To preface, I am not at all interested in modern art. Once it hits 1930, you lose me. But man, anyone who is able to put this much paint on a canvas is worthy of everyone’s time. The rare occasion of going to a museum with another person is the cause of this discovery. If I was alone, I would have walked right past this gallery. Am I happy I didn’t?

Meh. It could go either way, but the the amount of oil paint that had been layered onto these canvases was certainly interesting enough to share. I likely will not get into the specific paintings themselves, but I will leave a link of the exhibit for those who want to take a look.

The artist I am writing about is Joan Brown (1938-1990). There is currently an exhibition of her paintings in the Heinz Galleries in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Brown was an American artist boasting a 35 year career, which is pretty impressive! Throughout the entire gallery there were 3 things that stuck out to me in her paintings; cats, repeating motifs, and holy wow that is some THICK paint. I mean honestly it was astounding how much paint was on the canvas that was claiming to be oil paint. It did not look like oil paint, the textures were absolutely wild and I am dying to know how she did it. Brown seemed unpredictable and didn’t care about what others wanted her to paint, but what she wanted to paint. A lot of people liked her for this, as well as her eclectic view on life and other subjects. When I read the information plaques they put next to paintings, one said that she aligned herself with the Egyptian Goddess Bastet. I personally, also align myself with the Egyptian Goddess Bastet. Cats are little fluffy Gods, my view cannot be swayed. You go Joan.

Now I’ve got a lot of ground to cover. There is so much to say about Brown’s work but I’ll keep it to that three topic minimum, sound good? This first one is what got me interested in her paintings, and it is called impasto. If you don’t know what impasto means, that’s totally cool because I forgot the word for it originally. It was the kind of word that got stuck on the tip of my tongue and just couldn’t speak it into existence. Impasto is an Italian based word meaning thick layers of paint, usually thick enough that you can see the brush strokes and/or knife marks. You’ve likely already have seen this in paintings from Van Gogh, and other impressionistic/post-impressionistic paintings and artists.

The photo above is a ridiculous amount of paint on a canvas. Supposedly this was done in oil, but I would love to know what kind because I’ve never seen oil paint turn so stringy and stretchy before. It was this use of paint that really caught my eye, and made my brain and mouth simultaneously go, “WHAT???.” I got my face in there to see just how much paint was coming off the canvas, and some of them looked liked it was possibly up to 2-3 inches. In oil paint no less. If you’ve ever worked with oil paint than you would know that it takes forever to dry, which just makes this even more cool. I’m adding additional photos I took of the wildness so you can really get an idea for how amazing this is. Some of the textures on these paintings as well are really impressive, and some I’m not entirely sure how she did it. This made it all so much more intriguing.

These close ups were taken of multiple paintings she had done, all available to see at the gallery. As previously mentioned, I will not be getting into which paintings are what because that is not my point. The thick paint is my point. My theory as far as textures go, especially for the upper right painting, is that there had to be some tubing going on, like a cake decorating piping bag. How else would you get the squiggles in that thick of paint, with a palette knife? No no, I don’t think so. That photo alone is something to zoom in on, it really looks super cool. Feel free to gawk at these, I know I did when I was at the gallery.

Now unfortunately, humans are subject to change. To the dismay of the public and art dealers, Brown switched up her work. No more will there be that super cool amazing impasto, now it will be enamel paints. It will be flat. There will be minimal shadows. However, Brown did do something creative in place of putting in shadows. She worked with shapes to create bends and corners instead, which was definitely interesting, but felt weird. It was like a fun-house mirror.

Yes I know, the one on the right does indeed have a shadow in it due to a dog. I apologize for not including the dog in the picture, but I am a cat person and I would rather take pictures of cats in art instead (which I do, just you wait). I thought the warping of the shapes was a good example of foreshortening, which is a technique that gives you the illusion of space within the painting. To be frank, the corner of the right side photo kind of gives me an eye trick so I can’t say I’m a fan of this type of foreshortening. The left side looks good, but that may be because the bricks behind the fire are ever so slightly a darker shade of red. And I mean really slightly different. I’m curious though, does the corner bother you as much as it bothers me?

Something else I noticed after moving away from the impasto (Insert crying emoji here) was that Brown seemed to like patterns, specifically repeating motifs. Motif is a fancy word for a design, I’m just trying to flex my big words to make it seem like I know what I’m talking about. These repeating motifs were interesting to me as they seemed to have not been of interest at all before she started using enamel paints. I do like a good motif, especially after doing a difficult assignment requiring me to create one, later to becoming a repeating one. It was tedious, so I instead I like to look at them, not make them. I really liked the colors used in the one on the left. Also, peep the weird shape warping on the upper right of the middle painting. We don’t have to talk about the tiger, unless of course you want to talk about the tiger. Since I do, I’m going to talk about the tiger in the room. That particular painting is called The Long Journey, which is enamel paint on canvas, painted in 1981. The time period is important as this was when Brown was spending a lot of time in India following a guru there. It was this guru who inspired a more spiritual type of art, like this one.

Okay okay okay, I know I said I had three topics. However we can’t leave the cats out of this! An honorable mention, the cats I found in her paintings, as well as a self portrait where she mirrors herself with the connection to cats she has. I can relate.

What an artist, no? She certainly lived quite the colorful life, sometimes not always the happiest. She did die doing what she loved the most though. Unfortunately when a heritage museum in India collapsed, she was inside installing a tiled obelisk in honor of Sai Baba. They say she died in the place she would have wanted to. I’m glad she passed while doing what she was passionate about, because isn’t that the ideal way to die? I’ll step off the morbid soap box now. Now go enjoy some cats!

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