The Authentic Figure
A San Francisco artistic icon, Brown’s expressive portraiture is steeped in self-determination. A graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, she was one of the few women associated with the Bay Area Figurative Movement and the Rat Bastard Protective Association — the legendary artists’ collective that included Bruce and Jean Conner, Manuel Neri, Wally Hedrick, George Herms, and Jay DeFeo, among others. At the outset of her career, Brown distinguished herself from her cohort with loose, impasto renderings of personal subject matter, closely examining her immediate surroundings and internal thoughts. While Brown’s approach to painting underwent a major stylistic shift in the early seventies, the essential concerns of her artistic practice remained clearly focused on the potential for self- actualization. Her immediate, flattened depictions of women, animals, and spiritual entities, became a means to invite an audience into her lived experience. During this time, she also maintained a rigorous life drawing practice. For Brown, committing to this fundamental compositional exercise fed her artistic agility. Studying the figure at length equated to an increased ability to render the thoughtful, deeply human characteristics that have become the hallmark of her work. Brown said of this process: “After a long time dealing with the nude, you become very involved only with seeing and in that state of near-boredom, you are free to experiment with the expressions of pure form.” — Joan Brown, University Art Museum, Berkeley, 1974 More than fifteen of these never-before-exhibited works on paper will be on view, as well as a number of Brown’s later paintings and lithographs. Year of the Tiger, Bather #7, Portrait of Donald, and Portrait of Leela, in particular, feature Brown’s allegory of choice — cats that intently meet the gaze of the viewer. Much like the artist herself, these animals are perceptive symbols of empowerment and self-knowledge.