1000 x 90

Impressions: Bill Brown’s Refugee Series Featured at the Turchin Center Through December 7

By Colby Gable

For many people around the world, both those with a citizenship to some place and those without, the global crisis of increased refugees and migrants have impacted the spaces of their world in an innumerable amount of ways. According to the Global Citizen there are an estimated 25.4 million refugees worldwide and that number is growing. The UN Refugee Agency reports that of that number, over 52% are children. While these sorts of complex and disheartening issues exist on such massive scales that at times it may feel out of our reach to actually bring a change to them, local artist, Bill Brown, has sought to bring support and awareness to this crisis through his sculptures, Refugee Series, currently on display at the Turchin Center.

Details from the East side of the room

The exhibit is foundationally based in the creative expression of craft to bring about attention and awareness to organizations that provide direct support to refugees, and Brown shares this information with collectors of the sculptures. The organizations supported include: Proactive Open Arts, UN Refugee Agency, International Refugee Committee, and two NC organizations.

Opening entrance to the exhibit
Sculpture with boat-base.

Brown talks of the project with a very clear intention of not only making art in reaction to this global crisis, but making something which hopefully produces real world impact, and mentions the personal importance of being able to donate a minimum of $500 from the sale of each sculpture, and is open about the information pertaining different organizations with the collectors. Brown also mentions that making sure the money that comes from Series ends up actually assisting those in need is just as important as the work itself, and how without the aspect of providing aid to refugees, the work would in some ways be in danger of diluting the heart of its subject matter. The sculpture and the exhibition have opened opportunities for promoting awareness, conversation, and through sales, provide financial support to refugee service organizations.   

The work on its own features vertically integrated metal pieces which reside on top of platforms metaphorically utilized to signify certain aspects of an individual refugee’s journey. Some of these include house rooftops, boats, representations of homelands left behind, and other interpretive designs.

            Apart from the metalworks which staunchly catch the eye due to their spatial presence, placement in the room, and form in general, are a variation of paintings separated by two different rooms. The first room which also holds the metalworks shares space with four separate paintings, all of which, like the metalworks themselves, are similar but with clearly contrasting differences. In the middle of the canvas we see images that reflect the figure of the sculptures, but each piece is distinguished with a variety of different color, materials, and use of perspective within the background of the figure, all used to symbolize the different aspects of the refugee journey. The abstract design of the metalworks, and the symbols we see from the paintings, are there to emphasize how we as those in society who aren’t victim to the necessity of seeking refuge actually view those who are, and the psychological humanization involved in the process. Brown however, somewhat distances himself from periodical labels and “leaves it up to others to categorize the work…to let the art go where its headed.”

            Acrylic and steel on panel; 48″ x 24″ including Bitter Sweet Sea on the left.

            Subsequently, the second room of paintings were created through Brown’s imagined worlds of the refugee’s journey, and the duality of good and bad by showing what they would see on the way, and on their arrival. Works such as Mists of the Unknown instill ideas of the overwhelming aspects of water and its role as a barrier of sorts for refugees to be able to reach certain places for safety. Whereas that such as Solitude, infers a much more pastoral and what Brown calls a “sublime-esque” space with vegetation and color, allowing impressions for a more positive chapter to the refugee crisis, as Brown says, “to capture the beauty of refuge and the discovery of destination.”

Solitude; Acrylic on canvas


In a statement about his work, Brown shares that the motivation is largely from a drive for exploration of form, line or texture, and to transform personal observations and experiences into art. His work ranges mainly from abstract to expressionist. Driven by the passion of creation, Browns’ aesthetic aims are supported by his depth of knowledge of process and materials. Notably, his sculptures often include the use of heavy forging techniques to manipulate the materials and for development of tactile surfaces that challenge expectations for metal sculpture.

The exhibit will run until December 7th and is located at Venue B of the Turchin Center, located at 423 West King Street beside Foggy Pines bookstore, with hours at 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Tuesday through Thursday, 12:00 – 8:00 PM on Friday, and 10 AM – 6 PM on Saturday.