Joan Brown at Anglim Gilbert, May 9 - June 22

Anglim gilbert presents Joan Brown: The Authentic Figure

May 9 - June 22, 2019

Reception: Saturday, May 11th, 4:00-7:00pm

Press Release

Anglim Gilbert Gallery is pleased to present The Authentic Figure, a solo exhibition of works on paper, paintings, and prints by Joan Brown (b. 1938 - d. 1990).

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.

Joan Brown taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and University of California, Berkeley, where she was a favorite and influential instructor. In 1998, the retrospective exhibition, The Art of Joan Brown, curated by Karen Tsujimoto and Jacquelynn Baas, was shown jointly at the Oakland Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum. Brown’s works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum, MoMA New York, LACMA, SFMOMA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, BAMPFA, and the Carnegie Museum.

Joan Brown at Frieze New York, May 2-5

George Adams Gallery presents Joan Brown

at Frieze New York

May 2 – 5, 2019

Press Release

For the Spotlight section in the upcoming New York edition of Frieze, we will be showing four monumental paintings by Joan Brown (1938-1990). All measuring 6 x 10 ft, they comprise a series of ‘Homage’s’ Brown painted in 1983 in recognition of the various ancient cultures, ideologies and individuals who impacted her thinking. Never before exhibited as a group, these four paintings represent a vital aspect of her later career, revealing an introspective and deeply spiritual artist at the peak of her ability.

Always inquisitive and open-minded, Joan Brown turned an enduring, youthful fascination with Egyptology into a life-long pursuit of beliefs and cultures around the world. With the help of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977, Brown traveled to Egypt for the first time; subsequent trips to South America, China, India and Mexico followed over the next five years. No tourist, Brown often traveled alone and made a point of accessing hard-to-reach destinations. She saw the purpose of these trips as an opportunity to “study ancient belief systems” which she supplemented with extensive research of her own. Brown was omnivorous in her study of art and keenly felt herself to be a student throughout her career: of old masters, ancient cultures, spiritual thinking. The ‘Homage’ paintings then represent a culmination of her studies as she both draws from and engages with the symbolism of each culture. Key themes include the reign of Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton; Mayan god Quetzalcoatl, the spiritual teachings she gained in India and the mystic beauty of China’s Huangshan range.

While each painting functions as a self-portrait, they differ from her many other self-portraits of the period, which always show Brown as an artist in her studio. Instead, each ‘Homage’ does the opposite: her hands or face are obscured in a sign of respect and she surrounds herself with symbols of duality, harmony and wisdom. Color, image and content, all are filled with meaning - but more relevant to the series are the commonalities Brown saw between such disparate cultures, not only in systems of belief but in modes of representation. Reflecting on her travels in 1982, Brown commented, “These cultures influenced not only how I saw the art, but also how I saw the purpose of life. In other belief systems… that was expressed through what we call their ‘art.’” Addressing her own painting she adds, “I am very concerned that whatever elements are used have meaning and content; not just a good-looking image or an interesting image or a bad-looking image. I’m concerned that the images aren’t egocentric but also universal.”[i]

Joan Brown (1938-1990) was born in San Francisco, California where she lived and worked for most of her life. Almost by accident, Brown chose to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, studying under painters such as Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn, going on to earn both her BFA (1959) and MFA (1960) at the school. Early recognition while Brown was still a student lead to her first solo exhibitions in San Francisco, at the Spasta Gallery (1958), in New York, at the Staempfli Gallery (1960) and in Los Angeles, at the Primus-Stuart Gallery (1962). Quickly named as one of the leading figures in the second generation of Bay Area Figurative painters, she was included in national survey exhibitions such as “Young America” at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1960), and at the Art Institute of Chicago (1961), the Carnegie International (1964), besides the definitive exhibition ’Funk’ at the Berkeley Art Museum (1967).

After taking a step back from her career in the mid-60s out of a desire to refocus her efforts, Brown emerged as a powerfully expressive figurative painter, working in the flat and colorful style most recognizably her own. Mid-career retrospectives at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1971), and the Berkeley Art Museum (1974) launched her into the second phase of her career, as she resumed a regular exhibition schedule with galleries in San Francisco (Hansen Fuller, 1973) and in New York (Allan Frumkin, 1974). Throughout her career, Brown showed herself to be a highly indivualistic artist, unswayed by trends or expectations of the market. Also a dedicated teacher, she held positions at SFAI and UC Berkeley, the later at which she eventually became department chair. By the mid-1980s, she began to shift her focus to public installations, which she felt were a more democratic form of art, completing several major commissions before her death in 1990. Frumkin/Adams, later George Adams, has continually exhibited her work as representatives of her Estate since. Brown’s work is included in many institutional collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Berkeley Art Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Philadelphia Art Museum; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Los Angeles County Museum; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Crystal Bridges; the Yale University Art Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. A major traveling retrospective of Brown’s work is currently being organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, scheduled for 2022-24.

i  Interview with Lynn Gumpert, 1982. Published in Early Work, exh cat. The New Museum: New York: 1982. p 22.

The Spotlight section of Frieze New York focuses on solo presentations of significant work by radical thinkers and overlooked modern masters. 

Joan Brown in "The Students" at George Adams

George Adams Gallery, Side gallery

April 25 – June 1, 2019

Press Release

In the side gallery is The Students, a suite of eight paintings on paper from 1982 by Joan Brown (1938-1990). Each work depicts a cat armed with a palette and paintbrush, examining in turn depictions of cats and women from various ancient civilizations. As an avid student of the ancient world, from 1977 on Brown made regular expeditions to Egypt, China, Japan, South America, Mexico, India and beyond. She was fascinated by the parallels that exist between various belief systems, particularly how such ideas were expressed through art and architecture. The cat in these drawings – which one can assume to be Brown, a cat-lover – is at turns confused and contemplative, but ultimately satisfied, walks off, perhaps to the studio to make use of this newfound knowledge.

531 West 26th Street
First Floor
New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212 564 8480
info@georgeadamsgallery.com

 
Joan Brown in "30 Years: Frumkin/Adams" at George Adams, thru Dec. 22

November 8 – December 22, 2018

Joan Brown ,  The Message #1,  1977, enamel on canvas, 96 x 78 inches, © The Joan Brown Estate.

Joan Brown, The Message #1, 1977, enamel on canvas, 96 x 78 inches, © The Joan Brown Estate.

George Adams Gallery

531 West 26th Street
First Floor
New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212.564.8480

During the months of November and December the George Adams Gallery will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a group exhibition highlighting the breadth of the gallery’s programming. The exhibition will feature a selection of works by artists from the gallery’s history, ranging from key figures from the Bay Area, important realist painters, a generation of Latin American artists and contemporary artists more recently associated with the gallery.

George Adams joined the Allan Frumkin Gallery in 1980 and became a partner, forming the Frumkin/Adams Gallery, in 1988. At Frumkin’s retirement in 1995, Adams assumed sole ownership and the gallery took on its present identity as George Adams Gallery. A year later the gallery moved from 50 West 57 Street, its home for over 25 years, across the street to 41 West 57 Street, then, in 2005, to Chelsea, into the gallery’s first designed and built space at 531 West 26th Street.

While by 1980 artists such as Arneson, Azaceta, Beal, Beckman, Brown, De Forest, Hudson, Leslie, McGarrell, Pearlstein, Saul, Shaw, Valerio, Westermann and Wiley had established relationships with the gallery, those partnerships only continued to grow under Adams’ direction and many of that group continue to be a core part of the gallery’s program. In the following decades, Adams expanded the roster, adding artists such as Arnold, Barsness, Bedia, Capote, Chagoya, Chin, Dill, Edison, Kobaslija, Lenaghan, Leipzig, Palazyan, Roche-Rabell, Treiman and Ueda to the gallery, in many cases giving them their first solo exhibitions in New York.

As the gallery enters its fourth decade, it continues to draw on this rich heritage while also introducing and promoting emerging and under-recognized artists. Recently the gallery presented a 40-year survey of San Jose artist Tony May, his first solo show in New York. Planned for the new year is painter Chris Ballantyne’s New York debut, followed by a survey of Bay Area sculptor Jeremy Anderson. The gallery will return to the ADAA Art Show in February with a presentation of figurative paintings by Elmer Bischoff and in the spring, an exhibition of new paintings by Amer Kobaslija.

Jeremy Anderson, Robert Arneson, Chester Arnold, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Chris Ballantyne, Robert Barnes, James Barsness, Jack Beal, William Beckman, Jose Bedia, Elmer Bischoff, Joan Brown, Yoan Capote, Enrique Chagoya, Mel Chin, Don Colley, Peter Dean, Roy De Forest, Valerie Demianchuk, Lesley Dill, Diane Edison, Manny Farber, Gregory Gillespie, Robert Hudson, Amer Kobaslija, Ansel Krut, Charles Marsh, James McGarrell, Arthur Leipzig, Andrew Lenaghan, Alfred Leslie, Tony May, Ron Nagle, Rosana Palazyan, Philip Pearlstein, Arnoldo Roche-Rabell, Peter Saul, Richard Shaw, James Surls, Joyce Treiman, Kako Ueda, James Valerio, H.C. Westermann, William T. Wiley, Sandy Winters, Philip Wofford

Joan Brown's Final Work: Obelisk for the Eternal Heritage Museum, 1990.

The compelling sense of idealism and spiritualism that motivated [Joan] Brown’s art in the last ten years of her life prompted her to propose, in early 1990, the design and construction of [the] obelisk….The [Eternal Heritage] museum was planned to emphasize the role of spiritualism in the evolution of humankind, and Brown’s obelisk was one of many components envisioned for the new three-story complex.

—curator Karen Tsujimoto 1

Joan Brown’s eleventh and last obelisk sculpture, adorned with mosaics tiles, was built in honor of the 65th birthday celebration, on November 23, 1990, of her guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In October of 1990, Brown traveled to India to install the sculpture at the new Eternal Heritage Museum near Sai Baba’s ashram. Significantly, the obelisk would also be her final work of art.

above: Joan Brown, Puttaparthi, India, October 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

above: Joan Brown, Puttaparthi, India, October 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

Brown first met spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba, one of the world’s most famous gurus, in 1980. While traveling all over India on her honeymoon with Michael Hebel, the couple decided to detour to the guru’s ashram, just outside of Bangalore.

Brown had been reading the book Sai Baba, The Holy Man…and the Psychiatrist, written by the psychiatrist Samuel Sandweiss. 2 Greatly taken with the author’s account of his personal transformation from skeptical observer to dedicated devotee, Brown and Hebel diverted their travel plans to the ashram to attend darshan, a Hindu blessing ceremony wherein followers behold the presence of a holy person or sacred deity. The artist was deeply moved by the experience, and she joined millions of other people around the world as a follower of the yogic guru.

above and right: Joan Brown, sketches for Obelisk for the Eternal Heritage Museum, 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate.

above and right: Joan Brown, sketches for Obelisk for the Eternal Heritage Museum, 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate.

Joan Brown, A New Age #1, 1983, Oil enamel on canvas, 78 x 96 inches. © Estate of Joan Brown.

Joan Brown, A New Age #1, 1983, Oil enamel on canvas, 78 x 96 inches. © Estate of Joan Brown.

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Joan Brown connected with Sai Baba’s teachings, which focused less on the creation of a new religion with a fixed dogma and more on commonalities across all world religions, including truth, peace, love, right action, nonviolence, and service to others. By the time Brown met Sathya Sai Baba, she was already on a spiritual quest that had taken her to countless sacred sites around the world.

After meeting the guru, Brown hung photos of him in her studio and dedicated several paintings to him, including The Fan/Homage to Sai Baba, 1980, and A New Age #1, 1983. In A New Age #1 red curtains adorned with fish are parted, revealing a distant figure floating in a boat on a glittering sea, gazing off into a promising, hopeful future: the Age of Aquarius. The tiny figure wears an orange robe and has a black afro, which by no coincidence were the distinguishing characteristics of Sai Baba, her beloved guru.

above: Sathya Sai Baba Blessing Ceremony at his ashram Prasanthi Nilayam (Joan Brown on far left), Puttaparthi, India. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

above: Sathya Sai Baba Blessing Ceremony at his ashram Prasanthi Nilayam (Joan Brown on far left), Puttaparthi, India. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

As curator Karen Tsujimoto notes in the opening passage, Joan Brown’s joy in designing and constructing public art for the last ten years of her life collided with her devotion for her guru in the obelisk created to celebrate Sai Baba’s birthday. Her interest in public sculpture, specifically obelisks, was directly tied to her fascination with world cultures, religions, and ancient civilizations, as well as her idealistic belief that art could enrich the lives of all people. In a 1983 letter published in the art magazine Images & Issues, Brown wrote:

In past civilizations and at various times in history, there was a coming together or unity of art, science, and religion. This is especially evident to me in ancient Egypt, China, India, South America, and Mexico…..The ancient civilizations believe that the reason for their art was to put into form the beliefs, discoveries, and customs of their particular cultures. The artists were considered useful and respected members of their societies, and the role of an art historian or critic was unnecessary. 3

The final sentence hints at Brown’s growing disdain for the art market. Many critics were confounded by the spiritual turn Brown’s painting had taken, and they gave her new work disparaging reviews, interpreting it as kitsch, superficial, naive, and lacking in complexity. The distance between critical response and the artist’s intention was vast, further fueling her pull away from the stylistic choices of her earlier career. Though she continued to be on good terms with her dealers, her dissatisfaction with art world dealings dovetailed with her spiritual searching. For Brown the role of the artist and the path to spirituality were entwined. She saw public art as a way to enrich all lives, integrated into daily life for all people to experience.

above: Model for the new Eternal Heritage Museum, circa 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

above: Model for the new Eternal Heritage Museum, circa 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

above: Eternal Heritage Museum under construction, near Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram, Prasanthi Nilayamcirca, Puttaparthi, India. 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

above: Eternal Heritage Museum under construction, near Sathya Sai Baba’s ashram, Prasanthi Nilayamcirca, Puttaparthi, India. 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate; collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri, San Francisco.

In June 1990, only four months before her tragic death in India while installing the obelisk, Brown wrote the following in a letter to her guru:

To my dearest mother and father, Sri Sathya Sai Baba:

Words cannot properly express the great joy and gratitude that I feel within my heart, the heart that you began to open in 1980…We had the grace to receive three days of Darshan from You and on one of those days You stopped in front of me and smiled. I had never seen or felt such love and beauty. My life was changed from that moment on as my heart…began to open. Because my heart opened up my consciousness started changing and over the ensuing years some destructive habits began to drop away and were gradually replaced by good ones such as service and compassion. I became aware that I was no longer a separate entity asking ‘what could I get from society,’ but instead started asking ‘what could I give?’ 4

When during installation a stone turret from the building collapsed, simultaneously the obelisk was completely lost and the artist passed from this life. As her final work of art, the obelisk, in a sense, represents the culmination of Joan Brown’s twinned spiritual and artistic journeys.

This year would have been Joan Brown’s 80th birthday. It is difficult to speculate what further contributions the artist would have made to the art world; however, her fervent and energetic output, her dedication to public service, and her devotion to teaching suggest that she would have had a substantial and lasting contribution over the years. Brown’s husband Michael Hebel noted she had an intuition that her life might be short. 5 Because of this she propelled herself and her work forward, hurrying to accomplish as much as possible in whatever time she was allotted. What her letter to Sai Baba suggests is that though she passed through life with great speed, she also found peace.

above: Joan Brown in her studio (photographs of Sathya Sai Baba hanging in the background), 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate. Photograph courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

above: Joan Brown in her studio (photographs of Sathya Sai Baba hanging in the background), 1990. © The Joan Brown Estate. Photograph courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Notes

  1. Karen Tsujimoto, “Painting as a Visual Diary,” in The Art of Joan Brown (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), p. 170.

  2. Ibid., p. 157.

  3. Joan Brown, “The Artist Versus the Art Historian and the Art Critic,” in “Equal Time,” Images & Issues 3 (January—February 1983): 6.

  4. Letter from the artist to Sai Baba, June 1990, written on the occasion of his sexity-fifth birthday (Joan Brown Estate, collection of Michael Hebel and Noel Neri).

  5. Interview between Michael Hebel and Karen Tsujimoto, San Francisco, 25 July 1996, quoted in Tsujimoto, “Painting as a Visual Diary,” p. 174.