisteddfod, looked at his paintings and remarked, ‘Oh, you get the children to do them, do you?’ William pleased, before putting on his werewolf mask. Loup Garoux, Llew Garw.
You couldn’t make him up, that’s one thing. You’ll never see a William Brown in a movie or a golf-opera, his kind are really just too strange for fiction. Ruth is stranger than Richard, but William was the stranger than even Old Uncle Peculiar and his Box of Myths.
Other people will no doubt remark that he had more than one life. That too seems to be true, but I think the one we saw was the best.
And the most troublesome part of the whole bunch of his multifaceted reality-shifts and timeslot-distortion is that he did leave you wondering if he was truly the only really sane person you’d ever met. Something in his postman-baiting postcard art, his foolish faxes and his mailshots just seemed exactly right.
Lottie Goes Nuts For Pineapples.
Lottie, it should be said, was my dog. A dog who liked carrots, and pineapples. One of those things that you mention to others in the hope of raising a smile. But William asked Lottie over to his studio, with the carrot of a pineapple. She’d make a good model he thought, but I knew better. I knew.
A blurring whirl, an untameable black mass, Lottie ran around William’s studio like a rat in a playpen. There was no way of capturing her on paper, of course. Ah, but there’s the print of the evidence to banjax my mediocrity. The echo of a half-seen memory etched onto paper. Out of time.
[Picture: Lottie Goes Nuts For Pineapples]
William told me once that he spoke in colour. Of the conventional languages he had some French, some Welsh and some English, and was always happy to jump between all three, often in the same sentence. But I think his real fluency was colour.
What I learnt about colour, and why William never painted himself into a corner.
So firstly William didn’t mix paint. He worked with tubes of different colours, including attractive metal hues. He must have had dozens of tubes all ready to smear and brush and knife his visions into. But there was more to it than that. William saw the colours beneath the colours. So a bear wouldn’t be brown; it’d be brown overlaid with another shade of brown and gold. A background on which the bears moved (too vivid to count and ever reach the same total) wouldn’t be red. It’d be red with chunks of vivid red, and so on and so on. Vivid, shimmering, hallucinogenic. Those bears wouldn’t stay still. Forever moving, forever in the same place. Searching, journeying. Forever. For an instant, captured moving in time.
Oh yes, and watching paint dry was a most interesting experience, said William. I imagine no-one else will tell me that, which makes me a little sad.
Elastic Black Dog
Came from a dream that Carys had. Carys, or William, happened to mention the dream of an elastic black dog, stretching up from a pavement to a bedroom window. So we had a little adventure, me writing a book in an afternoon, visiting William’s studio in Pontrhydycyff and William producing a studio-load of illustrations in an afternoon. It was a joy to see; William dipping a blunt stick into ink and pulling the most remarkable cartoons out of nowhere. I’d read the lines aloud and he’d draw them out, like a visionary shorthand secretary on the phone to a Limbo Leonardo.
Carys didn’t seem to mind our stealing of her dream-title. She turned a blind eye as we used the school copier to print off a hundred-or-so copies of the book’s pages. Then a trip to Gwasg Morgannwg, where Gareth Richards kindly let me trim the edges on his guillotine.
[Picture: Elastic Black Dog]
Yr Enwog Iolo
A Cornish cactus, Iolo fell into our fragile reality on a trip to the Eden Centre in Cornwall. I brought it back as a present for William; I thought it might be one of the few things which could survive in his studio. Instantly named Iolo, and instantly finding a home in William’s paintings.
And that would indeed be it. That should be it. My half-forgotten memories of William, the friend I never knew.
If there wasn’t a nagging feeling just behind where the back of my head should be that I’ve forgotten something that I could have, should have remembered. Fingerprints on my brain.
It might be the Night Rainbow I see outside, or the Mari Llwyd drunk in my doorway. It won’t go away, I’m not even sure if I want it to anymore. But yes, no. The paintings are not the thing. That’s not where it’s at. The paintings are only a window, a door into themselves. Into ourselves.
Aberarthur After the Rain
On the surface one of his most straightforward paintings, with a generous appearance by a full cast of characters. The Mari Lwyd, the Night Rainbow, bear tears, Loup Garoux, a chapel, the town hall. Smoke.
But I live in that row of houses. I know that dog. And that’s exactly how it’s not. There’s something shifting, like perspective in a mirror. The shadow of the reflection of a half-forgotten life.
[Picture: Aberarthur After The Rain]
Virtual Reality of the most real kind. It might not always happen with the prints, but it’ll always happen with his paintings, if you stop to drink. Them in.
That’s almost an echo of what I’m getting to try at. An echo of the idea that comes before the words. The stories that are never told, but are always there to be seen. Those bears. Always walking. In the same place. The landscape. Is reversed. In three dimensions. It’s obviously not there. So obviously that it couldn’t not be there. More real than real, that’s a fact.
The landscape that exists behind where my head should end. Not a reflection of reality, but a reflection of the dreams in a mind. But not a reflection, the reproduction of the original thing reflected back at me from behind another’s eyes.
So drink up, my furry friend. These words are written in salt. And there are no dreams in Dogtown. Only the half-remembered fragments of the tales that we always meant to tell, which somehow got better for being told aloud and shifted uneasily through the ages.