William Theophilus Brown (American, born 1919)
Untitled (Industrial Cityscape), 1987-1988
Acrylic on canvas 54 in. x 60 in. (137.16 cm x 152.4 cm)
Crocker Art Musem, gift of James R. and Suzette M. Smith2008.50
At a time when non-objective painting dominated, William Theophilus Brown painted recognizable subject matter, especially the human figure, in order to convey the personal and often introspective exploration of self. Like Paul Wonner, his partner, Brown was an intimate of David Park and a luminary of Bay Area Figuration.
In the early 1960s, Brown and Wonner moved to Southern California, and then to Santa Barbara. Before this move, Brown’s manner featured nudes rendered in generalized, but confident, painterly strokes. Only when he changed his environs did his mature style emerge. Southern California was an Eden for pursuing the human form and the play of light, and there Brown focused on classic bathers in bright, frank compositions where both the body and psychological relationships stood front and center.
Figures in a Field is among Brown’s most enigmatic paintings, open to multiple interpretations and countless associations. The relaxed mien Brown generally gave his figures in this decade is replaced by an exultant, but formal dance shared by the male and female nudes. The expansive landscape, rather than their figures, fills the canvas, and the only hint of movement other than the couple themselves, is offered by their lengthening shadows. Brown’s later industrial cityscapes composed from on-site sketches and photographs of Alameda, Oakland, and San Francisco are a continuation of Brown’s appreciation for the broad massing of forms and serene settings. His cityscapes executed over a period of five years, from 1985–90, make the urban environment’s abandoned pockets similarly mysterious.