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She received her formal education at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, where she graduated with a Master’s of Fine Arts in 1959. In her early years, Brown was influenced by a diversity of artistic groups including the German Expressionists, the French Impressionists, and the works of Western European old masters. Many of the images and ideas she encountered on her extensive travels are present in her artworks. Brown also concentrated on the loneliness and awkwardness that can consume individuals in highly social environments. In her later career, she made frequent visits to India and became a devotee of spiritual leader, Sathya Sai Baba. Brown died tragically in an accident in Puttaparthi, India, while installing an obelisk she had created for the new Eternal Heritage Museum.
Brown, a gifted teacher who served on the University of California, Berkeley faculty from 1974 to 1990, was one of the most individualistic and dynamic artists to emerge from the San Francisco Bay Area. A complex woman with a bright, quick mind, high energy and singular determination, she burst on the national scene when still very young. Growing up in San Francisco, a few blocks from San Francisco Bay (not surprisingly, water and cityscapes figure prominently in her work), she enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) directly out of high school without a real sense of what she wanted to do. Within a year, however, she knew she wanted to be: an artist.
One of her earliest teachers and mentors, Elmer Bischoff, became a role model for what it meant to be a painter and teacher. During the late 1950s and early 1960s she lived in a highly charged atmosphere of art and artists. It’s unlikely that Joan Brown’s work would have developed as it did outside of California. The creative milieu of the San Francisco Art Institute was particularly intense between the mid-’40s and the ’60s, giving rise to the West Coast school of abstract expressionism, the Bay Area figurative painting movement, Beat culture, and funk art. She was part of a group of artists who included Frank Lobdell, Jay De Fee, Wally Hedrick, Sonia Getchoff, Peter Voulkos, David Park and many others. This community of artists helped to establish California as a major creative center in the United States.
Born 1938, San Francisco, CA
Died 1990 Puttaparthi, India