Joan Brown

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Joan Brown
1938 – 1990

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

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