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Joan Brown, Drawn from Life: Works on Paper, 1970-1976
October 8, 2020 - December 19, 2020
The George Adams Gallery is pleased to present Joan Brown: Drawn From Life, an exhibition of works on paper spanning the years 1970 to 1976. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Brown’s death, on October 26th, 1990, this exhibition looks back to one of the most fruitful periods of Brown’s career from the perspective of her drawings from the model. Highly experimental, unstudied and boldly rendered, they reveal that drawing was a mode Brown used as a form of practice, to allow herself to come to the canvas instinctually and without preparation. The exhibition will include over a dozen works ranging from simple line drawings to more fully rendered paintings on paper – several of which Joan had set aside for her personal collection and never before exhibited. A new publication, fully illustrated, focusing on Brown’s drawings – the first – will accompany the exhibition with contributions by Jenelle Porter, Eva Rivlin and Tamsin Smith and an introduction by George Adams.
Joan Brown came to prominence around 1960, while in her early twenties and in graduate school, as part of the second generation of Bay Area Figurative painters. However, by 1969 she had transformed herself into a radically different artist, one who would come to be defined by her individualism. In the several years following, Brown devoted much of her time to drawing – predominantly from a model in the studio. This was a communal activity – working alongside friends and contemporaries such as Manuel Neri, Elmer Bischoff, Gordon Cook or Robert Arneson, she took these sessions as a way to “get into, or feel, or get mesmerized by, or investigate an image that I wanted to paint. I would do many drawings until I got familiar with the image… it’s the same with getting to know the figure.”
The progression of her drawings from 1970 onwards suggests this process of familiarization. Though the earliest are rendered in the briefest strokes of graphite or ink, by 1972 a limited palette of red, black and white acrylic is introduced – the shorthand Brown needed to differentiate flesh from furniture and to block out graphic patterns and outlines. In drawings such as Model + Mirror in Studio, 1972, the composition takes primacy with all but the key elements painted over in glossy black ink. The model is almost incidental, balanced against the heavy stripes of the blanket she lies on and the tipped-up perspective of the table in the foreground. Her reflection in the mirror is pale, though details of the studio are sketched in around her. Reflections crop up in other drawings as well, including Joan herself in quick self-portraits as for Model with Reflection in Window from the same year.
Though her drawings grew in size and ambition over time, a consistent factor was the speed at which Brown worked. Colors are mixed partly on the page and segments of paper pasted in: collage as a method of erasure. In one of the largest drawings from this group, Model in Studio, 1973, two full sheets of paper form a seam across the middle to accommodate the figure, shown in a classical pose, accessorized by a chic black tulle veil with a single high-heeled sandal on the floor in front of her. A quick pencil sketch in the background shows Bischoff seated, sketching from across the room. After 1974 Brown began to use more color, though her convention of the pink figure continued. These later drawings are more fully realized, with defined settings or conversely, minimal, silhouetted compositions akin to those in her paintings from around this time. The culmination of these studio drawings is the Mary Julia series Brown completed over the course of 1976, based on the model Mary Julia, a long-time collaborator of Neri’s. All show Mary Julia variously costumed in the outfits she would bring to their sessions, giving a playful, narrative quality to the series with her filling the role of the every-woman: vulnerable, confident and beguiling.