At a time in the 1950s when non-objective painting dominated, William Theophilus Brown painted recognizable subject matter, especially the human figure, in order to convey the personal and often introspective exploration of self. Like his partner Paul Wonner, Brown was an intimate of Richard Diebenkorn and David Park and a luminary of Bay Area Figuration.
In the early 1960s, Brown and Wonner moved from the Bay Area to Southern California, and then to Santa Barbara. Before the move, Brown’s manner featured nudes rendered in generalized, but confident, painterly strokes. Only when he changed his environs did his mature style emerge. Southern California was an Eden for pursuing the human form and the play of light, and there Brown focused on classic bathers in bright, frank compositions where both the body and psychological relationships stood front and center.
Brown’s later industrial cityscapes composed from on-site sketches and photographs of Alameda, Oakland and San Francisco are a continuation of Brown’s appreciation for the broad massing of forms and serene settings. His cityscapes executed over a period of five years, from 1985–90, make the urban environment’s abandoned pockets similarly mysterious.