Artists' Artists: Brian Calvin

Joan Brown, Self Portrait at Age 42, 1980

Joan Brown has been an important influence on me from the inception of my experience as a painter. I was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, when I started painting. My first year painting was also Brown’s last year teaching at UCB. She tragically died while on sabbatical in 1990. Her influence has stayed with me and only grown over the years. The breadth of her work and her life in general have always inspired me. She was a strong and brave woman and this is reflected so poignantly in her painting.

Self-Portrait at Age 42 is an electric painting that calls out to the viewer. Somewhat more minimal than a lot of her paintings from the time, there is a proud humility to this stoic self-portrait. Brown depicts herself against a beautiful grey-blue field. Details are kept to a minimum, enhancing their importance. We see the artist in her work clothes – a paint-speckled sweatshirt. She also includes emblems of what I would call ‘self-care’: for example, a latex glove (brilliantly painted with a few economic white strokes) to protect her from toxins. Perhaps less obvious, but just as important, is the inclusion of her protective jewellery. Prayer beads, a charm of Nefertiti, a yin-yang symbol and a lotus charm all attest to Brown’s open-ended and wide-ranging spiritual beliefs. Instead of a direct gaze (as if staring into a mirror), the painted painter’s eyes are slightly averted, focusing on another world altogether. The reduction of form and colour freeze into an uncanny otherness: a portrait of a proud, beautiful, strong female artist at 42.


Joan Brown Self-Portrait at Age 42 1980. Enamel on canvas, 1.8 × 1.5 m. Courtesy: © The Estate of Joan Brown and George Adams Gallery, New York; photograph: Jay Oligny

Joan Brown Self-Portrait at Age 42 1980. Enamel on canvas, 1.8 × 1.5 m. Courtesy: © The Estate of Joan Brown and George Adams Gallery, New York; photograph: Jay Oligny


Brian Calvin lives in Los Angeles, USA. In early 2017, he had a solo show at Corvi-Mora, London, UK.

Issue 6

First published in Issue 6

October 2017

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