Viewed from afar, this audacious new art-work may well encourage viewers to regard it as an historic, permanent structure.
As its name suggests, Temple looks at first more like a building than a sculpture. Placed in a verdant setting and framed by four flamboyant columns, along with several stepping-stones and arches leading to the entrance, it immediately triggers memories of architecture which we have encountered elsewhere in the world. But a closer look makes us realise just how much Temple challenges all our notions of a house of prayer. It is perhaps more of a sacred place or a sanctuary, and as if to remind us of dangers in the outside world, a wriggling serpent occupies one window. Sandy Brown has no intention of making her Temple into a denominational centre. Far from it: the 5,200 hand-painted ceramic tiles which make up this extraordinary structure are not dedicated to any religion at all.
Brown’s range of reference is astonishingly wide, and its richness matches the adventurous way in which she brings about an unorthodox marriage between architecture, sculpture, painting, tile decoration and much else besides. The outcome is an exuberant gesamtkunstwerk – a bringing-together of different art-forms in a new composite. It flouts all our expectations as we make our way along the warm coloured stepping-stones, some of them splashed with white and blue. Their freely handled execution defies the tradition of religious formality at every turn. And the arches we walk through, leading to Temple’s entrance, make us aware of vulnerability rather than imposing architectural grandeur.

After moving through a circular aperture, we find ourselves inside Temple. On the floor, surrounded by plate-coloured tiles, a rounded object presides at the centre. This isolated presence is mysterious and unidentifiable. A sense of enigma prevails everywhere in this wildly uninhabited interior, where Brown enlivens most available surfaces with a blizzard of squiggles and splashes. We are invited to sit on two oblong structures, each one installed in a corner. Yet even if we rest on them for a while, our eyes are perpetually invaded by a stream of dynamic and sensuous mark-making. Brown suffered the loss of her husband not long before the Temple project began. So a struggle with bereavement may be felt as we survey the astonishingly rich environment. There is no escape from Brown’s gestural vivacity. Although it could prove overwhelming, she makes sure that a rigorous compositional discipline underlies even the most abandoned passages.
Most of the walls are transformed by circles and squares, evoking windows. But one entire wall is given over to more consistent and rhythmic horizontal gestures, all suggesting a seascape. It feels like a redemptive passage, and the ceiling is alive with a very intense orchestration of curving, undulating and dancing forms. They lead upwards to eight apertures where brightly lit elements, often reminiscent of Matisse’s late painted cut-outs, signal a vibrant sense of hope. Celebrating our natural instinct for survival, they amount to the most climatic area of the entire, every-shifting Temple experience.
At once anarchic, unpredictable, playful, unruly, seductive and enlightening, Brown’s tour de force is inexhaustible. As an artist she demonstrates her bold sense of adventure, embracing the world of line, form and colour to create a haven for visitors. Some of them might find it initially startling, but her free-flowing improvisation will reward anyone who explores this multi-faceted art-work with the open-minded commitment it deserves.

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Images copyright 2017 Sandy Brown (except where stated)