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Courtesy of the Estate of Joan Brown

The retrospective she deserves

Back in the ’60s, Bay Area artists like Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud reacted to the abstract expressionism that was sweeping New York (think Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly) by focusing more on the human figure. Joan Brown was a descendant of that gang but has always suffered from second-string status, an undervaluation that a current show at the San Jose Museum of Art, “This Kind of Bird Flies Backward,” should correct. The exhibit surveys Brown’s whole career but focuses on her intense 1970s period (Portrait of a Girl, from 1971, is shown). That’s when she traded in her thick oils for quick-drying enamel house paint and let loose with a frank spontaneity about her life and relationships that rivaled the abstract expressionists’ Sturm und Drang. Brown was at her best in 1976, between husbands (she was married four times in her brief 52 years), when she took off for Europe with a lover and chronicled her travels in a series called The Journey. From the first painting (in which she shows herself pulling along a man with a valise) to the last (in which she’s left holding the bag), you cannot help following her deeply emotional path. Jonathon Keats San Jose Museum of Art, Oct. 14–March 4, 110 S. Market St., San Jose, 408-271-6840, sjmusart.org