Bill Brown and his famous friends

February 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

A catalog of the exhibition is available.

One of the pioneers of Bay Area Figurative painting, artist Theophilus “Bill” Brown, 90, certainly qualifies as a local treasure. Still painting and drawing today, his work is celebrated in “Theophilus Brown Nudes: Five Decades of Drawing and Painting the Figure,” showing at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco through March 13.

After stays in Paris, where he met Braque, Picasso and Giacometti and studied with Leger, and New York, where he befriended the de Koonings, Brown moved to the Bay Area in 1952 to study painting at UC Berkeley. On his third day in California, he met a fellow painter, Paul Wonner, who would become his life partner. Along with Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff and David Park, Brown and Wonner embraced the then-radical return of the human figure to the modern painting, what would become known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement. In Brown’s case, that returning to painting’s roots included extensive studies of the male nude. Brown still lives and works in San Francisco today.

During his one-man show’s run this month, Brown visited the gallery with Don Bachardy, the late Christopher Isherwood’s partner, and painter and official portraitist of Gov. Jerry Brown. Bill Brown is an old friend of Bachardy and Isherwood, and Bachardy came up from LA to see the show. Brown reminisced about old times with them, including a memorable dinner at their house. Before dinner, Isherwood had excused himself and left, and after a little while he returned — with Marlene Dietrich in tow. Of course they also talked about Tom Ford’s new film, A Single Man, from Isherwood’s novel. Both gave thumbs up.

Living history was flowering on Pine Street that day.


For his 90th, a Scotch tasting

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Photograph of William Theophilus Brown at 90 by Anthony Torres

Theophilus “Bill” Brown has not been a reclusive artist. He knew Picasso in Paris, was friends with John Cage and the de Koonings in New York and, after moving to Berkeley in 1952 to study painting at UC Berkeley, joined a group of emerging artists — including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, James Weeks and Nathan Oliveira — who would be known as the Bay Area Figurative movement.

Brown, 90, is far from retired. He paints three to four hours a day and participates in weekly drawing sessions. Until March 13, he is the subject of a one-man show, “Theophilus Brown Nudes — Five Decades of Drawing and Painting the Figure,” at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery.

Brown will be feted at a single-malt Scotch tasting on Saturday evening, February 20, at the gallery. The choice of Scotch “is a testament to his strong spirit,” said Thomas Reynolds. “He’s a Scotch drinker, so why fool around with cheap white wine? Plus, Bill attributes his long life to two things: good art and good Scotch.”


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