14 facts about James E. Brewton

By Gwylym Owen

James Edward Brewton (November 4, 1930 – May 11, 1967) was an American painter and printmaker who synthesized expressionism, graffiti and Pataphysics.

He was born November 4, 1930, in Toledo, Ohio, and died by suicide in Philadelphia at age 36, on May 11, 1967. At the age of his death, Brewton distinguished himself as one of Philadelphia’s premier painters and printmakers.

Jim Brewton is a pioneering artist and printmaker based in Philadelphia, PA, and Silkeborg, Denmark. In early 1964, Jim Edward Brewton loaned some works that he owned for an exhibition by Asger Jorn at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. James Edward Brewtons prints sold well, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a number of them in their permanent collection. Four days after his death, Brewtons works were on display in Socrates Perakis Gallery in Philadelphia, alongside those by Jim McWilliams, Thomas Chimes, and the sculptor Paul Anthony Greenwood.

James E Brewton at work

James Edward Brewton started experimenting with Mute graffiti pataphysics, he continued painting portraits as well. These were unusual interests for an American artist of that era, and Brewton went beyond that, including graffiti in his own works, and playing with experimental ideas from Danish artists Asger Jorn and the Cobra Group, The Situationists, and comparative vandalism projects. These European, avant-garde influences were unusual for an artist from Philadelphia during the 1950s. In Charleston, the leading portraitist was the Swiss-born artist Jeremiah Theus (1716-74), whose works included Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Elliott (1740, Gibbes Museum of Art), Elizabeth Prioleau Rupell (1753, High Museum of Art), and a miniature Mrs. Jacob Mott (Rebecca Brewton) (1758, Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In London galleries there are paintings, collages, and other works by the late James E. Brewton–a practitioner of Pataphysics, the science of imagined solutions created by Alfred Jarry, the nineteenth-century French author.

Back in Philadelphia, Brewton continued creating his graffiti-based pataphysic works and showed them at the Kenmore Gallery. Two posthumous shows were held, at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in 1968, and at Kenmore Galleries in 1971, at which point much of Brewtons work was scattered and fading from view. In 2014, Emily and Patricia Weingrad–who had jointly curated Brewtons 1971 memorial–curated the first Brewton solo show in 43 years. This solo show was called Graffiti Pataphysic For All Mankind and was held at Slought, Philadelphia. So much time has passed between his death and his what Emily Brewton Schilling calls a re-entry to Philadelphia.

james brewton artist pataphysics 1

For over 40 years, James Brewtons work has been scattered among private collections and stored at family friends homes in Philadelphia — Emily Brewton Schilling has simply never seen any of it. By the time James Edward Brewton died in 1967, Brewton had several one-man shows, and museum curators were beginning to take an interest, as Nessa Forman wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer. There was James Edward Brewton, Forman continued, who was ahead of his time, who was brilliant, who was sensitive, who was not violent, who loved his art, who only wanted to paint. Emily Brewton Schilling came to discover that a lot of her acclaimed fathers work–the swirling, chaotic canvases of paint, as well as prints, many of them bearing unexplained symbols and fragments of words perhaps understood only by him–had been right under her nose the whole time.

From the way she excitedly moved from one work to another at a gallery, to how her eyes lit up at an effect on a canvas, to the way, as she searched for James Brewtons works, it seemed like reclaiming her lost time, maybe hints were all it took. Emily is founding director of The James E. Brewton Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit, and is finishing up a memoir about the search for her father’s work.

Emily is an artist, author, and daughter of Philadelphia-based avant-garde painter and Pataphysician James E. Brewton (1930-1967). In 2008, the Brewton Foundation was organized, with encouragement from art historian and curator Michael R. Taylor, to locate, catalog, and preserve James E. Brewtons body of work. All prints, his tools for making art, his stamps, his ashes, the American flag at a veterans funeral, the masking tape strip, [where] somebody wrote, James Brewton was a Beat, on the other side, James Brewton was a Cultured Beat.

Back in Philly at the end of 1962, his partner supported the family working as a copywriter for advertisements, and Brewton took care of Emilie and painted.

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