Frederick J. Brown. In the Beginning (1971). Oil on Canvas 92 3/4 x 136 1/2in. Courtesy of Berry Campbell Gallery.


Berry Campbell is pleased to present its first exhibition of Frederick J. Brown since announcing the representation of his estate in 2020.  This groundbreaking exhibition curated by Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims will focus solely on Frederick Brown’s earliest abstract works from 1969 – 1977.  This will be the first time many of these works have been on view in over 25 years, including the large-scale centerpiece to the exhibition entitled, “In the Beginning” (1971).  In the 1970s, Brown’s Wooster Street loft became a hub for artists and musicians. Daniel LaRue Johnson, Larry Rivers, Al Loving, Gerald Jackson, Bill Hutson, Anthony Braxton, and Frank Bowling, along with his art dealer, Noah Goldowsky, were all influential on Brown’s path as a painter.  While Frederick J. Brown is more recently known for his figurative works, these influential early abstractions set the tone for what is to follow.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a 20-page exhibition catalogue with a collaborative essay by Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims and Bentley Brown (the artist’s son).  “Fred Brown: Doing His Own Thing” combines new research along with previous interviews with Dr. Sims and the artist over a 20-year period. “Frederick J. Brown: The Sound of Color” will open the 2021 fall season with a reception on Thursday, September 9, 2021 from 6 – 8 pm.  The exhibition continues through October 9, 2021.  Gallery hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm or by appointment.

An artist who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, Frederick J. Brown began his career in 1970 in the context of the New York avant-garde. During the four decades that followed, he applied his distinctively vivid expressionist approach to both figurative and abstract works. A perfectionist who was unafraid of grand projects, he covered a wide thematic range, conveying the emotions and spiritual essence of his subjects. Through his art, he expressed his life-affirming attitude and empathy for the human experience.

Brown drew freely from many sources, including Renaissance altarpieces, German Expressionism, folk art, and Abstract Expressionism.  Of mixed African American and American Indian heritage, Brown was also inspired by African art and culture, as well as American Indian sand paintings. Of these influences, Abstract Expressionism was of special significance to him. During his years in New York, Willem de Kooning became a mentor and friend. Brown affectionately referred to de Kooning as his “artistic godfather,” and described Abstract Expressionism as “a very beautiful, lyrical language.”[i] Romare Bearden was a long-time friend and a great influence on Brown as well.  Additionally, Brown showed with Bearden’s gallery in the early 1970s.  Brown paid tribute to legendary figures in jazz and blues, with whom he had close and mutually supportive relationships. The impact of their music resonates in Brown’s work and can be felt in his notable jazz portraits.

Brown often presented his subjects in a heroic manner achieved by his use of large-scale formats. In such images, he honored what his subjects gave to the world, expressing his veneration for them and for their own dedication to their work. He likewise conveyed his humble sense of gratitude for the blessings he had received. As an artist, he felt he was “on assignment in life,” following a calling “to provide beautiful and lasting things on earth” that could be a “catalyst to show other people that whatever they can conceive can come true.”[ii] While creating images that often tell stories, Brown drew on a wide repertoire of styles to produce works that are visually strong and direct. The noted art historian, Lowery Stokes-Sims, who has written several times on Brown’s work, states that the sumptuousness of his vocabulary afforded him “inexhaustible opportunities for further improvisation,” while his “ever-permuting vision” fed his “enormous capacity to explore and absorb the world around him.” Sims gave recognition to “his ability to retranslate his impressions within his own carefully conceived cosmogony.”[iii]