Author Tags: Art, Film, Poetry

Colin Browne co-founded the Kootenay School of Writing in 1985, as well as Praxis, a film script development workshop, in 1986. A year later he published a poetry book Abraham (Brick Books, 1987) about the Holy Land in the Middle East. Browne was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry for his collection Ground Water (Talonbooks, 2002). A short film called Altar was made using text from the book. His collection of poetry, The Shovel (Talonbooks 2007) has been described by his publisher as a complex reckoning. "In exhuming the mesopelagic shades of the 20th century, The Shovel collapses, at last, the reigning fiction of time." The Properties (Talon 2012) was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2013.

The publishers of Browne’s poetry collection The Hatch (Talonbooks, 2015) tell us that “Myth, history, and the present are contemporaneous in these poems; nothing is ever one thing, and nothing is itself for very long. Browne’s poems have regularly addressed landscape and the intersections of personal and public history; in The Hatch there is a rhythmic and political urgency in which the exchange of forms is lightning quick. This is a book of transformations.”

Every good story is an origin story, and Browne ranges through the fields of art history, literature, ethnology, and myth to discover who the Fungus Man was, and why he was the one responsible for human procreation in his book Entering Time: The Fungus Man Platters of Charles Edenshaw (Talonbooks 2016). In 2013 the Charles Edenshaw exhibition was displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where three argillite platters carved by the Haida master depicted the Raven and Fungus Man. It was the mission of these two characters in the Haida epic poem “Raven Travelling” to enable men and women to go forth and multiply. In the exploration of these three platters Browne discovers a parallel history of modernism.

Browne is most widely known as a documentary filmmaker. His study called Running with the Fox, Riding with the Hounds explores the documentary impulse in Canadian film and poetry. One of his earlier projects was Hoppy, a film portrait of the Galiano Island children's book author and artist Elisabeth 'Hoppy' Hopkins, (1894-1991), author of the The Painted Cougar. He later directed a film about Vancouver jazz musician Linton Garner called Linton Garner: I Never Said Goodbye (2003). His other documentary films include Father and Son (1992) and White Lake (1989), which was nominated for a Canadian Film Award for Best Feature Length Documentary.

Browne has edited Writing magazine, taught at the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University and undertaken a history of filmmaking, Motion Picture Production in British Columbia, 1849-1940: A Brief Historical Background and Catalogue (Museum of B.C., 1979), in which he identifies more than 1,000 films that were made in British Columbia prior to World War II.

In connection to an exhibition he curated at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2016 called I Had An Interesting French Artist To See Me This Summer: Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia, Colin Browne wrote the text for a book catalogue of the same name in which he recounts and explores the relationship between Carr and surrealist painter Wolfgang Paalen who was member of the Paris avant-garde in the 1930s. The pair met in the summer of 1939, when Carr was age 67 and living at 316 Beckley Street in Victoria. Paalen had travelled to North America with his wife, Alice Rahon, and their friend, Eva Sulzer. As an artist and collector, Paalen was keenly interested in the art and culture of indigenous peoples of North America, later settling in Mexico where he published an art journal Dyn in which he continued to investigate the integration of "the enormous treasure of Amerindian forms into the consciousness of modern art." The catalogue also records the correspondence between Paalen and West Coast collector William Arnold Newcombe (1884-1960) who served as go-between for Carr and Paalen. In a letter to a friend Carr wrote, "I can't get the surrealist point of view most of their subjects revolt me." But Paalen evidently saw similarities with Carr's approach the she failed to appreciate. Colin Browne's study examines the stylistic synchronicity of their paintings, evidenced by a melding of a painting by each artist to serve as the cover of the catalogue.


Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Finalist (2003) Ground Water
BC Book Prizes Dorothy Livesay Award for Poetry, Nominee (2003) Ground Water
ReLit Award for Poetry, Long-Listed (2003) Ground Water
BC Cultural Services Media Arts Award (1993)
Genie Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary, Nominee (1990) White Lake

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Motion Picture Production in British Columbia: 1898-1940


Motion Picture Production in British Columbia, 1849-1940: A Brief Historical Background and Catalogue (Museum of B.C., 1979)
Abraham (Brick Books, 1987)
Ground Water (Talonbooks, 2002)
The Shovel (Talonbooks 2007)
The Properties (Talonbooks 2012) $19.95 9780889226852
The Hatch (Talonbooks, 2015) $19.95 9780889229389
I Had An Interesting French Artist To See Me This Summer: Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia (Vancouver Art Gallery / Figure.1 2016) 978-1-927958-78-0 pbk $24.95
Entering Time: The Fungus Man Platters of Charles Edenshaw (Talonbooks 2017) $19.95, 978-1-77201-039-8

[BCBW 2017] "Poetry" "Film"

Press Release

Vancouver International Film Festival
Sun Oct 5, 2003 Granville 7 Cinema 7
Wed Oct 8, 2003 Granville 7 Cinema 5

Colin Browne, author of Ground Water, nominated for the Governor General's Award for Poetry, is also a filmmaker who has written and directed a film about the life of the celebrated jazz musician Linton Garner, who played the last years of his long career in a club near Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. During a career that spanned more than seven decades, Linton worked with innovators like Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie before making Vancouver his home in the early 1970s. When his younger brother Erroll, a keyboard prodigy, died suddenly the day before a planned visit in 1977, Linton decided that he would one day write a tribute. Through recollections of his early professional days, conversations with fellow musicians and footage from the 2002 Vancouver International Jazz Festival performance of I Never Said Goodbye, Linton emerges as a man of great warmth, humanity, sharp wit and immeasurable talent. [2003]

The Properties
Publisher's Promo (2012)

The texts in The Properties range from a twenty-first-century visitation by Herman Melville at a diner in New York City to an unknown history of the Lions Gate Bridge that begins in the Coast Salish village of Xwemelch’stn and ends with an assassination in Egypt. Igor Stravinsky, Sigmund Freud, Stefan Zweig, Duke Ellington, Jeanne d’Arc, Walter Guinness, George Bowering, André Breton (who sought out “the interior voice within each human being”) and more appear.

I Had an Interesting French Artist...
Review (2017)

REVIEW: I Had an Interesting French Artist to See Me This Summer: Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia

Vancouver: Figure 1, 2016. $24.95 / 978-1-927958-78-0.

Reviewed by Elisabeth Otto


Writer, documentary filmmaker, and cultural historian Colin Browne has turned his attention to the fruitful meeting, in Victoria in 1939, between Emily Carr (1871-1945) and the Austrian-Mexican Surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959).

Reviewer Elisabeth Otto provides the context and consequences of this meeting of two important artists.

Paalen was en route between Hitler’s Europe and the safety of Mexico, where he was welcomed by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. There, he would abandon Surrealism and influence the development of Abstract Expressionism. -- Ed.


Accompanying last year’s exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, this catalogue takes the encounter of the artist Wolfgang Paalen with Emily Carr in Victoria in 1939 as an occasion to introduce the Austrian artist to a Canadian audience.

Writer and filmmaker Colin Browne, who curated the exhibition and wrote this catalogue, takes this brief encounter to highlight their shared fascination for the landscapes and monumental art of the people of the Northwest Coast First, which together had a huge impact on both artists’ work.

This small but dense book offers a very helpful overview of the communities Carr had visited between 1907 and 1929 as a backdrop to Paalen’s journey to B.C. during the summer of 1939.

In 1907, Carr had been the first Canadian artist to take a serious interest in the Native art and sites of the Northwest Coast, decades before Edwin Holgate and Anne Savage painted on the Skeena River and north coast in the 1920s.

Browne’s curatorial essay draws a portrait of Paalen and Carr, reconstructs their encounter from sources in archives in Europe and Canada, and shows where this encounter resides in their careers.

At this time in her life, Carr had gained a national reputation through her Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art: Native and Modern (National Gallery of Canada, 1927), and though her extensive participation in the Canadian modernist project led, in central Canada, by the Group of Seven.

By 1939, when Paalen paid his pilgrimage to her in Victoria, Carr had entered the last phase of her career. They were introduced by Carr’s friend, the anthropologist William (Willie or Billy) Newcombe (1884-1960), and Paalen was also in contact with the ethnographer Marius Barbeau at the National Museum in Ottawa.

In 1939, due to her declining health after a first stroke in 1937, Carr was unfit to travel and was turning her interest towards writing; her first book, Klee Wyck, would be published in 1941.

Paalen was at a completely different point in his life and career. As an Austrian in Paris in the late 1920s, he had become acquainted with modernist painting through his studies with Fernand Léger, and he had been introduced to the native art and material culture of the Northwest Coast through Surrealism.

Like André Breton and other surrealists, Paalen started to collect shamanic charms, ceremonial regalia, and carved painted wood objects, including a small Northwest Coast totem pole that he found in a Parisian shop.

While still in Europe, Paalen had developed an imaginary vision of Northwest Coast art and mythology that he would translate and incorporate into a technique he called fumage – or soot painting, in which smoke from a candle was transferred to paper or canvass.

At first, Paalen saw Northwest Coast material culture as a collection of surrealist objects, but when he came into direct contact with Native art on his travels on coastal B.C., he would situate these disparate objects more fully into Northwest Coast communities, myths, and belief systems.

Following his visit to B.C., Paalen left for Mexico where he found a second home at the outbreak of the Second World War. Browne shows that his trip to British Columbia affected Paalen’s artistic production and his writing, namely through his art magazine and journal Dyn, which he started in Mexico in 1942.

The correspondence of Paalen and Newcombe from August 1939 up to January 1945, printed in this catalogue, is an appropriate starting point for any further research on Paalen’s continuing contact with B.C. and a valuable account of the long history of close collaboration between ethnographers and artists in the Northwest Coast region.

Colin Browne’s selection of works by Carr and Paalen in the exhibit (which unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to visit), and in this book, shows a great sensitivity for their respective work and their artistic borrowings from the Indigenous cultures of the Northwest Coast.

By juxtaposing early and late works from Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen, Browne was able to link two artists from different cultures and generations through their intrinsic sensibility to the underlying forces of Indigenous art.

Having been educated in the tradition of French avant-garde art -- Carr during her Paris sojourn in 1910-11 and Paalen in the late 1920s – both artists shared the conviction that Western art could only gain by the close study of Indigenous art.

And yet one should not forget that the intentions of Carr and Paalen were fundamentally different: whereas Carr depicted and interpreted the outer images of the Native heritage of coastal British Columbia, Paalen recognized in the art of the Northwest Coast the inner images of his own unconscious mind, a process he embarked on while still in Europe.

While I Had an Interesting French Artist to See Me doesn’t shed much new light on Carr, it does enable Browne to affirm her importance for contemporary international scholars, artists, and ethnographers alike, including Newcombe and Mark Tobey in the 1920s and Paalen in the 1930s.


Elisabeth Otto is currently working on a dissertation titled Art Histories of Unlearning: Emily Carr (1871-1945) and Gabriele Münter (1877-1962). After completing an M.A. in Business Administration, she studied art history, archaeology, and philosophy in Regensburg, Munich, and Montreal. Otto was a Fellow in Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada during the first year of her Ph.D. program at the Université de Montréal. In addition to conducting research on women artists, twentieth century Primitivism, and contemporary Indigenous women artists, she is interested in the interrelations between European and North American art and art histories, particularly in the mobility of artists, art historians, and aesthetic concepts.


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