By Emily Horn, DOMA Intern

Roger Brown was a leading member of the Chicago Imagist group, who created bold canvases and sculptural objects that explore America in the postwar era. His work is personal, provocative, and political with subjects that frequently touched upon urban isolation, alienation, sexual interest, natural disasters, and human tragedy.

Throughout his prolific career Brown showed an interest in addressing Chicago’s gay nightlife and the Culture Wars of the 1980s and 90s. Brown was a victim of HIV/AIDS and he made several profound works confronting the pandemic. “Peach Light” by Roger Brown is one of the many works of his that has a reoccurring peach color scheme. This color scheme was meant to resonate, subtly, with the predicament of the gay community. As the AIDS epidemic raged in the early ’80s, owners of gay clubs installed warm red and peach lighting to cover up signs of illness on their guests. In addition to paintings on canvas, Brown made two major Italian glass mosaic murals for public settings, addressing HIV/AIDS. As a gay man who died of complications from AIDS in 1997, Brown sometimes combined personal narratives with depictions of social crises.

In October 2004, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations’ Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues inducted Roger Brown into the world’s only known municipally-sponsored hall of fame that honors members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

Several of Brown’s works reside in the DOMA collection, including one currently on view: “Burners, Burglars, and Beaters” which depicts the famous Los Angeles riots. In 1992, Los Angeles County, California was taken over by racially charged riots after outraged residents found out four police officers were found not guilty after severely beating Rodney King. Painted during the same year the riots broke out, Brown depicts the robberies, beatings and fires that happened in Los Angeles.

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Roger Brown. Burners, Burglars, and Beaters, 1992. Oil on canvas. 48 x 72 inches. David Owsley Museum of Art. 2005.012.000. © The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brown family

Visit the David Owsley Museum of Art today to see “Burners, Burglars, and Beaters,” located upstairs in the Ball Brothers Foundation Gallery.