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The New Yorker

Joan Brown

December 2020

Painting by Joan Brown titled Grey Wolf with Red Clouds and Dark Tree from 1968.

Joan Brown, Grey Wolf with Red Clouds and Dark Tree, 1968

Goings On About Town: Art

A dozen bracing figurative paintings, on view at Venus Over Manhattan, chart a decade in the career of this Bay Area artist (who died at the age of fifty-two, in 1990), starting in the late-nineteen-sixties. It was an inspired period, following a three-year, soul-searching hiatus in which Brown’s ragged impasto expressionism gave way to a more studied approach. There are echoes of Henri Rousseau in “Grey Wolf with Red Clouds and Dark Tree,” a barren, lurid landscape whose stilted magic is heightened by a yellow-eyed canine staring straight at the viewer.

In other dramatically composed scenes, swimmers cut through expanses of deep green, and a woman disrobes for a shower as a little dog stands at the ready with a checkered towel. The 1970 series “Garden of Eden” includes portraits of a stylized devil and of a female nude relaxed on a boulder. The show’s lone self-portrait—which captures the artist with a striking deer-in-the-headlights gaze—is an illuminating foil to Brown’s more mythic and absurdist registers, suggesting that every painting here is some mode, however disguised, of introspection.

— Johanna Fateman

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