Essay about Jim Brewton in 'PATAPHYSICS UNROLLED, edited by Katie L. Price and Michael R. Taylor, coming April 2022
We're thrilled that 'Pataphysics Unrolled will be released in April 2022, thanks to editors Katie L. Price and Michael R. Taylor. The book's cover art is a detail from Jim Brewton's The Pataphysics Times (1964).
Among the illustrious and pataphysically-minded authors whose work is in the collection are two Brewton Foundation board members: Taylor and John Heon.
Taylor's enthusiasm means the world to us; he first inspired our quest for Jim's artwork in 2008. A guiding light for the James E. Brewton Foundation, Taylor offers a lively essay, "Pataphysics in Philadelphia: The Strange Case of James E. Brewton," in 'Pataphysics Unrolled. (Color plates! Thanks to photographers Elena M. Bouvier and Vera Carbo.)
Heon's guidance is always spot-on; his advice is essential to the Brewton Foundation. He mentions Jim in one of the footnotes to his essay, "Twisted Witz: Experiments in Psychopathology and Humor by Dr. Faustroll and His Pataphysical Progeny." It is the funniest footnote ever written.
Katie L. Price, a major force among those organizing the three-day conference, "Philadelphia à la Pataphysique" in 2014, worked tirelessly to bring 'Pataphysics Unrolled to fruition. We're grateful to her and Taylor for championing the manuscript over the course of several years.
A number of the Brewton Foundation's projects have been interrupted by the pandemic, but we continue the work of researching, looking for artwork, and cataloguing. The April release of 'Pataphysics Unrolled is a wonderful chance to celebrate, and today is an opportunity to express our constant gratitude to our board members, collectors, relatives and supporters of the Brewton Foundation. And we're grateful to the founders, directors, and steering committee members of the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium (PASC), whose support of the James E. Brewton Foundation has helped us in many ways.
So that's us: thrilled, thankful, honored, and looking forward to the April release of 'Pataphysics Unrolled!
'Pataphysics Unrolled is published in Penn State University Press's "Refiguring Modernism" series, edited by Jonathan P. Eburne.
Last week we located this portrait of Jim's friend, Claire Van Vliet. Van Vliet, a master printmaker, founded the renowned Janus Press in 1955. Her work has been recognized with many awards and honors, including her election to the National Academy, two Honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts, and a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1989.
Van Vliet was an important figure in Brewton's artistic development, introducing him to Erik Nyholm and Jim McWilliams. When Van Vliet sailed to Denmark in 1962 for an illustration project, Jim and his partner at the time, writer Barbara Holland, decided at the last minute to go along. She had planned a social visit with Erik and Janet Nyholm before beginning her work, and showed up on their doorstep with Jim and Barbara. Jim and Barbara rented a barn in nearby Funder and, during that stay in Denmark, Brewton's work took on the spontaneity and vibrant colors of the CoBrA movement. Many of the CoBrA artists were friends of Erik Nyholm, and the Nyholms' farmhouse was once completely covered with paintings by Asger Jorn, Constant and Corneille--the walls, ceilings, even inside the kitchen cupboards. Jim returned to Denmark in 1965 to visit Nyholm and help with Jorn's Comparative Vandalism project.
In the early 1960s Van Vliet lived in Philadelphia taught at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts); she met Jim McWilliams there. McWilliams ran the Print Department, and let Brewton and other artist friends use the equipment after hours. The two Jims, McWilliams and Brewton, lifted many a beer at Dirty Frank's Bar, and were co-organizers of the exhibition that opened a few days after Brewton's death: Society for the Commemoration of Festivals and Fetishes, 15 May-7 June, 1967, Socrates Perakis Gallery, Philadelphia.
At some point while living and teaching in Philadelphia, Van Vliet was out of town for a while and lent Jim the use of her apartment. As a thank-you, Jim painted her portrait, which came to light in a private collection on Feb. 25, 2021. We are delighted to see it and share this image, with the owner's permission.
We are delighted to share these images of Brewton works, professionally photographed by Vera Carbo. Many thanks to the owner of these works, and to Vera, for making them available.
Top row, from left:
Portrait of Asger Jorn. 1964, oils on canvas, 51.5" x 37.25" (including frame).
Solitary Penitent. n.d., oils on canvas.
Untitled self-portrait. n.d., oils on canvas.
The Key to Birmingham. 1964, metal construction with souvenir key, 12" x 12" (not including key).
Middle row, from left:
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Portrait of Barry. 1966, oils.
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Bottom row, from left:
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Portrait of Marianne. 1965, oils.
Conie. n.d., oils on canvas.
I’m thrilled to announce that Jason Broede, Carol Broede, and Eric Olson have donated six exquisite artworks to the James E. Brewton Foundation. We are deeply grateful for this generous gift: The Pataphysics Times and The Chinese Lincoln prints, a portrait, and three outstanding abstract mixed-media works.
Ubu’s Military Mind is a fantastic portrait, in metal and miscellany, of Alfred Jarry’s monstrous Père Ubu character. The earliest piece in this collection, it showcases important elements of Jim’s creative development, when he began using Jarry’s concept of ’Pataphysics as the engine for his artistic practice, which he called “Graffiti Pataphysic.”
The piece was most recently shown at Jim’s first solo show since 1971, “Graffiti Pataphysic, for all mankind,” 21 March-1 May 2014, at Slought, 4017 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Jim’s flair for elevating mundane materials is especially apparent in X and An Egg Carton for the Wall.
X, a square mixed-media work on canvas, is a magical piece: with discarded silverware packaging, Jim conjured an ancient frieze depicting some sort of supplication to the sun. “X” refers to the small white “x” Jim stenciled onto the canvas, marking the spot where he’d stuck a perfume ad from a magazine and then peeled it off. “X is truly a show-stopper,” says Carol, “and it was such fun to take a look once in a while at The Pataphysics Times and read something.”
The Brewton Foundation’s board of directors and I are extremely grateful to Jason Broede, Carol Broede, and Eric Olson, for their generosity.
These beautiful works are important examples of Jim’s Graffiti Pataphysic practice, and we're thrilled to have them in the Brewton Foundation collection.
We're pleased that a work by Jim Brewton is included in 'Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde,' curated by Sid Sachs, Director of Exhibitions, Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, and assistant curator Jennie Hirsh. This sweeping survey will take place in three venues at the University of the Arts and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. We're pretty sure Brewton's piece will be displayed at The Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 S. 18th Street, on Rittenhouse Square.
Opening reception: Thursday, Jan. 30, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Art Alliance.
'Invisible City' is the culmination of a massive research project led by Sid Sachs, which includes an extensive, searchable database of Philadelphia's avant-garde connections. The 'Invisible City' team filmed fascinating interviews with key members of Philadelphia's avant-garde community, including Brewton's friend Jim McWilliams, as well as Harry Anderson, John Ollman, Richard Saul Wurman, Mark Campbell, Joseph Rishel, G.H. Hovagimyan, Cynthia Carlson, Joan Kron, Denise Scott Brown, Ruth Fine, David Slovic, Judy Lieb and Diane Burko.
The project is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
Thanks to Emily's aunt Rebecca, another Brewton painting has been found! Here it is, "Cabin, Stream, and Willow Tree" (1963), 9" x 13":
Jim and Emily's mother, Barbara Holland, spent much of 1962 in Denmark, where Jim worked with Erik Nyholm and Asger Jorn. Barbara wrote a short story called "Cabin, Stream, and Willow Tree," published in Seventeen magazine's November 1962 issue. Although she kept most of her published stories, we can't find this one in her files. The New York Public Library doesn't have it, and Seventeen didn't answer a query.
We were just looking for the story a few months ago, and never expected the painting to pop up! A thousand thanks to Rebecca Holland Snyder for finding it in Virginia, and shipping it to us in New York! Maybe someday we'll find a copy of the story.
In the last months of his life, Jim showed his masterpiece, "Kobenhaven," part of his ongoing dialogue with Asger Jorn. "Kobenhaven," with references to Picasso's "Guernica" and Jasper Johns (the lightbulb), was a direct response to Jorn's masterwork, "Stalingrad." (Showing only a detail from "Kobenhavn" here.) Its full name as listed in the show catalog is "The Bombardment of Kobenhaven in 1801 by Vice Admiral Lord Nelson or The Mad Laughter of Courage II (Til: Asger S. Trine)" "Til" means "to" in Danish, and I think the "S." is a typo and should have been "&." Trine is Katrine Nyholm; this is the seventh known picture Jim dedicated to her. This show ran from March 17 through April 16, 1967. Jim committed suicide on May 11 and, four days later, his work was shown at Perakis Gallery with that of Jim McWilliams, Thomas Chimes and Paul Anthony Greenwood. McWilliams remembers Jim's widow as trying to prevent them from including Jim's work, and "finally we just barged into his studio and took it." The show went on....
In 2008, when I first began looking for Jim's artwork, I heard a great story from Dan Miller, his classmate at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Dan went on to teach at the Academy for (I think) more than 50 years, and is the subject of a documentary by John Thornton. Dan said "Jim's death diminished us all," and told me a story: One day Jim came in to school and said he'd heard he'd get more money under the G.I. Bill if he were married. "So he walked down the hall, asking every girl he saw to marry him. One of them said yes. So they were married." And, said Dan, "I assume he got more money." When I told the story to other friends of Jim's, one of the women said, "Jim asked me to marry him, too."--Emily
May 11 will mark 50 years since Jim Brewton's death. We've been reposting some snippets on the Foundation's FaceBook page; here's one:
"Here's a baby photo of Jim Brewton I came across in 2009. I was visiting my stepfather, Mark Schilling, and we were sitting around the kitchen table looking through a small wooden box of old family photos. Mark offered me whatever pictures I wanted. I chose a couple of snapshots of my mother with her brother Nick.
"Suddenly I noticed a narrow little photo of Jim as a baby, beautifully worn as if it had once ridden around in a wallet for some time. What was it doing there in the Schilling boxhold? And how cool that I was able to instantly recognize the baby as Jim."
Today a collector sent us pictures of these two splendid paintings, from Jim's time in Denmark in 1962. The collector has kindly given us permission to share these images. You can really see Asger Jorn's influence in them. Jim was electrified when he learned about CoBrA while working at The Print Club in Philadelphia; he jumped at the chance to go to Denmark and make art with Erik Nyholm, Asger Jorn and their friends.
What a joy to see images of these fabulous, colorful artworks!
Happy holidays, everyone! And thank you to all Brewton collectors and friends. Please stay in touch!