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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‘It seems improbable, this life’

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Theophilus Brown | Photograph by Sarah Rice

By JULIAN GUTHRIE
San Francisco Chronicle

William Theophilus Brown walks through the opulent marble lobby of San Francisco Towers where he lives and remarks, “It’s the Versailles of retirement communities.”

Brown, who is 92, is accustomed to moving in luminous circles. From Yale to New York, Paris to Antibes, Brown studied, painted or partied with a cast of artistic giants: Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber, Georges Braque, Mark Rothko, Alberto Giacometti and Willem de Kooning. Once in California, he found his own place in painting and is known as one of the members of the venerated Bay Area Figurative Movement.

“It seems improbable, this life,” Brown said. “I was so lucky running across such creative and interesting people. The encounters and friendships inspired me to take chances and to try new mediums. It freed one up from a certain rigidity. I still look forward to going to the studio, even today.”

Brown’s paintings are featured in a new show at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco, and a documentary is being made on his improbable life. His works are held in major California museums, from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum to the Oakland Museum and the Cantor Center at Stanford. Nationally, his paintings are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian.

“Sure, he’s a key player in the Bay Area Figurative Movement, but he’s far more than that,” gallerist Thomas Reynolds said. “He’s a bridge to the whole New York scene of the ’40s and ’50s, and even to postwar Paris.

“This is someone whose life and art deserve to be celebrated. He’s got more going on at 92 than most artists half his age. He’s engaged. He’s creating. And he’s still everybody’s favorite dinner companion.”

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A walkthrough with the artist

October 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Theophilus Brown is one of the great figures in 20th century California art and a pioneering member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. At 92, he is still in his studio every day. In this video he leads a tour of “An Artful Life,” his recent exhibition at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, offering insights into his working methods and telling stories about how some of the paintings and drawings were created.

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