Joe Brown is considered a most proficient sculptor of the modern age, whose excellence rivaled that of sculptors of the Greco-Roman age and the Renaissance. He was born in 1909 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Temple University on a scholarship for boxing due to his innate athletic prowess. Brown’s first exposure to the art of sculpture occurred when he modeled for artists at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. As an athlete Brown used his intimate knowledge of the anatomy of the human body to begin creating his own sculptures. Brown worked as an apprentice for seven years under Dr. R. Tait McKenzie.
In 1937 Brown became the head of the boxing program at Princeton University. When it was discovered that he was also a budding sculptor, Brown was named resident Fellow of Sculpture at the University and began teaching sculpting classes. In 1962 Brown stopped teaching boxing and became a full professor of Art. Brown is credited with more than 400 sculptures over his lifetime.
Having begun his career as a boxer, it was this athleticism that allowed him to create sculptures that conveyed struggle, pain, and physical exertion so accurately. Just as in Ancient Greece the young male athletic body was idealized by Myron with his work Discobolus, Brown too was able to express movement in the strained taut muscles of his bronze-cast bodies.
Counter Punch #1 is emblematic of Joe Brown’s sculptures of athletes captured in the moment of the competing struggle between two contenders. Both boxers are equally intent on knocking out the other. The two combatants are locked together in combat-one boxer extending a left jab while the other parrying the attack, knees bent and extended only a hair’s breath apart with opposing force; arms and legs taut with muscles straining under the weight of the fierce competition. As an athlete himself and then later as a coach Joe Brown was intimately aware of the human anatomy. This knowledge of each athlete’s sinewy muscle and every taut tendon as well as the fluid motion of the athlete’s graceful movement is revealed in the meticulously accurate modeling of these two boxers in action. Here is the personification of the ancient Greek and Roman games - the juxtaposition of two exquisitely sculpted bodies pitted against one another in the “athletic contest” that only one can ultimately win. Just as in Ancient Greece the young male athletic body was idealized by Myron with his work Discobolus, Brown too was able to express movement in the strained taut muscles of his bronze-cast bodies. The resulting tension and friction of this rivalry is palpable and real in the capable hands of the sculptor Joe Brown. Having begun his career as a boxer, it was this athleticism that allowed Brown to create sculptures that conveyed struggle, pain, and physical exertion so accurately.
Joe Brown, Retrospective Catalogue 1932-1966, No. 18 (ill.)