Painter and assemblage artist Joan Brown is considered part of the second generation of the Bay Area Figurative movement. Her best-known paintings prominently feature autobiographical scenes. This is particularly true of the works she made after she and her husband, the sculptor Manuel Neri, had their son Noel. In Noel in the Kitchen, Brown focused on the immediate domestic surroundings of her home and studio on Saturn Street, near the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco. The toddler, flanked by loyal puppies in profile, reaches up to the kitchen sink, which is stacked with a still life of dirty dishes.

Painted in a bright palette of primary hues, the work is rich in rhythm and design, with repeated colors, squares, and polka dots. At this early stage in Brown's career, her handling of paint was raw, almost wild, and resulted in thickly built-up surfaces. "I loved what happened when I was using the trowel," she remarked, "[and] the physical exuberance of just whipping through it with a big, giant brush."


  • Title: Noel in the Kitchen
  • Creator: Joan Brown
  • Creator Lifespan: 1938 - 1990
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Creator Death Place: Proddatur, India
  • Creator Birth Place: San Francisco, California
  • Date Created: ca. 1964
  • Physical Dimensions: w2743.2 x h1524 in (overall)
  • Type: painting
  • Rights: © Estate of Joan Brown
  • External Link: SFMOMA
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • More Info: Watch: Joan Brown finds success in surprise, More About This Artist - SFMOMA
  • Credit Line: Bequest of Dale C. Crichton
  • About the Artist: After attending the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), Joan Brown found early success working in the style of her mentor, the Bay Area Figurative painter Elmer Bischoff. In 1964, however, she rebelled against stylistic constraints and retreated to her studio to experiment. She moved away from thick paint application and began to explore autobiographical and spiritual themes. Her 1975 appointment to the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, allowed her greater independence from the art market. A few years later her work changed direction again, increasing in scale, shifting toward sculpture, incorporating mosaic tiles, and taking up more non-Western subjects. In 1990, the ceiling of a temple in India where she was installing a mosaic sculpture collapsed, killing Brown and two assistants.

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