A resident of Carefree, Arizona since 1989, Frederick Brown is an artist whose painting pays tribute to jazz musician icons such as Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. In the summer of 2002, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri had an exhibit of 30 of these paintings curated by Lowery Sims, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Living in New York City in the 1970s and 80s, Brown countered the vogue of Pop Art to return to realistic figure and portrait painting. He emphasized that he did not wish to be known as an African-American artist but as an American artist.
He grew up in a working class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side where he was the smart kid, excelling in athletics and academics. He also developed an appreciation for jazz and blues and was exposed to this early because his father operated shoe shine stands near pool halls where the music was performed. He met legends such as Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Brown attended the University of Illinois but did not do well academically because he spent so much time on sports. His grandmother told him to just “get a degree”, which he did from Southern Illinois University and then worked for the “Chicago Tribune” selling advertising. He realized this was not the way he wanted to make a living, and with the encouragement of a Harvard professor, Seymour Slive, traveled in Europe to study the Old Masters and then returned to become an artist himself.
He settled in New York in 1970 and there began to associate with famous people such as Willem de Kooning, and jazz great Ornette Coleman. He also met Andy Warhol and Larry Rivers, and at his loft entertained John Lennon. He lived in New York for the next 29 years and in 1979 married dancer Megan Bowman. He taught at the Central College of Fine Arts and Crafts in Beijing, China and became the first American to have an exhibit at the Museum of the Chinese Revolution at Tiananmen Square.
In 1989, he moved to Arizona because of his daughter’s asthma, and he works from a studio in a Scottsdale industrial building. He has painted more than 300 larger-than-life portraits of great jazz and blues giants in their prime.
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