San Francisco legend Joan Brown’s first major retrospective at SFMOMA is a spiritual lesson in letting go. Boasting 80 paintings and sculptures across nine galleries, the show chronicles Brown’s lifelong attempt to find herself through art, personal relationships and Eastern philosophy. Her struggle to temper the chaos of the human condition was ultimately cut short by her death in 1990, a lack of closure which feels paradoxically apt.

Born in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood in 1938, Brown enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (later renamed the San Francisco Art Institute) in Russian Hill on a whim in 1955. She struggled during her first year, however, and was on the verge of dropping out when she took a summer class with Bay Area figurative movement luminary Elmer Bischoff. The realization that she “didn’t have to draw academically” in order to paint, resulted in her serious dedication to the medium.

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Max Blue writes about the visual arts and modern culture for the San Francisco Examiner and other publications.

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