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Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown


Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown This exhibition marks the start of the partnership of Heather James Fine Art with the Crocker Museum as representatives of the estate of Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown. An artist couple, Wonner and Brown were aligned with the Bay Area Figurative movement emerging in the 1950s. Although Wonner was born in Tuscon, Arizona and Brown in Moline, Illinouis, they met at the University of California, Berkeley in 1952 where they were both pursuing postgraduate degrees. And, it was here in Berkeley that both artists also met and befriended leading Bay Area Figurative artists including David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Elmer Bischoff. Park, Diebenkorn, and Bischoff would come together for drawing sessions most often in Wonner and Brown’s studio as it was the largest. The Bay Area Figurative Movement was a loose collection of artists that broke away from the dominant and overly-influential style of abstract expressionism. These artists returned the focus back on figurative and representational art. They used their own start as Abstract Expressionists to inform their figuration. In this way, these artists pushed considerations of what is modern away from abstraction once more onto the body and figuration. Their influence trickled down into the Funk Art movement, the San Francisco Beat Movement, and the particular spin on Pop art by West Coast artists like Wayne Thiebaud. Once considered traditional, figurative painting became shocking in a sea of abstraction and the richly painted works of Wonner, Brown, and their friends helped shift the course of 20thcentury American art. Over their long career, Wonner and Brown developed their own separate artistic style with its own visual vocabulary. Nevertheless, in bringing works in conversation with each other in the exhibition, the viewer is able to see how they approached similar subjects and themes from their own viewpoint. One prominent subject with a long art historical reach is bathers and swimmers. Wonner draws from art history in referencing and modeling his work after Paul Cezanne’s paintings on bathers; Wonner’s figures become a mass of dynamic and intermingling figures. People in nature would appear prominently in Wonner’s career. In the hands of Brown, bathers and swimmers transform into totemic sculptures; in his individuation of figures and their overall frieze-like nature, Brown’s bathers speak more to classicism and neo-classical artists. Brown even lends an


air of mysticism to them. What is shared, though, between Wonner and Brown is the use of vibrant and rich colors that saturate the visual plane and captures the vitality of the West Coast of the United States. Emphasized in the exhibition is their use of models. Models played a central role in their process and ran throughout their career from the beginning when they worked alongside other Bay Area Figurative artists right to the end. The figures, dominant, thoughtful and sensual, provide insight into their artistic vision. This foregrounding of the human body, often male, serves as a curative to Clement Greenberg’s conception of modern art and modernity. Examining the figurative and representational art of Wonner and Brown opens up art history beyond a progression of uncontextualized, non-objective art. In the striking works of Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown, lies a modernity rooted in integration – the balance between abstraction and figuration, a grappling with art history against a search for an individual voice. This exhibition of bright and energetic works covering four decades captures the range of their modern spirit and the deep bond between them. The Crocker has established the Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown Endowment Fund which will support museum projects relating to emerging artists and LGBTQI artists in accordance with the artists’ wishes. Heather James is proud to support the endowment fund in representing the estate of Wonner and Brown.


Paul Wonner (1920-2008) Paul Wonner was born in 1920 in Tuscon, Arizona. After serving during WWII, Wonner attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he met his future partner, William Theophilus Brown, along with David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Elmer Bischoff. Wonner along with these artists would form the first and bridge generation of the Bay Area Figurative movement. The Bay Area Figurative artists would challenge the supremacy and modernist vision of abstract expressionism by returning the focus of art on the human form. The use of models played an important central role in Wonner’s practice even as he turned towards still lives that he imbued with realism. In these paintings with models, the viewer can see that the energy and vigor of Wonner’s work continued through the end. Wonner even confronts time in these later works by including self-portraits with models in his studio. Wonner is unsparing in showcasing the starkness between artist and model – clothed and nude, old and young – while still maintaining a sense of life in the strong colors and shapes. From this series to his still lives to his figures in parks, the viewer can see references to art history including Dutch still lives and Cezanne’s bathers. Running through all of these series and references, Wonner imbued his works with a sense of humility. It is the eye of an outsider that perhaps lends Wonner’s work with an air of gentle vitality. There is a sense of someone looking in and capturing a moment of simple pleasure that should be savored and will soon pass. “So, and even in my own work, I think, it made me feel like I could be whatever I wanted to be, whether it was in love or in fashion and if that was what I was told to do or not.” – Paul Wonner Did you know that Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown took a studio above a Volkswagen dealership? They shared the building with Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff.


Paul Wonner Carton of Olives 1992 acrylic on paper 8 1/2 x 8 in.


Paul Wonner Green Tomatoes 1991 acrylic on paper 6 1/4 x 9 in.


Paul Wonner

Untitled (Table with Fruit, Potatoes, Meat, and Flowers) 2000 acrylic on paper 38 1/2 x 27 in.


Paul Wonner

Fruit and Kitchen Towels on Two Tables 2001 acrylic and ink on paper 38 1/4 x 26 3/4 in.


Paul Wonner

Fruit and Kitchen Towels on Blue and White Kitchen Towel 2002 acrylic on paper 9 x 13 1/2 in.


Paul Wonner Cityview 2002 acrylic on paper 16 1/4 x 13 5/8 in.


Paul Wonner

Bathers after Cezanne 2003 acrylic and pencil on paper 12 x 16 3/8 in.


Paul Wonner

Bathers After Cezanne 2006 acrylic and pencil on paper 14 3/4 x 20 1/8 in.


Paul Wonner

Bathers after Cezanne 2006 acrylic and pencil on paper 14 7/8 x 17 1/4 in.


Paul Wonner

Park with Figures Around a Tree 2004 acrylic and pencil on paper 22 1/4 x 30 in.


Paul Wonner

Youth and Old Age, Artist and Model and Red Carpet 2003 acrylic and pencil on paper 14 1/2 x 19 1/2 in.


Paul Wonner

Artist Drawing The Model 2004 acrylic and pencil on paper 12 x 10 1/4 in.


Paul Wonner

Youth and Old Age, Artist and Model 2001 acrylic and pencil on paper 13 1/4 x 15 in.


Paul Wonner Youth and Old Age 2001 acrylic on paper 14 1/2 x 16 5/8 in.


Paul Wonner

Artist and Model, Hands on Hips 2002 acrylic and pencil on paper 14 1/4 x 16 1/4 in.


Paul Wonner

Youth and Old Age: Artist, Model, Pots of Flowers 2003 acrylic and pencil on paper 14 1/4 x 12 1/4 in.


Paul Wonner

Park with Judgment of Paris 2004 acrylic and pencil on paper 22 3/8 x 30 in.


Paul Wonner

Park with Figures and Dogs 2006 acrylic and pencil on paper 15 x 22 in.


Paul Wonner

Park with Two Figures 2006 acrylic and pencil on canvas 13 1/2 x 19 1/8 in.


Paul Wonner

Trees and Rock on the Bay 2003 acrylic and pencil on paper 15 x 22 in.


William Theophilus Brown (1919-2012) William Theophilus Brown, known as Bill to his friends, was born in 1919 in Moline, Illinois. After studying at Yale University and fighting in WWII, Brown enrolled in the graduate studio program at the University of California, Berkeley where he met David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and his future partner, Paul Wonner. This collision of artists would prove prodigious as Brown and the group of artists would form the Bay Area Figurative movement, which by centering on the human figure, challenged notions of modernity as non-objective abstraction. This collision of the preeminent artistic figures would be a hallmark of Brown’s life. Brown knew and ran among the most illustrious artists and cultural figures, from receiving a prize at age 11 from Grant Wood to spending time with Picasso, from Samuel Barber to Igor Stravinski, from Paul Hindemith to André Previn, from May Sarton to Christopher Isherwood and Don Bacardy. This list only scratches the surface of the circles in which Brown moved and spoke to his charm and how beloved he was. In recalling his friendship with fellow cultural luminaries, Brown remarked, “It seems improbable this life. I was so lucky running across such creative and interesting people. The encounters and friendships inspired me to take chances and to try new mediums.” The inspiration to take chances and to try new mediums is evident in Brown’s works including his fearless examination of nude forms, bold colors, his shifts from sensual form to precise architectural landscapes, and even his experimentation during his last decade with collage and pure abstraction. Also an accomplished musician, Brown wove through his works a sense of musicality in the composition and figuration and layered a feeling of mysticism. Brown painted every day and in each of his works is a showcase of modernism as well as a joy for life via his exploration of the human form. Did you know that Theophilus Brown once challenged Richard Diebenkorn that he couldn’t make a portrait? This led to Diebenkorn painting a series of portraits.


William Theophilus Brown Split Rock, Cisco Grove 1997 acrylic on canvas 11 x 14 in.


William Theophilus Brown Self Portrait with Sketchbook 1971 gouache 8 1/2 x 6 in.


William Theophilus Brown Self Portrait 1979 gouache 7 1/4 x 6 in.


William Theophilus Brown Two Figures in Bar (Fun & Games) 1976 gouache 5 3/4 x 4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Nude Male on Floor) 2010 acrylic on paper 11 3/4 x 9 in.


William Theophilus Brown Up 2010 acrylic on paper 16 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.


William Theophilus Brown Blue Tower 1974 mixed media on paper 7 7/8 x 5 7/8 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Artist and Model in Studio)(Quiz) 2010 acrylic on paper 6 x 7 1/2 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Two Nudes) (Two Figures) 1994 acrylic and charcoal on paper 11 x 15 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Nudes with Tree) (Woman and Child) 2002 acrylic on canvas 11 x 14 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Three Nudes One Seated) 2001 acrylic on paper 11 1/8 x 14 1/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Three Divers) 2007 acrylic on canvas 15 3/4 x 20 in.


William Theophilus Brown Horse with Swimmers at Beach 1990 acrylic on canvas 36 x 48 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Group of Nudes by the Pool) 2003 acrylic on paper 10 x 15 in.


William Theophilus Brown Jamie Seated (Green Background) 1997 acrylic and oil on canvas 14 x 9 3/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Jamie 1999 acrylic on paper 14 x 10 3/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Soldiers) acrylic on canvas 14 x 18 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled Drawing (Two nudes in studio) 1993 acrylic, gouache and pencil on paper 14 1/4 x 22 1/2 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (2 Male Nudes) 1998 acrylic on paper 14 x 9 3/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Bathers) 2001 acrylic on paper 10 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Seated Figure) 1988 charcoal and gouache on paper 18 3/4 x 14 in.


William Theophilus Brown Jamie 1998 acrylic on paper 13 7/8 x 9 7/8 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Industrial Scene) 1989 pencil on paper 5 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Factory) (Two Silos) 1964 pencil on paper 11 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled (Seated Female Nude) 1981 charcoal, pencil and wash on paper 25 1/2 x 19 1/2 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled Drawing (Nude on Floor) 1975 acrylic and charcoal on paper 11 x 15 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled Drawing (Nude on Step) 1988 pencil and wash on paper 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled Drawing (Nude on Block) 1995 pencil and wash on paper 15 x 10 3/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Untitled Drawing 1993 pencil and wash on paper 15 x 11 in.


William Theophilus Brown

Untitled Drawing (Standing Nude, Arm on Head) 1990 pencil and wash on paper 15 x 11 1/4 in.


William Theophilus Brown Landscape with Rocks 1985-2005 acrylic on canvas 48 x 48 in.


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Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown  

Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown exhibition catalog

Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown  

Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown exhibition catalog