Joan Brown’s unprecedented success at a young age put her work into a national spotlight soon after she graduated from the California School of Fine Arts (now SFAI) in San Francisco, in the 1960s. Over the subsequent thirty years, Brown’s work changed radically, turning from the influence of abstract expressionism and Bay Area figurative art, to an aesthetic that was uniquely her own. While her art shifted in style, however, the artist’s influences remained consistent. Joan Brown’s work is distinctive in its autobiographical nature. In it, she explored her roles as a mother, wife, teacher, swimmer and artist. Art for her was a method of deep exploration of the self, a way to escape from the pressures and realities of life while remaining influenced by them. Her work is simultaneously personal, absurd, comic, fantastical, and arresting—all traits that were integral qualities of Brown’s character. Profoundly influenced by her own teachers and mentors–in particular, artists Elmer Bischoff, Nathan Oliveira and Frank Lobdell–Brown herself taught at UC Berkeley from 1973 until her death in 1990, going on to shape a new generation of painters in the Bay Area.


The Estate of Joan Brown was established by the artist’s family in 1990, and strives to create a wider audience for her artwork. It is also committed to preserving her legacy by collaborating on exhibitions and publications, and encouraging placement of Brown’s work in the collections of public institutions. While the bulk of Joan Brown’s archives are housed in San Francisco, and a smaller collection in the University Archives at UC Berkeley, the Estate hopes to facilitate greater research and education of the artist’s work by making archival resources accessible online. It welcomes inquiries from students, museums, researchers, and educators who are interested in the artist’s work, life, and archives.