Isolation can drain us, but art offers nourishment. The artist’s vision brought to life on the canvas becomes a thread of electricity connecting the artist’s soul to the viewer’s soul. In 1956, Joan Brown, somewhat isolated from the world as she recovered from an illness, found herself energized as she examined books containing reproductions of works by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and other artists. They inspired her to embark on her own professional artistic adventure. Just as the works of artists strengthened her, one of Brown’s self-portraits energizes me.
Portrait of a Girl features a child stepping out into the world, eyes frightened but curious. A dragon follows her, ready to attack and engulf its victim. The dragon, surrounded in fiery red, is colorful and vivacious, while the child’s pinkness renders her vulnerable and innocent. The world appears big and scary, yet vibrant and full of life. It breathes fire. It roars. It’s strong. It’s sexy. It is that life we want to connect to without getting burned and eaten alive. It can be an intimidating world for a plain Jane.
Portrait of a Girl reminds me that there are some ugly and scary things in the world. Is the dragon the bogeyman? A personal demon? A past to forget? Demons bring chaos and destruction. Humans can usher in peace and beauty, but in order to do that we must slay our demons.
I do not comprehend the Chinese characters in the painting, and I am reminded that there is much that is not understood in the world. With my heart pounding, I step out into a confusing and dangerous world. I step on the dragon’s tail while moving forward, and it is okay, for what is behind me is just a reflection beneath me, fading away as I embrace my own beautiful adventure.
Every day Averi Daniels is evolving into a better ukulele player and an even better writer.
Joan Brown (1938-1990) lived and worked in California. Her first art show occurred in 1960 at the Whitney annual show in New York. She was 22 years old, making her the youngest artist exhibited that year.