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Nude, 1981, casein on paper, 14” x 11 1/2”

ABOUT THE ARTIST../beckelheimer/randy-b.html

William Theophilus Brown (April 7, 1919 – February 8, 2012) was an American artist. He became prominent as a member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.

A descendant of early-American intellectuals, Brown was born in Moline, Illinois. His great-grandfather was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Brown's father was an inventor and chief designer, at the John Deere Company in Moline, Illinois. While attending Yale University in the late-1930s, Brown met composer Paul Hindemith and poet May Sarton, with whom he would share lifetime friendships. After graduating in 1941, Brown was drafted in World War II. Following his discharge, he began to study painting, moving between New York City and Paris, meeting an impressive range of artists that included Pablo Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Balthus, and de Kooning, among others. Brown, who studied piano at Yale, was also close to a number of composers, including John Cage, Poulenc, Samuel Barber, and Igor Stravinsky. Brown traveled to Paris in 1942, where he studied under Fernand Leger and Amedee Ozenfant. It was upon his return to New York that he began serious study of Abstract Expressionism, and he befriended Rothko and de Kooning, who would become a strong influence on Brown’s work. However, as his style matured, he abandoned Abstract Expressionism to focus on figurative work.

In 1952 Brown enrolled in the graduate studio program at the University of California, Berkeley, joining a group of artists—including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, James Weeks, and Nathan Oliveira — that would later be known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement. While attending Berkeley, Brown also met and fell in love with his long-time partner and fellow-painter, Paul Wonner.

In the early 1960s, Brown and Wonner moved to Santa Monica, where they developed a close friendship with fellow gay couple, novelist Christopher Isherwood, and portrait artist Don Bachardy. Over the years, Brown and Wonner also fostered friendships with playwright William Inge, composer and conductor Andre Previn, actress Eva Marie Saint and her husband, director Jeffery Hayden, and New Zealand novelist Janet Frame. Brown, after some time in Malibu, returned to Northern California, where he taught at the University of California at Davis, CA. between 1975 and 76.

Although Brown’s work is exemplary of the Figurative movement, his artistic development and journey are closely associated with that of his partner, Paul Wonner. Both artists were included in the historic Paul Mills exhibition at the Oakland Art Museum, “Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting,” in 1957. Brown continued his exploration of the figure well into the 1960’s, experimenting with abstraction, light and color. His papers are held at the Archives of American Art

Until his death on February 8, 2012, just a few weeks before his 93rd birthday, Brown’s mind and wit remained razor sharp. He continued to be a fully committed practicing artist involved in a range of artistic activities, including three museum and gallery exhibitions the last year of his life. “I paint three or four hours every day,” he said a few months before his death. “I like to work. I think it’s the secret to staying alive and interesting and as vital as you can be.” He also participated in regular group drawing sessions with a model and sat in with the San Francisco Collage Collective. As he did throughout his life, he played classical piano with considerable skill, often accompanied by a violinist.

Theophilus Brown was an artistic giant, pursuing his work with dedication, focus and inspirational fortitude.


1941            Attends Yale University and earns a B.A. in Music.

1941–49      Serves in the United States Army.

1946–49      Travels throughout Europe and studies with Fernand Leger, Paris,

                    and Améndée Ozenfant, New York.

1949–50      Moves to New York and befriends Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, and Willem

                    and Elaine de Kooning. Willem de Kooning and Roberto Matta become

                    lasting influences on his work as does the abstract expressionistmovement.

1952–53      Moves to Berkeley to study painting at the University of California at Berkeley.

                    There he meets Richard Diebenkorn and his future life partner, Paul Wonner.

                    Receives his M.A. in 1953.

1955–57      Teaches drawing and painting at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco.

                    Participates in figure drawing sessions with Elmer Bischoff, David Park,

                    Richard Diebenkorn, James Weeks, and others. It is alongside these fellow painters

                    that the human figure is introduced to his work and the San Francisco Bay Area

                    Figurative movement is spawned.

1956            His Football paintings are published in Life magazine.

1957–58      Appointed lecturer at the University of California at Davis.

1958            First solo exhibition at the Felix Landau Gallery in Los Angeles.

1959            Travels to Europe. His work becomes more surrealist and melancholic after seeing works

                    by de Chirico and other Italian metaphysical painters. Maintains his small format paintings.

1961            First solo exhibition in New York at the Barone Gallery. Moves to Santa Monica, CA.

1962            Moves to Malibu, CA.

1975–76      Returns to Berkeley and teaches at University of California, Davis.

2000–12     Works abstractly, creating a series of collages that utilize peeled paint arranged

                    in geometric compositions.





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