Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joan Brown Posthumous Retrospective ~ Inspiration and Self-Reflection

I’m not any one thing: I’m not just a teacher, I’m not just a mother, I’m not just a painter, I’m all these things plus, and the more areas I can tap, the richer each one of the others will be.
— Joan Brown (1938-1990)


This past weekend included a trip to the San Jose art museum. I was browsing through the entertainment section of the local online paper and was pulled into the title, "This Kind of Bird Flies Backward." I continued reading about the artist, Joan Brown, a bay area resident and professor at the University of Berkeley, California. She died in 1990 when a falling “concrete turret” crashed down and killed her while installing her art work in a museum in India

Joan Brown's self-reflective qualities and strong spirit caught my soul’s attention. Not seeming to want to make bold verbal statements about issues, she maintained her own voice and authenticity by tackling issues of the time in her own space, but without the need to flaunt nor speak of them directly.

As I wound myself through her exhibit, reading the informational placards along the way, I found myself knowing Joan Brown, both admiring her evolution as an artist, and feeling deeply inspired. 

I haven't sketched or attempted to paint a self-portrait in at least 10 to 15 years but seeing her own self-portraits reminded me how much I enjoyed trying to render myself, even though the result was not flattering in my eyes and often very rough but nevertheless— revealing.
Joan Brown's early paintings are painted thick. I too enjoy the textures and visceralness that thick paint invites—working thick and loose, free and maybe even sloppy in a non-sloppy way. As she evolves, she loses the thickness and her paintings become large and smooth with vibrant colors.

There is much of  Joan Brown to soak up in this exhibit. One of my favorites is a huge canvas with a fish that takes up practically the whole space. We connected from that great distance, periwinkle blue, other pretty pinks and vibrant Easter type colors sent my mouth slightly agape —like seeing a long lost relation—the painting itself connected with me from a distance—and then I walked up to it—and there she was, amongst happy colors standing in the mouth of the fish—Joan smiling back at us. 


Part of what brought me to the page this morning was that I attempted to sketch a self-portrait of myself last night. I was in the store and went to the stationery section, and over to the far right crayons and sketch books beckoned me. So this photo is a self-portrait sketch. It began with me, holding the sketch pad up with one hand, pencil in the other, and my own reflection looking back. When I was done, there was a certain familiarity both in self and also in style to past attempts. I then added the puck ears which is also familiar; the moon, butterfly, and other squiggles. 


San Jose Museum of Art

This Kind of Bird Flies Backward: Paintings by Joan Brown.  Those of you who are interested in exploring her art and learning about the artist, can explore here. You won’t see all of the paintings, but you will get a glimmer.

You can learn a little bit more about the title of the exhibition at the above website. Here is Diane Di Prima’s poem, “The Window” from her collection of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, that line also from this poem.

Article that was the reason I was fortunate to know of and see her exhibit. It goes through March 11, 2012, for any of you bay area residents that would like to visit.


keiko amano said...


At first, I thought the photo was from Joan Brown's drawings. I saw the link and the woman in one of the paintings there looked like your photo in a way.

I just love the image of a butterfly flying backward.

Rebb said...

Keiko, It’s interesting now that you mention it, how some self-portraits have a certain vacancy to them—like the face looking back is filled, yet empty. Some of my favorite self-portraits are the ones that Van Gogh painted.

Thank you for taking a look.