Laguna Art Museum Breaks the Rules with Upcoming Exhibit

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Breaking the Rules: Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown is Laguna Art Museum’s newest exhibit and will be on display from Oct. 14 through Jan. 7, 2024. The showcase will pay tribute to pioneering artists Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown, renowned for their contributions to Bay Area Figuration. They explored new styles and subjects throughout their artistic journeys, from captivating landscapes featuring classic bathers to Baroque-inspired still lifes adorned with everyday objects, animals and flowers. Breaking the Rules is an immersive experience with a rich collection of seventy-five paintings, watercolors and drawings, exploring these trailblazing artists’ exceptional talents in-depth.

William Theophilus Brown (American, 1919–2012), Standing Bathers, 1993. Acrylic on paper. Image/Crocker Art Museum, Estate of Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown.

“Although Wonner and Brown significantly contributed to the development of Bay Area Figuration, their work has not been exhibited as frequently as that of other masters of the style,” said Julie Perlin-Lee, Laguna Art Museum’s executive director. “Breaking the Rules provides a fresh perspective, celebrating their artistic accomplishments throughout their careers in an era of greater inclusivity. The exhibition highlights their diverse backgrounds and unapologetic voices as artists who proudly identified as both queer and Californian.”

Wonner and Brown are considered California artists. However, neither was a native of the state. Wonner hailed from Tucson, Ariz. and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in 1941. Following service in the U.S. Army in Texas, he continued his artistic training in New York, attending The Art Students League and Subjects of the Artist School while working as a graphic designer. 

Brown, originally from Moline, Ill., graduated with a degree in music from Yale in 1941. After serving in the army, he pursued art studies in New York and Paris. Fate brought them together at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1952, where they pursued master’s degrees in art. Their meeting sparked a profound connection, and they remained together for nearly 56 years.

Their contributions to the development of Bay Area Figuration were significant, representing a departure from the prevailing trend of Abstract Expressionism. Over time, both artists’ works transitioned from being gestural to more explicitly representational. Wonner’s art evolved with increasing detail and precision, earning him great acclaim for his “baroque” still lifes. Brown, in turn, became known for his psychologically evocative landscapes with classic bathers and poignant urban scenes.

Breaking the Rules: Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown is a transformative exhibition that sheds light on these artists’ remarkable legacies. 

Laguna Art Museum will host a reception for members on Oct. 14 and the exhibition will open to the public on Oct. 15. More information about Breaking the Rules: Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown is available by visiting lagunaartmuseum.org

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