Byron Browne’s artistic training was conventional, and little about his career at the National Academy of Design from 1924-1928 suggested that he would soon depart from the traditional methods in which he was being schooled. Several experiences are identified as being formative for Browne’s career as an abstract artist. In 1927 he and his friend Arshile Gorky visited Albert E. Gallatin’s Gallery of Living Art, where they saw works of Picasso, Braque and Miró. Stimulated by what he saw there, Browne began to study Cahiers d’Art, the French magazine devoted to progressive European art. As he experimented with Cubism, Browne’s conviction that abstraction represented the future of art grew. His complete break from traditional art is perhaps best expressed in his decision to destroy his early representational work
By 1930 the direction of Browne’s work was clearly established. By the mid 1930s he found work and support within the Works Progress Administration Mural Division, as Burgoyne Diller, the Division’s head, began to advocate and organize in behalf of abstract artists. Browne became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, as well as having involvement in a variety of other political and artistic groups at this time. Like his wife, the artist, Rosalind Bengelsdorf, Browne wrote and spoke frequently in defense of abstraction.
According to Byron Browne, the roots of abstraction could be found in the natural world, and as such, abstraction could not be separated from life itself. He saw abstraction as an extension of the physical world, rather than generated by spiritualism. The distinction was an important one to Browne, who had little tolerance for the mysticism that Hilla Rebay and others believed to be at the foundation of abstraction.
In the 1930s Cubism can be seen as the dominant influence in his work, while by the 1940s his paintings had relaxed into softer, biomorphic forms reminiscent of Arp and Miró. In the 1950s, in response to the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, his work became more gestural and painterly. However, these styles were never mutually exclusive; Browne felt free to combine any or all of these elements, depending on his expressive intent.
In addition to his career as a painter, Browne was also a teacher. He taught at the Art Students League beginning in 1948, and in 1949 he became a professor of advanced painting at New York University. Byron Browne died in New York in 1961.
Excerpt taken from American Abstract Art of the 1930s and 1940s, The J. Donald Nichols Collection, Margaret Gregory. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, New York. 1998