Exhibition Dates: September 12 — November 18, 2017
Opening Reception: September 9, 2017 at 7pm
Richmond Art Center
2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, CA 94804
An exhibition of works on paper, Joan Brown : In Living Color, reflects the bold originality and the continued impact Brown has had on artists, educators, and collectors in the Bay Area and beyond. Joan Brown’s deep determination and humanistic commitment catalyzed artists in the San Francisco Bay Area to forge a path against the grain of formalism in upholding the narrative. The core of Joan Brown’s life and experiences became the subject of her art.
Joan Brown : In Living Color reveals the intimate and personal in the renderings of an artist who never stopped drawing. Any piece of paper could be taken in hand for notation of child, cat, dream, or view of oneself. Many of these works come from the artist’s estate and have never been exhibited publicly.
We are deeply grateful to the following individuals and organizations who have generously sponsored this exhibition:
Please join Anglim Gilbert Gallery at Frieze Masters this year as they spotlight Joan Brown.
October 5 – 8,
Regent’s Park, London
Anglim Gilbert Gallery will present four of Joan Brown’s large-scale figurative paintings dating from the seventies and two works on paper, all distinguished examples of the technique and subject matter that Brown developed. Brown’s large figure compositions created in a stylized, flattened perspective became her forum for life’s encounters and her own self-awareness. Born in the midst of the growing feminist art movement, Brown’s works portray pensive, strong figures (many self-portraits) that can be seen as emblems for self-enlightenment and the challenges of every woman.
The George Adams Gallery begins the fall season with an exhibition of paintings by Joan Brown (1938-1990). Covering the years 1961 to 1983, this is a wide-ranging presentation including several large canvases from the 70s and 80s and a series of early enamel on paper paintings. With much of this material having been rarely, if ever, shown, the emphasis is on the lesser-known aspects of Brown’s work.
Joan Brown was an astonishingly prolific artist with a successful career spanning some 30 plus years, up to her tragic death in India in 1990. Both highly individualistic and independent-minded, her work went through a series of dramatic and deeply personal evolutions over the course of her life. As an artist but also as a traveler and student, her views were shaped by an increasingly pluralistic embrace of world cultures and a spirituality which came to pervade her life and work. Though she respected and was inspired by painters such as Goya and Rembrandt, or more modern artists such as Rousseau and Bacon, Brown’s embrace of Eastern philosophies was of equal importance, in particular the teachings of the guru Sathya Sai Baba, of whom she became a devoted follower.
The exhibition begins with a group of enamel on paper paintings made during a trip to Spain in the summer of 1961, what was the first of many trips abroad for Brown. Loose and decadent, they read like a travelogue, documenting the sights in the same brushy strokes of her abstractions at the time. However, unlike those early paintings, these works on paper simply capture the people and places surrounding her, an approach more typical of her mature work. Similarly, her 1963 depiction of her young son in “Noel’s First Christmas” augments the extensive diaries she kept of his early years and is a richly colored and affectionate portrait.
At the core of the exhibition are paintings from 1973 to 1983. All large-scale and executed in enamel on canvas, they show Brown at her most experimental. While they seem radical in relation to the exuberant patterning and saturated color more often associated with her work, the simplified elements in these paintings are in some ways a distillation of Brown’s practice. Her reductivism, of the figure in particular, relates to her training as a swimmer and the principle of efficient movement being the most ‘basic’. Therefore men and women are reduced down to silhouettes and outlines within spaces merely suggested at by a line or two within vast swaths of color. For Brown, this economy also allowed her to better capture gesture or emotion, what she saw to be at the core of what her paintings expressed. Yet there is also a parallel to her life-long interest in Egyptian art and iconography, where like pictographs, her simplified renderings become an alternative visual language. By eschewing extraneous details, her late paintings turn simplicity into a spiritual gesture.
Throughout her career, Joan Brown’s philosophical and spiritual interests in world cultures and religions grew. Brown’s fascination with ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Greece, began early in life, when as a child she spent time in the local library reading about Egyptian hieroglyphs, the pyramids, and obelisks. Fueled by her intense studies of spiritual texts and her travels abroad beginning in 1977, Brown began filling her canvases with icons, symbols, mystical emblems, and hieroglyphs. Critics received these newer works, produced in the 1980s, with lukewarm enthusiasm, which only enhanced the artist’s disdain for the art market and what she believed to be the commercialization of the art world.
Brown frequently noted that ancient civilizations like Egypt, Mexico, and India revered their artists as important figures in society who were charged with visually communicating and recording beliefs, rituals, and histories, often for the entire populous. When confounded critics wrote disparaging reviews about the strange symbology of her paintings, Brown felt they were missing the point entirely. In the mid 1980s, she began focusing on public art commissions as a way to disengage with the art market while still engaging with a broad audience.
For Brown, the unity of art and life was visible in monumental symbols like the obelisk, an Egyptian construction that represented the power of both gods and pharaohs. Between 1984 and 1990, Brown finished eleven public art commissions, including the Rincon Center obelisk in San Francisco, California.
Combining the sleek form of the Egyptian obelisk with intricate and colorful mosaic patterns of dolphins and eagles, the Rincon Center obelisk resides in the courtyard of the art deco United States Post Office Rincon Annex building. Brown often patterned her public sculptures after their environments, and, similarly, the dolphins of the Rincon Center obelisk mirror the stone relief dolphin friezes adorning the original art deco building. The Rincon Center Post Office building, which was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood and completed in 1940, also contains a large interior mural in 27 parts completed under the Work Projects Administration (WPA).
The dolphins are a direct reference to those painted in a fresco at the Palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. Brown had a large framed photograph of the dolphin mural in her studio at the time of her death. Whether she knew that the dolphin fresco was actually part of a rather imaginative restoration conducted by archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 1900s, and not original to the structure or Minoan culture, is unknown. In fact, the palace was likely destroyed several times from natural disasters, including from an earthquake and a tsunami resulting from a volcanic eruption. Evans had a team reconstruct much of the palace down to painted murals and frescoes in an attempt to provide visitors with a fuller experience of the once grand labyrinth structure. The dolphin fresco on the wall of the Queen’s Megaron has been noted by historians as clearly not matching the style of the Minoan time period. Regardless of, or perhaps because of, the beautiful but out of place dolphin fresco of Knossos, Brown was interested in the vivid imagery of the swimming blue dolphins with yellow stripes running the length of their bodies and black turned up snouts. Translated in mosaic on the square obelisk, they swim skyward, gracefully and playfully folding their bodies around the edges of the monument.
RAT BASTARD PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION
Curated by Anastasia Aukeman
April 27 – June 3, 2017
Book signing: Saturday, April 29, 4-6PM
SUSAN INGLETT GALLERY, 522 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011
Susan Inglett Gallery is pleased to present Rat Bastard Protective Association, a group exhibition organized by Dr. Anastasia Aukeman, author of Welcome to Painterland: Bruce Conner and the Rat Bastard Protective Association (University of California Press, 2016). Through gallery ephemera and more than 40 works by 10 artists, the exhibition documents the activities and artistic production of the Rat Bastard Protective Association (RBPA), an inflammatory, close-knit community of artists and poets who lived and worked together in a building they dubbed “Painterland” in the Fillmore neighborhood of mid-century San Francisco. The idiosyncratic group included Wallace Berman, Bob Branaman, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Jay DeFeo, George Herms, Wally Hedrick, Manuel Neri, and Michael McClure, among other, less constant members.
Eager to consolidate his inclusion in the artistic community in and around 2322 Fillmore Street, or “Painterland,” when he arrived in San Francisco in September 1957, Bruce Conner placed himself firmly at the center of the cohort by forming the Rat Bastard Protective Association and naming himself its president. Conner derived the name by combining the name of a San Francisco trash collection company, the Scavengers Protective Association, with a slur picked up at the gym. The art practices of these Northern California artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s animated broader social and artistic discussions throughout the United States and carved out an important place for West Coast activities for decades to come.
The Rat Bastard Protective Association exhibition at Susan Inglett Gallery will be the second since 1958, when the group led a parade to the opening of their exhibition at the Spatsa Gallery on Filbert Street in San Francisco. (The first, also curated by Aukeman, was mounted at the Landing in Los Angeles in Fall 2016.) We are grateful for the cooperation of the estates and institutions lending works to the exhibition, including The Conner Family Trust, The Jay DeFeo Foundation, the Estate of Wally Hedrick, and the Stockwell Collection.
Dr. Anastasia Aukeman is an art historian, curator, and professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Please join us! Jeff Gunderson, archivist and special collections librarian of the San Francisco Art Institute, will give a talk titled “Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff” on April 20th as part of SFMOMA’s Meeting of the Minds series.
MEETING OF THE MINDS: Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff
by Jeff Gunderson
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Gina and Stuart Peterson White Box, Floor 4, SFMOMA
Inspired by the exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn, this series of talks examines artistic influence and aesthetic affinities between pairs of artists. Whether separated by time and place or through close personal relationships, this class highlights the ways in which artists gain inspiration from one another. Curators and scholars share stories, observations, and insights with participants as they draw connections between artworks and invite closer inspection of pieces both familiar and new. Participants will spend time in the galleries as part of this class.
Jeff Gunderson has been the Librarian and Archivist at the Anne Bremer Memorial Library of the San Francisco Art Institute since 1981. Gunderson is the author of the title essay for The Moment of Seeing: Minor White and the California School of Fine Arts, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006) and “A Combination of Accidents: The San Francisco Art Scene in the 1940s,” published in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward (San Francisco: SFMMA, 2010) which won the Art Librarian’s Society Worldwide Books Award for 2010. His introductory essay to Black Power/Flower Power: Photographs by Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch was published in September, 2012 by the Pirkle Jones Trust. He is currently working on a collection of essays about open water swimming.