Ion George Brown
(October 5, 1942-June 18, 2021)
A memorial service will be held on Saturday for former NZ Army artist Ion Brown who died in Napier last week, aged 78.
A World War II baby born in 1942 in Dunedin in 1942, the second of two children of George and Margaret Brown, he took art at King Edward Technical College, followed by a five-year apprenticeship in engraving, before moving to Napier in 1963 to start his own engraving business.
He was inspired into an art painting career after taking a course with Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery resident tutor and former Elam University tutor Peter Brown and in 1987 was appointed Official artist to the New Zealand Army, in the footsteps of legendary wartime artist Peter McIntyre.
Specialising in oils and travelling widely in the role, which continued until 1997, he painted histories of Army operations dating back to World War I, including travelling to Gallipoli's 75th anniversary in 1990, while his 1915 Battle of Chunuk Bair impressions is another feature of the catalogue, often regarded as perhaps the best.
It became a New Zealand sesquicentennial gift from the Armed Forces to the people of New Zealand and now hangs in Parliament Buildings in Wellington.
He also travelled to Malaysia in 1989 and to Greece in 1991 for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, captured in the well-known work "A soldier returns".
Some didn't involve any travel, notably the recording of major defence exercise Golden Fleece in Hawke's Bay in February 1989.
After arriving in Napier, he met "Londoner" Sylvia Cooper, who had immigrated, and they married in 1971. He taught her engraving so that she could run the business he had established in Tennyson St, Napier, and they also bought a house on hospital hill where he established a studio for his painting, inspired by the view to the north.
While father George Brown had died in Italy in World War II, when Brown was less than 2 years old, Sylvia doesn't believe it had anything to do with the inspiration for the war scene and service personnel impressions that followed. Spinoffs included some work also for the Malaysian and British armies.
The Army role was just 10 years of his career, and followed a recommendation from McGregor Wright Gallery in Wellington as the Army decided to reinstate the commission which had been vacant for some years.
He had exhibited at the gallery, but his wife said he wasn't "prolific" in the context of a commercial artist producing constantly to sell, but he enjoyed earning a living "doing something he would have done for nothing."
Despite the solitude of the work, he was sociable, enjoyed meeting people, which and included joining Napier Tech Old Boys Rugby Club about the time of his arrival in Napier, and other connections included painting props and backdrops for the Napier Operatic Society, the 1985 production of hit musical Chicago being one.
Painting was his life, as was family, and bush walks and camping were regular in the younger days of sons Chris and Allan and daughter Jenny.
Many friends from the 58 years in Hawke's Bay had visited in recent times as he became more and more confined to home because of a long illness, which had meant he stopped painting about 18 months ago.
Mother Margaret, stepfather Bill Webster and elder brother Jimmy are deceased, and younger brother Robert lives in Christchurch.
Ion Brown is survived also by his wife, their sons and daughter, and by seven grandchildren.
Friends are invited to a celebration of his life at the Napier Sailing Club on Saturday at 11am.