Our next Artist You Need To Know is Joan Brown (1938 – 1990). Brown lived in Northern California, and was primarily a figurative painter. She was a member of the ‘second generation’ of the Bay Area Figurative Movement (a previously featured Artist You Need To Know was in the ‘first’ generation, the recently deceased Wayne Thiebaud). In a 1979 interview, Brown said “How do I know when I’ve finished a painting? It’s when that element of surprise is there. I can feel the flow start to happen just in terms of working, which is actually an altered state of consciousness.”



Brown frequently worked with paint that was thickly applied and with an almost sculptural texture. Her personal life and her own experiences were often sources she mined for her imagery. Women and animals were frequently the players in her painted scenes, and later in her career she would incorporate more spiritual, mystical and New Age symbolism as her use of paint became more stylized and linear. She studied under Elmer Bischoff at the California School of Fine Art, where she was a friend and peer of such painters as Richard Diebenkorn and Manuel Neri.

At the age of 22, Brown was one of the artists in the annual survey exhibition, mounted at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1960. She was seminal to how, in the late 1950s, California (and especially the Bay Area in particular) thrived as an influential and vital artistic space, in contemporary American art. Her work was also very influenced by Beat Generation culture and Funk art.




Brown also had a significant influence as a teacher at a number of institutions. These included the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (1961 to 1969);  University of Colorado at Boulder, where she was invited in the summer of 1964 to work with both undergraduate and graduate students; the Academy of Art College in San Francisco (1966–1967 and 1971–1973); the University of Victoria, British Columbia (1969); Sacramento State College (1970–1971), and Mills College, Oakland (1973). The University of California, Berkeley offered her tenure, in 1974, where she remained until her passing (with many frequent trips around the world, as her later artistic period was strongly influenced by travelling, and included an exploration of sculpture, more so than painting).




The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are the most notable of numerous collections where her work can be found.

Brown died at the age of 59 on October 26, 1990 while helping to an install a mosaic obelisk she designed at Sai Baba’s Eternal Heritage Museum in Puttaparthi, India.

In 2011 – 2012, the San Jose Museum of Art mounted This Kind of Bird Flies Backward : Paintings by Joan Brown. Karen Tsujimoto, author of The Art of Joan Brown stated the following about Brown’s legacy: “In her art she had no one whom she had to answer to or to be responsible for, and she relished and protected this freedom fiercely.” Joan was an artist and an individual first. “I can’t do without making pictures of my own,” [Brown] once commented, “And I don’t know why this is so. But it’s true…”” More about that exhibition can be read here, and the gallery site offers more images of Brown’s art here.