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March 2 - April 20, 2002 at the Koplin Gallery, West Hollywood

by Roberta Carasso

“Adanac Dog Theater’s Homage to. . .
Rex,” a/c, 20 1/8 x 16 1/8”, 1969.

“Model & Roof Tops," acrylic
on paper, 40 x 26", 1974.

“Donald and Leela," conte crayon
on paper, 41 x 31", 1983.

"Nude with Flowered Spread," acrylic/
pencil on paper, 20 x 38", 1972.

Darlene Campbell, "Orange County Baroque,"
oil on wood with gold leaf, 12 x 9", 2001.
The late Joan Brown's A Few of Her Favorite Things: Models, Cats, and Dogs is both a celebration and a homage to the late California narrative artist. The gallery also commemorates its twentieth anniversary with Brown, whose art first launched the gallery. Now her works on paper offer an opportunity to view rarely seen, intimate renderings that the artist fashioned for her own pleasure. This upbeat collection recalls Brown's involvement with at least two figurative art movements--the Bay Area Figuratives and Bad Art--when, with quirky humor, iconoclasm, and characteristic determination, she challenged prior abstract styles to reinstate storytelling.

Brown pioneered art in an environment dominated by men; she was the youngest artist in 1960 to exhibit at the Whitney's Young Artist show. She gained prominence as a second generation Bay Area Figurative painter, a San Francisco group that attempted to sever ties to Abstract Expressionism by returning to storytelling. This group was originally led by David Park and Elmer Bishoff, Brown's instructor and mentor. The salient feature of the movement, and of Brown's work, was that it retained the simplicity and compositional tension of Abstract Expressionism through thickly painted gestural abstraction applied however to figurative scenes. In the end, and with qualified success, the movement merged abstraction with figuration, two aspects of Brown's work.

Also to Brown's credit was her part in the "Bad Art" movement. In 1978, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, artists deliberately created paintings that emphasized the worst of narrative paintings. They cranked out kitsch and highly romantic scenes as a reaction to the intellectualism of Minimalist and Conceptual Art. In the current exhibition, Brown's personal style, peppered with tongue-in-cheek romanticism, is evident through-out the gallery. Her direct way of applying paint or ink to bring a lithograph of a beloved cat, or a drawing of a pet dog to life is straightforward. Her art is never labored, but quickly rendered, sincere, and lighthearted. She drew with bold black outlining, filling in with vivid pinks for skin, or dramatic textures in a cartoonlike, rather Matisse-ian, expressive manner.

In many ways, a show of "Favorite Things" is also a diary of Brown's identity as a woman, the arc of an artist going into herself to explore her psyche, reveal her attitude towards art in the studio and home. Within this cocoon, Brown acknowledged her love of animals and her tendency to nurture and delight in their innocence. Adanac Dog Theater's Homage to Rex (1969) is a goofy fantasy that will make you laugh and feel that you know Brown. It is an acrobatic arrangement of all sorts of colorful, storybook pooches, one on top of one another, until, towering above them all is Rex, the mighty white husky. Another side of Brown is her affinity for costumes of all types, which she placed on her favorite model, Mary Julia. Julia is bedecked in furs, hats and other highly seductive, romantic outfits. Brown's aim was not to let us get to know the model, but to allow the model the freedom to be her most feminine self, even alter who she is and step into a world of Brown's making.

Contrasting with Brown is the work of Darlene Campbell, whose small, wooden panels of meticulously painted landscape in a yesteryear style document Southern California's transformation from natural setting to suburbia. Campbell avoids what could become heart wrenching cant in favor of imbuing earth-toned fields, valleys, and earth-moving equipment with a subtle tinge of poetry.