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A Q&A with ‘Homegrown’ Jeremy Brown

Jeremy Brown ‘Homegrown’ exhibit is inspired by Canberra’s green life

Canberra based artist and design maker Jeremy Brown has recently released a new exhibition with ACT Craft. The exhibition titled ‘Homegrown’ is currently on display at London Circuit until the 14th of May. ‘Homegrown’ displays Jeremy’s beautiful illustrations and furniture.

The Owl‘s Olivia Paull talked with Jeremy to discuss his inspiration, designs and career.

Jeremy Brown at his first exhibition

Q: What is the story behind Jeremy Brown design?

A: Before uni, I dipped my finger into all sorts of different practices and art forms. Furniture was one I had never really explored before. It was something I had always been interested in but never had the right sort of opportunity until I went on a tour of the ANU School of Art. I was introduced to the furniture workshop and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.

From there I did my bachelor’s degree and then a further honours year. I finished that in 2017. By that stage, I felt like I had my own practice and took it from there.

ANU gave Brown his opportunity to start.

Q: Do you make each item yourself?

A: Yes. My most recent body of work is actually the first project where I haven’t had designated workshop access. This posed a lot of new challenges which I hadn’t experienced before.

Previously completely all of the making has been done by me. This time I was forced to outsource just some of the very initial machining of the timber components but still, all of the design, joinery, finishes and everything like that was still all done myself.

Brown is hands-on with all of his designs.
Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

Q: What inspires your designs?

A: Pretty much all of my work from the very start of uni has been influenced by nature. It’s always been something I’ve been drawn to, natural forms.

In a way, the exhibition was also my own personal tool for building my own personal connection to the trees. Learning about them and being able to identify them more. I drive around now and I’m like oh there’s that tree, spotting out all different trees.

For this exhibition, I also looked at the built environment. There’s a contrast between the two. The paintings are a literal depiction of a natural form, the design of the stools is inspired by local iconic Canberra architecture.

It’s more obviously abstracted and shaped by my hand while the illustrations depicted what’s really there. Part of that is also because Canberra is obviously known for its green streets both nationally and internationally. It’s also known for its mid-century modernist architecture. The harmonious existence of those natural and built environments in Canberra was what lead me to combine the two in my exhibition.

Canberra architecture had a hand in inspiring Brown’s latest exhibit ‘Homegrown’

Q: All of the furniture you design is very much Canberra based. Where do you source the materials for these designs?

A: A lot of my previous work has been less Canberra focused but I’ve still put an emphasis on trying to source the materials as locally as I can. For my most recent work the materials, not only did I get them in Canberra but they were literally grown in Canberra.

There’s a supplier out in Hall who has a property and he does urban timber recovery so he mills trees that have been cut down for various reasons, dries the timber and sells it for reuse.

Browns designs can be seen with replications of Canberra’s nature

Q: Are any of your designs limited edition or batch produced?

A: I guess a lot of my previous work has been quite conceptual, not entirely functional and one-off experiment pieces. Whereas my current body of work I wanted to explore something that was a bit more mainstream with my own creative touch.

The furniture in my current exhibition, the stools are actually all of the same design so they were made in a batch production but each being made of a different species of timber they are all still unique in their own way.

The paintings that go along with the stools are entirely one of a kind.

Brown photographed beside one of his botanical illustrations.

Q: Do the illustrations and furniture collegiate?

A: Absolutely. I had these two main threads of practice. So the furniture was something I’ve been doing for quite a few years now. The botanical illustration, on the other hand, was a long term interest but I really only pursued it two or three years ago.

This is actually the first time I’ve ever shown my botanical illustrations in an exhibition. I wanted to find a way of combining the furniture with the botanical illustration. I knew there was a local supplier of street tree timber and that was something I always wanted to work with. I thought a way to mix the two together would be to show something that’s more familiar to the viewers, which is the literally botanical illustrations that is an observational representation of what’s actually growing on the streets. Having each illustration paired with a stool made of the same timber opens people’s eyes to the less known aspect of the beauty of those trees themselves.

The paintings and the stools are intended to work on their own separately but when they come together it reveals the true relationship between them.

The stools and illustrations tell the same story both separately and together.

Q: What was the thought process to combine illustrations and furniture?

A: It started with my own experience with a particular tree. Growing up we had this huge London plane tree in our backyard. A huge part of my childhood was spent in that tree with my brother, friends, and family. It was just this massive towering tree. I’d seen London Plane timber used a few times before and I was just blown away by the grain patterns in the timber itself. It was something I’d always wanted to work with.

A few years ago my parents had to have that tree removed from the backyard because it was just getting too big and a number of factors. So that was really sad and I guess in a way I wanted to paint that species as a remembrance of that specific tree. From there the connection started.

I knew that there was a local supplier of street trees. To choose the rest of the species for the exhibition I went out to him first to see what was available and went from there making my final list and I went and found the actual specimens on Canberra streets.

Brown’s original inspiration was a tree in his backyard

Q: How is your furniture distinguished compared to others?

A: It’s a tricky thing trying to sell handmade furniture. I think the difference comes down to quality. Obviously being handmade on much smaller scales there’s a lot more attention to detail put in. It’s designed to make the most out of the materials.

The environmental footprint of a product is noted. Something that’s made locally obviously hasn’t travelled as far and has less energy-intensive processes to make it. For a huge portion, particularly of my latest project, because I didn’t have workshop access I had to pull out the hand tools and do things the old school way.

It’s hard to get across to people why handmade pieces cost as much as they do but it’s because the materials cost a lot and they take a lot of time, but in the long run they are always going to last longer.

Brown’s products have a smaller environmental footprint.
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

Q: Can Canberrans appreciate your designs in a way others can’t?

A: Yes. Everything I do design is intended for a pretty broad audience but I think particularly with the current exhibition, it is aimed at Canberrans. Canberrans are more likely to find that personal connection that I’m looking for. When they see something they’re familiar with from the city itself when they see it on the wall I feel like there’s that little extra connection to the work.

Inspiration comes from all manner of life in Canberra

Q: What does this exhibition mean to you and your designs?

A: It’s really exciting to be able to put my work on a stage like it is at Craft ACT. It’s certainly a highly regarded gallery and it’s one of the things on my bucket list to have an exhibition there. It allowed me to take my work in a new direction. I’m really excited to see where it goes from here.

As part of the exhibition, I’m actually also collecting tree stories so there is a QR code as the exhibition where people can submit their own tree stories. No matter if it’s a trivial little thing or a really deep personal connection. It’s community engagement and ill be publishing those submissions on my website. You can also go to my website and submit a tree story online.

Whatever comes from that I’d like to take those tree stories and use them in a future project. It’s the first step and I’ll see where it goes from there.

Brown connects with the community at his current exhibition.

Q: Where can people find you?

A: My exhibition is on at Craft ACT- craft and design centre on London circuit in the city, until the 14th of May.

Find me on Instagram @jeremybrowndesign and check out my website

Brown’s designs continue to grow bigger and better.

Original photos by Olivia Paull