Deborah Brown

From painter to sculptor 

Deborah Brown was born in Belfast in 1927. She is perhaps best known locally for her bronze sculpture Sheep on the Road (1991), now located outside the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.


Brown was brought up in Belfast, and spent the war years in the peaceful and scenic Cushendun district of Co Antrim where she had unofficial lessons in landscape painting with James Humbert Craig. From 1944 to 1945 she attended classes in the Belfast studio of Sidney Smith, and in 1945 she studied for one year at the Belfast College of art.


In 1946 she transferred to the College of Art in Dublin, and continued her studies in Paris in the 1950s. In her notes of October 1950, Brown wrote of the impact of the stained glass of Notre Dame and Chartres Cathedrals, and works seen at the Musée d’Art Moderne: ‘Very impressed by the colour and power of the modern painters – blacks, midnight blues, reds, yellows placed side by side.’ Like many Irish artists who travelled to Paris at this time, she became interested in modern abstract art, an influence which affected her work on her return to Belfast.


In 1951 she had her first one woman show in the CEMA Gallery, 55a Donegal Place, Belfast, followed four years later by a solo exhibition in Glasgow, and by exhibitions at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in 1956 organised by Keeper of Art, John Hewitt.


By the late 1950’s, Brown was producing abstract collage compositions and relief works of which she wrote that ‘The first brush stroke or mark on the canvas becomes my subject’, and in the early 1960’s she began to build from the surface of the canvas using waxed thread, cane leather, nails, acetate and papier mâché. Then she began to introduce fibreglass to her wall pieces, a rare choice of medium for an artist, and one which allowed her to experiment in light effects and abstraction.


During the 1960’s, Brown exhibited at the New Vision Art Centre, London (1959, 1964), the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Gallery (1962, 1969), and the New Gallery, Belfast (1964). Her interest in theatre is evident in her early set designs for the original Lyric theatre directed by Mary O’Malley, and in works such as Environment / Waiting (1982) in the collection of the Municipal Gallery of Art in Dublin.


Brown’s works are represented in the Collections of the Ulster Museum, the Arts Council of Ireland, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and in many private collections in Ireland and abroad. Now in her seventies, Deborah Brown’s recent work in bronze include a ‘Towers’ series, and the themes of shelter and waiting.


Her book Deborah Brown: from painting to sculpture, edited by Dr Hilary Pyle, was published by Four Courts Press in May 2005 and launched with an exhibition held in the Ava Gallery, Bangor. It contains essays by Dr Hilary Pyle, Professor Anne Crookshank, T. P. Flanagan, the late James White, Marianne O’Kane, and a catalogue list of some 400 works compiled by Karen Brown.