Guided by her instincts and multifarious interests, Joan Brown explored a wide range of subject matter throughout her three-decade career. A profound interest in the human experience and in everyday life lies at the center of her art, whether depicting heartbreak, house cats, or spiritual beliefs. In Brown’s own words: “I hope that viewers are able to share or identify with the things that I talk about, because I really feel that I paint the human condition; that’s what I try to do.”
Brown’s early paintings, with their thickly impastoed, gestural images of figures and ordinary objects, received national attention when first exhibited in the late-1950s. The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired their first Joan Brown painting in 1960, and her work appeared on the cover of Artforum magazine in 1963, shortly after her twenty-fifth birthday. Despite this early success, Brown rejected the pressure to continue painting in the same manner. In the late-1960s, she debuted a radically different style marked by bold colors and a graphic directness, which she would expand upon for the rest of her career.
Joan Brown (1938–1990) was born in San Francisco and lived in the Bay Area her entire life. Her paintings were included in the 1964 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and the 1972 and 1977 Whitney Biennials in New York. Her work was the subject of one-person exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1971 and the Berkeley Art Museum in 1974 and again in 1998.
Joan Brown died tragically in 1990 during a construction accident at age 52. The largest exhibition of her work since her death was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this past fall. The exhibition will travel to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh this summer and the Orange County Museum of Art in early 2024.