• William Theophilus Brown (American, 1919–2012), Standing Bathers, 1993. Acrylic on paper, 23 x 28 1/2 in. Crocker Art Museum, Estate of Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown, 2019.22.7
    Breaking the Rules
    Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown
    April 30, 2023 — August 27, 2023

In reaction to the widespread pursuit of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, several avant-garde artists in the San Francisco Bay Area began to reengage with the visible world, applying the gestural style of action painting to depictions of people, landscapes, and still lifes. The artist couple Paul Wonner (1920–2008) and William Theophilus “Bill” Brown (1919–2012), both of whom had just completed master’s degrees in art from the University of California, Berkeley, aligned themselves with this new direction and became leading practitioners of the style known today as “Bay Area Figuration.” The couple subsequently lived in various California cities, pursuing opportunities to paint and teach before finally settling in San Francisco. Over time, both artists’ works became less gestural and more overtly representational and, in Wonner’s case, increasingly detailed and precise. Brown became best known for his psychologically evocative landscapes with classic bathers, as well as for his lonely urban scenes. Wonner also painted figures but received greatest acclaim for his “Baroque” still lifes laden with everyday objects, animals, and flowers.

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