Daryl Brown: Portrait of an artist

The smell of wood was unmistakeable.

'The Judo Series' - No. 3

The space was filled with bits and bobs, an old table, a repaired wooden chair, a u-shaped tangle of wires suspended from the ceiling, orange-handled saws hanging from the wall and clean make-shift white pillars that displayed tiny spherical sculptures in orange and brown.

In many ways, it seemed perhaps the average work space for any young artist.  But it also had character – the mark of one particular sculptor.

Like the artist who works within, this studio is – in part – tucked away and not easy to find, but expressive and creative, a treasure on the east side of Hackney.

Daryl Brown is the quietest figure in the room.  His knick knacks all speak loudly, but his voice is gentle and unassuming.  He talks about his work with a sort of understated humility.

I explain to him what I’m working on and he responds with a series of sympathetic head nods letting me know that he is willing to join the  myriad of hard-working and passionate young artists I’m writing about.

The Judo Series

He describes the motivation for his recent works, the Judo Series.  The pieces are inspired by a book on Judo – an ancient martial art.  And like the figures that move within its pages, Brown’s pieces are organic, flexible, creative forms.

At his exhibition in the Magnificent Basement, the pieces sat under light, which highlighted the taut muscular bend of the wood as it seemingly defied gravity.   The light bounced off of the reflective surface of the slick blackness of his cradled figure.

Inanimate or not, there’s something human in each of them.  Brown’s pieces breathe as if they were alive.

And in and around the sometimes austere display, the artist was as undisturbed then as he was sitting before me in his studio.  I wondered not for the first time if, ironically, he was recreated by his pieces.  Had his work somehow defined him even as he left them behind to explore a new idea?

His experiences as an artist in London derive much from his encounters as a student.

'The Judo Series' - No. 6

“I did feel like I was a bit in a wilderness,” he said about leaving art school.  “I was wondering around a bit, not really sure what to do, convinced that I couldn’t afford a studio.”

But his desperation caused him to go back to the University of East London, where he received his degree, to use the space in order to continue creating.

After being independently approached from students at university, he was asked to be a part of a show.

When Brown likened his experience during that time, working with another artist, as an apprenticeship – it was no surprise.  Brown’s whole demeanour speaks of modesty.


He lauded ALISN – an artist led initiative – for the consistent support they’ve given him, especially in regards to his exhibition at the Magnificent Basement, which they sponsored.

“I was very much championed by ALISN,” he said, warmly.

He contemplated for a moment when I asked him about the artists who inspire him.  Surrounded by sculptures, I didn’t expect him to mention painting – but he revealed a soft spot for the art in his slight smile. A big fan of Francis Bacon, his modesty again showed no bounds.

“I was doing my GCSE’s when I did a painting, which didn’t look like one of Bacon’s – let me make that clear.  But I like his work.  I look at paintings quite a lot.  I like Caravaggio.  I also like the sculptor Phyllida Barlow who’s bold style has played a big part in my work lately.”

'The Judo Series' - No. 7

Yet, despite his unassuming nature, Brown has very strong feelings about the type of artist he wants to be.  Working as a technician at Havering College and paying £110 a month for studio space, he isn’t always certain about the future or even about his own evolution as an artist.

“Ideally, I’d like to believe it’s about getting the work to a certain standard.  But that’s probably a very idealistic point a view.  I still feel I have a long way to go, but I’ll probably always feel that way.”

Brown says this with a smirk, as if he’s just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  It becomes clear that despite the hardships, he finds creating art worth every minute.

Some of Brown’s current work will be exhibited this coming Saturday, 9th October at the Magnificent Basement in London from 7:30pm.


An Inspector Calls: The Haunting of the Upper Class

A fog rolls in over the audience.  The thickness of the air is inescapable.  One gets a sense of feeling trapped.

No doubt the audience is made to feel the way the Birlings, a wealthy family, will soon feel under the interrogation of Inspector Goole.

His name is appropriate; the officer may very well have been called spectre or ghoul the way he flickered into existence at the house of the Birlings.  They never saw him coming.

The play, currently showing at Wyndham’s Theatre, carries a heavy moral message about social realism and class prejudice.

The continued success of JB Priestley’s play is due in part by the clever writing; especially the hard-hitting questions delivered well in the somewhat quirky movements of Nicholas Woodeson.

The other notable performance is by Sandra Duncan, who seems to embody the upper class of Victorian England in the role of Sybil Birling.  Duncan performed with grace and humour as the aristocratic matriarch of the Birling family. 

Marianne Oldham stole the show and demonstrated incredible range as Sheila Birling.  She was believable as the spoiled, rich girl and equally convincing as a reformed and regretful woman shocked by her parent’s insolence and her fiancé’s dishonesty.

The sound was rich and appropriately eerie, which helped to build suspense and drama.  The boy who kicked the radio was a nice touch, showcasing the preciseness of director Stephen Daldry. 

An added dimension

An interesting set design added another dimension, as the Birling house became a prop, a part of the set and even an actor in the play.

 It short-circuited and fell down in a heap, mimicking the movements of the disgraced Sybil Birling.  The state of the house became a metaphor for the state of the Birlings. 

When they felt themselves at the height of privilege, the house stood regal, protecting them from the filth outside. 

When they fell from that height, the house fell too, indeed as dramatically as they did – with an appropriate amount of sparks and smoke.

The play makes a statement about social realism and classism through the story of Eva Smith aka Daisy Renton, a murdered girl and the subject of Inspector Goole’s intense interrogation.

The dialogue, especially from Goole, is rich and poignant.  Eva Smith is an allegory for all the girls in the world who are oppressed by the upper class.

Broken ladder

Problems did arise.  Audiences could not help but laugh when Sheila’s fiancé Gerald Croft, played by Timothy Watson, tried to reconnect the ladder to the house (a sign that the Birlings were returning to their previous state of denial).  But the ladder failed to latch.

 Still, the actors handled set malfunction with enough professionalism and grace that the audience was forced to wonder if the error was indeed part of the play.

The story was compelling even in its simplicity. (Viewers are asked to imagine that one family could unknowingly cause so much distress to one girl.)

And even when this idea is turned on its head by Gerald Croft, who reminds the Birling family that they could not be sure which picture was shown to whom, the inevitable question arises: Who is Inspector Goole?  Is he the ghost of Christmas past?  An angel?  Is he their conscience?  Or better, is he our conscience summoned by Priestley to hold us all accountable for the sins of classism? 

Perhaps the reason why An Inspector Calls, which first performed in 1945, stands the test of time is that in dealing with an issue that is still alive and well, it seeks to do what other important playwrights like Brecht have been praised for.  The play asks its audience to think beyond the characters and to imagine that they are being interrogated as well.