Joan Brown was born in San Francisco and received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), graduating in 1960. She gained early recognition as an important Bay Area figurative expressionist with her focus on bold, nearly abstract forms. Favoring thick layers of oil paint in her early work, her paintings since 1970 are characterized by thin, flat applications of paint in a variety of expressionist styles.
Brown’s art is highly autobiographical. It draws subjects from family, friends, and animals. Her approach, both comic and romantic, results in works of art that are also personal and poignant. She made many specific images of herself in a variety of situations and saw her art in its entirety as a self-portrait. Brown’s career as one of California’s most celebrated figurative artists was cut short at the age of fifty-two by a fatal accident in 1990.