Thick paint and a rigorous composition describe a very personal scene
This is Joan Brown’s “Noel in the Kitchen.” The little boy between the two dogs is about two years old, so Joan Brown probably painted her son, Noel, in the kitchen in 1964. The paint is applied heavily. Notice that the red cabinet door between the boy and the sitting dog is so thickly painted that it is actually in front of the dog, not behind it as it “should” be. Curator Janet Bishop:
The work represents to some extent the culmination of the first mature period of Joan Brown’s work. She began painting figuratively under the instruction of Elmer Bischoff at the San Francisco Art Institute and became distinguished early in her career for her extremely loose and vital use of paint.
Look at the dog’s front legs, at the left edge of the painting, and notice the rhythms Joan Brown paints: the red legs of the little boy, the front legs of the seated dog, the vertical line at the right of the cabinet extending up all the way to the top edge, but broken by the pile of pans about to fall off the drainboard.
I think one of the strong elements about this piece is the repetition of colors, the repetition of design elements, like the checkered floor, the dots on the child’s shirt are repeated on one of the cups on top of a stack of plates on the counter top. Dots are also used on the collar of the dog and to articulate his snout.
Noel in the Kitchen is a key painting in Joan Brown’s career– one of the last to be painted so thickly, one of the first to confront a rigorous, orderly sense of composition.
[FULL AUDIO DESCRIPTION]
We’re standing at Joan Brown’s “Noel in the Kitchen” from 1964. Five feet high and nine feet wide, this large canvas depicts a domestic setting. At its center is a large, white dog, seen in profile, wearing a black and yellow collar and sitting calmly on its haunches in front of a wide, bright red, rectangular kitchen counter. Dishes are piled on the counter above the dog’s head—an orange coffee pot, a coffee mug balanced on a stack of plates, and two skillets, one of which teeters at the edge of the counter, its handle sticking out dangerously. The sink is rendered as a solid grayish-white smear to the left of the coffee pot. A second dog appears at the painting’s far left edge, poking its nose and forelegs into the room. Between these two dogs, a small boy, his back to us, lifts his arm towards the top of the counter. He wears a red, white, and blue patterned shirt and red pants that have slipped down, exposing his bare pink bottom. The walls are a muddy mix of orange and blue, and the floor is a vibrant checkerboard of blue and yellow, painted with very thick brushstrokes.
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