Executed in 1995, Entertainment is an early example of a near career-long engagement by Glenn Brown with the art of Frank Auerbach which was re-visited in his most recent exhibition in London. Specifically, this work engages with a close-up detail of Auerbach's Julia, 1987 which is in the Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear, one of a number of works which Auerbach has painted of his wife Julia Wolstenholme throughout his career. Here, the viewer is dazzled by the liquid brushwork and ripples of undulating impasto that reverberate across the canvas. It is only upon close inspection that one realizes that the surface is absolutely flat, so that "A kind of savage pictorial drama is achieved with the finest possible brush" (Ibid.) The high relief of the expressive, muscular brushwork of the Auerbach is utterly flattened, evincing the most polished of surfaces, yet still maintaining, through his meticulous attention to detail (such as the shadows created by the impastoed tips) a sense of the dramatic painterliness of the original. In turning the heavy brushwork of Julia into a surface as flat as a photograph, and by using a super-realist painterly technique to mimic the brushwork, Brown offers us a critique of the very meaning and emotional authority of the brushstroke, which is heightened all the more by the fact that he is painting a painting of a painting of the artist's wife.
This authority stems from Brown's take on the 'gesture' and, importantly, the psychological properties associated with it. The 'gesture', as associated with the great abstract painters of the Twentieth Century, may be seen to evoke a certain investment, in both the object and its mode of construction, on the part of the artist. By flattening this gesture, Brown serves to question it and, in so doing, amplifies his own isolation of it as well as the subject which the gesture serves to effect. As Brown stated, "I realised that the subject, the figure became helpless, displaced, and lost between Auerbach's interpretation,the photograph, the printed page, and my interpretation." (Brown, interview with Marcelo Spinelli in Hexham, Queen's Hall Art Center, Glenn Brown, 1996). The displacement of the figure (and the gesture) is made all the more ironic by the fact that Brown employs a super-realist style to convey the expressionism of the original. No artist presents a better 'subject' for Brown than Frank Auerbach in this respect because, as Frdric Paul notes, "[Auerbach's figures] all present an extreme state of painting - at times ambitious, at times limited, and always entangled in a ruminating formalism which, so it happens, seems to be the fate of all Expressionist painting." (Frédéric Paul, "Glenn Brown, or: Friend to Monsters" in Glenn Brown, vol. I, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Bignan 2000, pp. 61-62)