American-born, Mexico-based painter and sculptor James Brown, whose work ranged from neo-Cubist collage to abstract gouaches, died at age sixty-eight after a car crash on Saturday in Mexico. His wife Alexandra Condon, with whom Brown ran the Oaxaca-based publishing house Carpe Diem Books, died as well in the crash.
Brown was born in Los Angeles in 1951, where he studied painting and printmaking before attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He moved to New York in 1979 and began his career with Leo Castelli and Shafrazi Gallery. His abstract paintings were grouped alongside those of contemporary neo-expressionists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
“Reticent yet intensely seductive, the art of James Brown is poised between roughness and refinement, violence and grace,” wrote K. Marriott Jones in the May 1995 issue of Artforum. “His work is also infused with an eroticism that is contained not so much in recurring moments of sensuous beauty, but more in the way that these moments violate the fundamental modesty of his materials and palette . . . In essence, the erotics here are as austere and ineffable as the sensuality Bataille attributed to mystics.”
In 1995, Brown moved with his family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and five years later established the Carpe Diem Press, which has since published thirteen limited-edition books in collaboration with artists and writers including Joan Jonas, Robert Lax, Jack Pierson, and Kiki Smith. Since the mid-’90s, Brown and Condon worked closely with local artisans to weave traditional rugs, and Carpe Diem’s books were likewise made with the aid of local artisans in order to include traditional Oaxacan printing methods.
Exhibitions of Brown’s work have been staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Oaxaca; Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico City; USC Fisher Museum of Art in Los Angeles; and Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris. His work resides in the collections of the Tamayo Museum, Mexico City; the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Whitney Museum, New York; and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.