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Friday, February 10, 2012

Bill Theophilus Brown, 1919-2012

Bill Theophilus Brown (1917-2012)

On Wednesday, February 8, painter Bill Theophilus Brown died at his home in San Francisco. He was 92.

Bill was a powerfully charismatic man who had a wide circle of devoted, one could say captivated friends throughout his life. I was fortunate that several of my friends - Matt Gonzales, Barry Owen, Dan Becker, and Jessica Dunne - knew Bill and so over the last four years I found myself modeling for him, playing chamber music with him, and, four months before his death, interviewing him for my film Tie It Into My Hand.

While Tie It Into My Hand is still very much a work in progress, I decided to post most of Bill's interview here as a way for people who knew the man, his work, or both, to remember him and the extraordinary life that he led. This excerpt is titled Kissed by de Kooning: Scenes from the Life of Theophilus Brown. It can be found both below and at

Additional scenes from Bill's interview will screen March 1, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. at a Tie It Into My Hand sneak preview presented by Kunst-Stoff Arts in San Francisco. 

Over the course of the interview - conducted, according to the Tie It Into My Hand formula, as a violin lesson Brown teaches me on the Tchaikovsky violin concerto - Brown reminisces about his life, his relationship with fellow painter Paul Wonner, his career, and his friendships with artists including Picasso, Diebenkorn, Stravinsky, Cage, Isherwood, Hindemith, Giacometti, Barber, Eva Marie Saint, and de Kooning. Toward the end of the lesson Bill fact-checks his Wikipedia entry

If you would like to contribute your own reminiscences of Bill to this online memorial, please post them below to the comments. If you have photos you'd like me to add, my email is paulfesta at gmail.

Addendum #1 (2/10) - The San Francisco Chronicle has this obituary by Julian Guthrie.

Addendum #2 (2/10) - AP's obit

Addendum #3 (2/10) - New Haven painter and Tie It Into My Hand teacher Jonathan Weinberg conducted nearly six hours of audio interviews with Bill in 2010 for the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art oral history project. According to Jonathan, those interviews are in the process of being transcribed and edited and will be posted online in a few months.

Addendum #4 (2/10) - The Thomas Reynolds Gallery, which represented Bill for many years, has a this page with video, obits and other news coverage and representations of Bill's work including many self-portraits. The video at the top is accompanied by Bill's performance of one of his piano pieces.

Addendum #5 (2/10) - ArtLyst obit

Addendum #6 (2/12): photos from Barry Owen, from his and Dan Becker's last visit with Bill at his home in the San Francisco Towers:

About Me

My photo

Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des R├ęcollets.