Jan Brown: A life with art

Jan Brown: A life with art

Jan Brown, who passed away in her 100th year in January 2022, spent most of her long life in Canberra. Through her own art, her teaching, and her advocacy, she played a hugely important role in the cultural life of this city. 

The arc of Browns’ career reflects the challenges that women artists of her generation faced. Her commitment to her children and family life took her away from the centre of the art world in London to the small town of Canberra in 1956, just as she was beginning to develop her reputation. 

In the CMAG foyer display, a selection of sculptures from the CMAG collection reflects her journey as a maker of artworks, beginning with the tender little Head of carved limestone from 1949 that reflects the intimacy of early motherhood. The birds of Australia’s bush capital make nature ever present for Canberrans. For Jan Brown, they were to become a deep source of fascination and her sculptures of birds, particularly magpies, rather than appearing purely representational, allowed her to consider deeper questions of the relationship of humans and nature. Brown was also deeply committed to art in the public domain and this display features maquettes for two of her much-loved works, Kangaroo and Joey in Commonwealth Park and Icarus in Garema Place. 

Looking at her work now with fresh eyes, the very personal language that she found to express ideas in sculptural form has a potency and gravitas that speaks for a genuine humanity.  

Image: Jan Brown AM, Adolescent, 1994 ciment fondu. Canberra Museum and Gallery, donated by the artist 2008.