More than 30 portraits from 30 years of work by acclaimed painter Frederick J. Brown will be featured in the retrospective Frederick J. Brown: Portraits in Jazz, Blues, and Other Icons at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, Mo., from June 16 to Sept. 1. The portraits celebrate trailblazers who have shaped American culture.

In the exhibition, Brown pays tribute to such icons as Louis Armstrong, Ornette Coleman, B.B. King, Billie Holliday, Stagger Lee and John Henry. After Kansas City, the exhibition will travel to the New Orleans Museum of Art (Feb. 1-March 16, 2003) and the Studio Museum in Harlem (April 23-June 29, 2003).

Brown has combined his interest in jazz and blues music, Native American and African culture, primitive folk art and European religious paintings to generate a distinctly bold style. His strong color and articulated figures depict mythic figures such as Stagger Lee and John Henry, and such cultural heroes as Crazy Horse and legendary jazz and blues performers B.B. King and Bessie Smith.

Born in Georgia in 1945, Brown grew up in a working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. Through his father, Brown met musicians Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins, who were critical influences on his art.

In 1987, Brown unveiled a mammoth project capturing in larger-than-life portraits the great jazz and blues giants in their prime. More than 100 paintings were completed by 2002. Brown continues to work on this series and anticipates more than 300 works.

In 1988 Brown made history, becoming the first Western artist to have a one-man show at the National Museum of the Chinese Revolution in Beijing, China. Brown’s work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York City, and the National Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. He is an artist-in-residence at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

In a collaborative effort, the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City will display several works from Brown’s blues and jazz series during the retrospective showing at the Kemper Museum. A companion film, 120 Wooster Street, will air on national television this year. The documentary features footage shot over a 30-year period by videographer Tony Ramos, a close friend of Brown’s. A catalogue, written by Lowery Stokes Sims, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, accompanies the exhibition.

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