Portrait of a Young Artist - Jordan Azcune
Leonard Michael Brown
2019 Lord Mayor's Prize
Proudly supported by
Brisbane City Council
About the artist
As a child, Leonard Brown’s first art teacher was former National Gallery of Australia Director Betty Churcher. Between 1965 and 1969, Brown undertook formal art tuition at Brisbane’s Central Technical College Art School. The lyrical and transcendent works he has created in the intervening 50 years have cemented his place as one of the country’s foremost abstract painters. His works are held in the collections of National Gallery of Australia; every Australian state gallery; and numerous other public, private and educational institutions. In 1975, Brown began the study and practice of Byzantine ikon painting under direction from Bishop Constantine, Russian Orthodox Bishop of Brisbane and is now considered as one of the world’s foremost practitioners of this demanding art form. In this portrait of Jordan Azcune, Brown reactivates the classical drawing and painting training he received more than 50 years ago, in a modernist style reminiscent of those times.
About the sitter
Through solo and collaborative practices, Jordan Azcune explores notions of utopia, the ineffable, and larger ideas of optimism. He notes on his website: “Raised as a Jehovahs’s Witness and growing up queer, his approach to art making begins with a fluency in biblical theology and uses related visual cues of the 20th century to reconsider histories which map the conflicting intersection of emotion, spirituality, and monumentality. These references are translated by using ancient and contemporary techniques to reveal a fragile state of observance and communion with reality.” Azcune lives and works in South East Queensland. In 2016 he completed Honours in Fine Art at QUT and has since completed a mentorship in Public Art with Lincoln Austin and is apprenticing with theologian and iconographer Leonard Brown, who painted this portrait.
Leonard Brown is as highly regarded for his unreconstructed commitment to abstraction as he is a painter of traditional religious ikons, steeped in the liturgical history and prescribed traditions of the Byzantine era. His exquisitely alive portrait of Jordan Azcune will likely come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t, because Brown is a consummate modern painter. Portrait of a Young Artist, Jordan Azcune (something of a play on James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’) is a dazzling, highly resolved image that speaks unequivocally to the viewer. There are few works in this Prize of such painterly control and verve – of that mystical ability to bring forth a personality, an attitude of mind, an address to the artist’s gaze that speaks of its sitter as innately being themselves, despite the affect of their being painted. In Brown’s figuring, Azcune’s blue and white striped shirt becomes emblematic of his character: buttoned informally low, crumpled and relieved by the occasional revelation of a red-striped highlight. I don’t know the sitter but I can only imagine he has unerringly grasped his destiny, is relaxed about who he is and confident of his ability to live in the world. How many subjects would sit for their portrait in corduroy shorts – and what a bravura passage of material verisimilitude they provide for Brown! – put one knee hard up against the picture plane and join their fingertips in a way that almost seems to invoke the Mudra, the hand positions in Buddhist art used to convey a state of mind? With Azcune’s left hand forming a variant on ‘The Wheel of Teaching’, it’s a subtle and telling exchange between a student and his master. I awarded this painting the inaugural Lord Mayor’s Prize because it was the most insistent work in an enormously diverse field.
Chris Saines CNZM
Brisbane Portrait Prize Judge, 2019