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Breaking the Rules

Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown

Scott A. Shields, Matt Gonzalez

    ISBN: 978 1 78551 446 3

    Size: 305 x 240 mm

    Binding: Hardback

    Pages: 240

    In association with:

    Date published: April, 2023

    UK £55 /US $65


  • The most in-depth examination of the rich and varied careers of one of California’s premier artistic couples.
  • Features previously unpublished works and new scholarship.
  • Positions the artists within the context of their peers, both in California and nationally.
  • Accompanies a major retrospective exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA (April 30–August 27, 2023); travels to the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA (Oct 14, 2023–Jan 7, 2024); and the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN (January 28–March 30, 2024).


In reaction to the widespread pursuit of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Paul Wonner and William “Theophilus” Brown were among the artists in the San Francisco Bay Area who began to reengage with the visible world, applying the gestural style of action painting to depictions of people, landscapes, and still lifes. Together, the couple aligned themselves with this new direction and became leading practitioners of the style known today as Bay Area Figuration.

Over time, both artists’ works became less gestural and more overtly representational. Brown became known for his psychologically evocative landscapes with classic bathers, as well as for his lonely urban scenes. Wonner received greatest acclaim for his “baroque” still lifes laden with everyday objects, animals, and flowers.

Published to accompany the most comprehensive exhibition of the artists’ work ever mounted, this exquisite publication offers an in-depth study of these trailblazing artists.

Author information

Scott A. Shields is the Ted and Melza Barr Chief Curator and Associate Director at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

Matt Gonzalez is an attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and an artist exhibiting with Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco.