Jay to Bee

August 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

jtob

IN 1951, just days before her scheduled lobotomy after years in a mental hospital, New Zealand author Janet Frame’s first collection of short stories unexpectedly won the Hubert Church Memorial Award, one of the country’s most prestigious honors. The procedure was cancelled, and Frame would go on to become one of the seminal authors of contemporary New Zealand literature.

During her time at the MacDowell artist’s colony in New Hampshire, Frame met painter William Theophilus Brown, and their friendship resulted in a whimsical and artistic correspondence that lasted until Frame’s death in 2004. A new book, Jay to Bee: Janet Frame’s Letters to William Theophilus Brown, captures their moving and enlightening correspondence.

MORE: “Jay to Bee

‘That’s how we met’

May 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Paul Wonner | Valentine to Bill

Paul Wonner | Valentine to Bill

William Theophilus Brown — Bill to his friends — and Paul Wonner met as graduate art students at Berkeley in 1952. Their partnership endured. “He was my best critic,” said Brown, “and I think I was his.”

Paul Wonner | Happy Christmas (2004)

Paul Wonner | Happy Christmas (2004)

In a conversation with Paul Karlstrom of the Smithsonian Institution in 2011, Brown recalled when they met.

WTB: I came out to California because I wanted to try to find out a little more about who I was. And I knew nobody in California. I knew the Stravinskys, but they were in Los Angeles. And so I decided to go to graduate school at Berkeley and get a degree so I would be able to teach. And I did. And I came out in the fall three days before classes began and signed up. And Paul Wonner was in three out of four classes the first semester.

That’s how you two met?

That’s how we met. Well, we met, but he thought I was such a snob that he didn’t really speak to me very much.

He got over it. How?

He got over it. I didn’t change. Anyway, it took a while, but then I could see from my point of view that Paul was the best painter among the students and also the faculty. So we did get together then.

How old was he relative to you?

I think he was about two or three years younger.

Because you were together a very long time. When did you become a couple?

I think by the end of that first year. We were together 50 years. He was my best critic and I think I was his best critic. We really trusted each other. And, well, I thought he was a marvelous man. Still do.

Paul Wonner, Theophilus Brown, Charles Campbell and Wayne Thiebaud

Paul Wonner, Theophilus Brown, Charles Campbell and Wayne Thiebaud

Art, music — and good Scotch

April 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

The artist Theophilus Brown was also a talented musician from an early age and a music major at Yale. Throughout his long life he played the piano with dedication and talent, often accompanied by a violinist, and even recorded some of his original compositions. He was still at the piano the day before he died at age 92 on February 8, 2012.

His beloved Steinway grand piano has been donated to the San Francisco Towers, the senior home where he lived during his last decade, which he called “the Versailles of retirement homes.” A memorial recital was performed on his piano in the grand salon of the Towers on April 21, 2012. Friends have proposed an annual recital in his memory to spotlight rising stars in the music world.

A shelf in Brown's studio.


An opening reception for a new exhibition of his work at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery followed, along with a single-malt Scotch tasting. The gallery hosted an earlier tasting of single-malt — Brown’s drink of choice — on his 90th birthday. “Life is too short for cheap white wine,” he said at the time.

The exhibition, “Theophilus Brown: A Celebration,” is drawn entirely from paintings, drawings and collages in his apartment and studio at the time of his death. It includes his collection of drawings by his partner, Paul Wonner, another key member of the Bay Area Figurative group.

At his memorial, an excerpt from a forthcoming documentary on Theophilus Brown was played, giving the great man himself the final word.

Coming soon: “Theophilus” the film

Remembering Theophilus Brown

April 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Self Portrait, 2001 | Theophilus Brown

By JOHN SEED
The Huffington Post

At the age of 11, William Theophilus Brown shook the hand of the artist Grant Wood, the creator of American Gothic, who was awarding him third prize in a juried adult art competition. “He (Wood) was amazed to see this kid walking up the aisle,” Brown later recalled. In the long and richly artistic life that followed Brown racked up interesting life experiences, meeting many more “gods and idols” along the way.

Part of Brown’s success in life seems to have stemmed from always knowing just what to do or say. One day in Europe, for example, he recognized the man knocking at a friend’s studio door as Alberto Giacometti, and immediately set up an easel and invited Giacometti to draw the model with them.

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Kissed by de Kooning

February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Words are one language and painting is another.” Excerpts from an interview with William Theophilus Brown conducted on October 26, 2011, by Paul Festa.

The last supper

February 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Photograph by Matt Gonzalez

“I took him 36 oysters Saturday night and we shared dinner,” Theophilus Brown’s friend Matt Gonzalez said. “He had a good appetite and was in good spirits. But he couldn’t leave the apartment, and he was clear that if he couldn’t go to his studio and make art anymore, he didn’t want to live. So it was time.”

EARLIER: “A friendship with Theophilus Brown

‘An elegant and irreverent painter’

February 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

William Theophilus Brown
April 7, 1919 – February 8, 2012

By JULIAN GUTHRIE
San Francisco Chronicle

William Theophilus Brown, an elegant and irreverent American painter and member of the venerated figurative movement who met and befriended some of history’s great artists, from Pablo Picasso to Igor Stravinsky, died Wednesday [February 8, 2012] at his home in San Francisco. He was 92.

Mr. Brown, who lived in the opulent San Francisco Towers, which he christened the “Versailles of retirement communities,” was painting until the end, said his friend and gallerist Thomas Reynolds. He had a studio a few blocks from his home and continued to participate in drawing sessions.

“Theophilus Brown was one of those rare artists who was successful at every stage of his career,” Reynolds said. “And he was always at the center of the action — in France with Picasso, in New York with (Mark) Rothko and (Willem) de Kooning, in California with the Bay Area figurative painters.”

Reynolds added, “He was everybody’s favorite dinner companion — charming to the ladies and bawdy with the boys.”

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