Frederick J. Brown

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Frederick James Brown
Frederick J. Brown.jpg
Born(1945-02-06)February 6, 1945
Greensboro, Georgia
DiedMay 5, 2012(2012-05-05) (aged 67)
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
EducationSouthern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL
Known forAbstract expressionism, Figurative
Notable work"The Last Supper", "The Assumption of Mary", "Stagger Lee", "John Henry", "Lionel Hampton"
Patron(s)R. Crosby Kemper Jr. Larry Aldrich Giovanni Agnelli

Frederick J. Brown (February 6, 1945[1] – May 5, 2012) was a Chicago-raised artist.[2][3] Through his portraits and other compositions, his work dealt with religion, the urban fabric, American history, and music.

His work is part of the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York[4] and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo. In 1988, Brown had the largest retrospective by a Western artist in the People's Republic of China, and he is the only Western artist to have had an exhibition at China's national museum in Tienanmen Square.

Early life[edit]

Frederick James Brown was born to, mother, Geneva Brown and, father, Andrew Bentley in Greensboro, Georgia on February 6, 1945. Soon the young family moved to Chicago, during the Second Great Migration, because of greater opportunity in Chicago as opposed to Georgia at the time. Brown was raised in a Methodist household near the steel mills on Chicago's Southside, which at the time was a working-class neighborhood comprised Eastern-European Immigrants, Hispanics, and African-Americans. Brown's father, Andrew, owned a shoeshine parlor, and pool hall in the neighborhood, which was frequented by Blues legends such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Memphis Slim. It was in this environment that Brown's love for the Blues would be nurtured, leading to the pursuit of his "Blues & Jazz Series later in his career

Brown attended Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) and studied architecture. After learning the fundamentals of architecture at CVS, Brown attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois (SIU). Brown graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1968 with bachelor's degree in Art and Psychology. At SIU Brown was an assistant instructor of art and was included the University's 1968 group exhibition.


In 1970 Brown had his first one-man show at the Illinois Bell Telephone Gallery in Chicago. That same year Brown moved to New York City's SoHo, a neighborhood which at the time was home to many artist and musicians. Brown embarked the development of theories combining visual art and music with jazz musicians Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, who was a childhood friend of Brown's. These collaborative multi-media efforts culminated in 1972–73 when Brown wrote, directed, and produced the play entitled Be Aware, a production combining visual arts, dance, and poetry.

In addition to painting and executing commissioned works, in 1974 Brown taught African and Afro-America Art History at York College, City University of New York. The following year, in 1975, Brown was the guest of the President of Liberia and completed three major commissioned paintings for the Government of Liberia. Additionally lectured at the University of Liberia, where Brown attracted tremendous attention through his artistic activities.

In 1977 Brown produced two video works, "Stolen Moments" and "Portrait of a Painter". "Stolen Moments" presented the dance of three leading New York dancer, while "Portrait of a Painter" showed Brown himself in the act of painting a large two-piece work. Music by Anthony Braxton served as the background to both projects. In 1978 Brown commenced a series of paintings inspired by and based on Braxton's orchestral music. The following year he employed his architectural skills in the design and construction of two artists' studios, each based on the premise of architecture as sculpture.

Anthony Braxton, 1970, Collection of Frederick J. Brown Trust

Brown taught art at the Central College of Fine Arts in Beijing for periods in 1985 and 1987. Furthermore, during this time Brown was the subject of a short film which aired on Chinese national television and documented his first visit. In June 1988, Brown's exhibition in China's the Museum of the Chinese Revolution commenced. The show featured 100 of Brown's expressionistic paintings and drawings created from 1968 to 1988. Brown's exhibition was considered a success and made him the first Western artist to exhibit his works in the Museum of the Chinese Revolution in Beijing.

In 1993, Brown unveiled "the Assumption of Mary" at Xavier University of Louisiana. The painting is currently the largest religious work of art on canvas at three stories tall. A year later Brown unveiled "the History of Art", a series of 110 paintings chronicling the progression of art through human history, through his own personal interpretation. To this day Brown's "History of Art" is on display in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design's Café Sebastienne (named after Brown's daughter Sebastienne).

Brown is well known for his "Blues & Jazz Series", which began in 1987 and ended in 2010 with the portrait "Jimi Hendrix". The series includes nearly 300 works, the most notable of which include: "Piano Men pts. 1&2", "Ornett Coleman", "Louis Armstrong", "Muddy Waters", and "Billie Holiday".

In September 2008 Brown gathered fellow artist along with jazz musicians, dancers and poets at Cornell University for a symposium on the Creative Movement of the 1970s of which Brown, along with others, spearheaded. The list of speakers included: bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonists Henry Threadgill, Sam Rivers and James Jordan, artist Tony Ramos, poet and activist Felipe Luciano, songwriter Malcolm Mooney, writer and music critic Stanley Crouch, designer Jean Claude Samuel and many others. Brown was quoted saying "Charlie (Haden) said 'Hey man you ought to move to New York, this is going to be the largest collection of musicians, poets, painters, artist in history. It's going to be called SoHo.'"

Personal life[edit]

Brown married modern dancer and fellow artist Megan Bowman in 1979. The wedding took place at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan. On August 9, 1985 Brown and Bowman had their first child, daughter, Sebastienne Nicole Brown in New York City. In 1989, due to his daughter's asthma, Brown moved his family to Carefree, Arizona and split his time between New York and Arizona. Six years later, Brown and Bowman had their second child, son, Bentley Embree Brown on May 19, 1995 in Carefree, Arizona.


  1. ^ Otfinoski, Steven (2003-01-01). African Americans in the Visual Arts. Infobase Publishing. pp. 27–. ISBN 9781438107776. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  2. ^ "China show first for U.S. artist". Chicago Sun-Times. Reuters. May 27, 1988. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  3. ^ Gargan, Edward A. (6 June 1988). "AMERICAN ARTIST GETS MIXED REACTION IN BEIJING". The New York Times. p. 13. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  4. ^ Weber, Bruce (May 21, 2012). "Frederick J. Brown, Painter of Musicians, Dies at 67". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 May 2013.’s-journey-through-art-is-a-passage-across-form-and-a-passing-on-of-legacy/

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