One of California’s pre-eminent figurative artists, Joan Brown was born in 1938 in San Francisco and died in October 1990, at the age of 52, in India. Brown has long been recognized as one of the important artists to emerge from the creative milieu of the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1950s. She created a body of work distinguished by its breadth and personal vision, even though her creative output was cut short by her premature death.
As a young artist, Brown studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), the key institution in the western U.S. to advance the ideas of abstract expressionism. Brown embraced the gesture and force of abstract expressionist paint handling and its intuitive approach to the creative process. In 1960, at the age of 22, she had her first solo exhibition in New York, at the Staempfli Gallery. She was involved in San Francisco Beatnik culture, and part of a circle that included the poets Michael McClure and Alan Ginsberg, and artists Jay De Feo, Wally Hedrick and Bruce Conner. In 1959 she was a founding member, along with Conner, Manuel Neri, Jess, and Wallace Berman, of the Rat Bastard Protective Society, an informal coterie that objected to the term “Beat,” but which by its title symbolized the counter-culture ethos of the Beat generation.
Brown’s reputation, based on her intensely painted canvases that synthesized figurative imagery with the dynamic gestures of abstract expressionism, grew towards the mid-’60s. Her paintings of this period firmly allied her with the work of her teachers and their contemporaries, among them Elmer Bischoff, David Park and Richard Diebenkorn. Brown’s work, however, was set apart by its domestic subject matter: images of her young son, family pets, a Thanksgiving turkey and other kitchen still-lifes.
Then, in the mid-’60s, Brown retreated from the commercial art scene to refocus her art. Eventually, she made a decisive turn to more explicitly representational and symbolic imagery that was highly autobiographical and later, very spiritual. In 1990 she was installing one of her sculptures in India when the floor above her collapsed, crushing her and an American assistant.
– Oakland Museum 1999
Joan Brown CV