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Roger Brown in La Conchita, California

In the late 1980s, tiring of Chicago winters (and, we surmise, the exigencies of the art world), Brown searched for a place to build a winter studio in a warmer climate. He was drawn to southern California, in part because it was the last place that he and George traveled together, before Veronda was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1983, and died shortly after, in April 1984.

Brown found property in the beach town of La Conchita, north of Ventura. His interest in the property was sparked by a Spartan trailer that was parked there. The Spartan, designed in 1955, is a fine example of mid-century American industrial design, and Brown fell in love with it and bought the property at 6754 Ojai, immediately.

Brown created an Asian-influenced raked stone garden to offset the Spartan to its best advantage, and he planted rose shrubs and trees in a rock bed on the east border.

As Brown’s sketchbook musings convey, the Spartan was perfect. He had found a dwelling that reflected his visual vocabulary and design ethos essentially. He appointed the Spartan with furnishings that harmonized with the streamlined design sensibility that the Spartan embodies, including Russel Wright dinnerware, and the Spartan became his muse and museum.

The Spartan was perfect in many ways, but it lacked space for a studio. Brown rented studio space elsewhere for a time, but he eventually commissioned Stanley Tigerman, the Chicago architect known for his postmodern designs, to design his La Conchita home.

Stanley Tigerman in his Domain, 1989

Brown apparently traded this painting, Stanley Tigerman in his Domain (1989, oil on canvas, 48 x 72”), for the design of his La Conchita home.

Citizens Killing Themselves After Having to Deal With The Ventura County Planning Commission, 1989

Brown and Tigerman encountered nearly insurmountable obstacles with the local zoning officials while trying to construct the house. In frustration Brown painted Citizens Killing Themselves After Having to Deal With The Ventura County Planning Commission (1989, oil on canvas, 48 x 72”).

The house was completed in 1993. His garden scheme began with a formal line of six full-size date palms, planted along the front of the house on Ojai. In addition to his long-standing love for conifers, Brown cultivated cacti and succulents in his La Conchita gardens.

Brown adapted his collecting discipline to the kinds of things he could find, at thrift shops, swap meets, and other places in Southern California in the 1990s. Although is work is known for its broad variety of subjects within a strongly consistent style, Brown was not locked into a particular genre or aesthetic throughout his life. His collections evolved and reflected his visual vocabulary, as well as the time and the place where he lived. La Conchita was Brown’s third intentionally-created home setting, combing architecture (with a studio at the heart), collected objects, and gardens. His evolving architectural, collecting, and gardening life was invariably distilled into his work.

In 1997 Brown bequeathed the La Conchita property, the Spartan, and his art collection there, to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Brown intended for this gift to provide ongoing support for the RBSC and New Buffalo facilities, which directly serve the SAIC community. Prior to selling the property in 1998, the house, collection, and garden were documented thoroughly. The collection was moved to Chicago, where it is stored, and the documentation is part of the permanent archive of the RBSC. Proceeds from the sale of the La Conchita property provided much needed support for the Roger Brown Study Collection and the New Buffalo retreat.

To honor Brown’s life in southern California, the Spartan was moved to Los Angeles, where it is on long-term loan to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, an artists’ museum of great renown. It is situated in the museum’s courtyard adjacent to a Spartanette, a smaller version of Brown’s Spartan Mansion, and it relates to the Museum’s exhibit, A Garden of Eden on Wheels a display of dioramas exploring mobile home living in Southern California.

The Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is eternally grateful to David Wilson and the artists at the Museum of Jurassic Technology for their inspired guardianship of the Spartan, and for preserving the memory of Roger Brown’s artistic presence in California, in the creative environment of an incomparable artists’ museum.

Coming soon: Roger Brown’s focus on collecting vernacular ceramics, his arrangements of ceramics at La Conchita, and his Virtual Still Life series of three-dimensional paintings.


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