Over the weekend, artist James Brown and wife Alexandra died in a car accident in Valladolid, Mexico. It is thought that whoever was driving, fell asleep and the car went off the road.
In New York the early 80s James’ work was a critical success was one of the young neo-expressionism of the East Village painters of the time. During the 80s, his paintings, mixing the modernist tradition of painterly application and adherence to the picture surface with clear influences from tribal art.
In the late 70s, Brown studied early on at the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts, in Paris, and with the fading of the East Village art scene he exhibited more and more in Europe, where his work was seen in the context of a post-war European modernism.
In 1995 Brown moved out to the valley of Oaxaca, Mexico with his family, where they lived on a hacienda. Over the years, James and Alexandra collaborated with various artists, making rugs in the traditional Mexican style, and later made artist books starting Cape Diem Press, in limited editions using old presses and techniques.
For the past 15 years Brown had been in Merida, Mexico with Alexandra. (They met when she was an art history student at NYU and when they married, they knew each other for almost a decade.)
His work took on several styles over years combining a modernist tradition with motifs and spiritual interests from tribal art. Much of his work was abstract but contains depictions or signs of recognizable faces or objects.
In an Artforum review of a 25-year retrospective of his work, Martha Schwendener said,
“The works range from abstract gouaches to biomorphic and figurative watercolors to collages that update the synthetic Cubist experiments of Picasso and Braque.”
James and Alexandra are survived by their children Degenhart, Cosmas and Dagmar.
I am in Merida right now and the news of their death has their friends here reeling. Last Thursday night, I attended an opening at a La Cupola, an artist’s center in Merida and they were there, as well.
A mass and memorial will be held in their honor as their friends around the world try to comprehend the devastating news. The lives and output of these creatives souls has ended, but their love, work and influence remain.