“I am a visual anthropologist.” Years after his untimely death at age 67, Frederick J. Brown’s claim sticks. The artist’s oeuvre ranges from intimate portraits of his friend Ornette Coleman, the eyes gleaming with Mephistophelean energies, to the sweeping Café Sebastienne, which he designed and painted for the Kemper Museum to recapitulate the history of Western Art.
Brown was the first American artist to exhibit in Beijing in 1987. His work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and the Kemper Museum; his collectors include Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Brown grew up in Chicago, where his father brought home blues stars like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy. Whenever Brown painted, his studio was awash with music. This propelled him, shaman-like, into the zone where the spirits of his subjects spoke, took shape in color, light, shadow and dance onto the canvas in vivid, unexpected, provocative renditions.
In their muscular brushwork, bold Afro-Caribbean colors, and mythological resonance, his expressive figural paintings refract two mentors: Willem De Kooning and Romare Bearden. These, along with Goya, Velasquez, Giotto, and Duccio, helped to shape Brown’s ongoing focus.
Brown’s respect for his subjects ran deep, “These people made America’s only real art form. They didn’t have subsidies or grants. They didn’t have respect as people and as artists. I want to put the romance back into how they are seen. These complex people created complex art. They’re not just beaten and hounded, like they’re usually shown.”