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