A thousand thanks to Tina Brock for having me on her interview series, "Into the Absurd: A Virtually Existential Dinner Conversation," on March 6, co-produced by Erica Hoelscher and Bob Schmidt of The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium.
This talk is personal rather than curatorial; if you're interested in the art and life of Jim Brewton, his biography and artworks are here: www.jebrewton.org. (And thank you for your interest!)
If you're interested in what it's been like to launch a quest for artifacts and artwork, please do check out the video (click image for link). I didn't get to mention everyone who has helped me during this journey, but I am deeply grateful to you all, as always. Thank you!
Stories behind uncovering Jim Brewton's long-hidden artwork, constructive mourning, and the joy of pataphysical graffiti: live on Saturday, March 6, 5 pm (U.S. Eastern)
Tomorrow I'll be talking with Philadelphia theater-maker Tina Brock about the work I've been doing to locate and preserve my father's artwork. I began my hunt in February 2008, thanks to encouragement from Michael R. Taylor, then-curator of modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, now Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
While I learned about James E. Brewton (1930-1967), I documented the interviews and of course the artwork, and the whole story became a memoir, which I finally finished editing last week. I don't know where Tina will take our conversation tomorrow, but reflecting on the past 13 years has me feeling extremely grateful for the adventure.
In 2008 there wasn't a roadmap for building an artist's reputation from scratch, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful collection of oral histories: “Artists' Estates: Reputations in Trust” by Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau (Rutgers University Press, 2005).
Besides this site and the James E. Brewton Foundation site, I've also posted an essay I wrote about trying to run a nice, quiet, peaceful sickbed for my mother in her cabin in the woods during the summer of 2010. It's called "The story of the snake and the bears," first published by The Leopard Seal.
In 2014 I researched a poem included by my father in his 1964 print, The Pataphysics Times" (I'd searched the internet for the poem before, but decided to try again), and there it was: an artified version of “Tree-Leaf,” by architect Aldo van Eyck. van Eyck may have written it while he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, where my father worked part-time at the university book store. I decided to make a chapbook about the poem, and created a website as notes for the design. It's a lovely poem!
When I began the hunt for my father's work, I was aware of 16 paintings and prints. Today, that number has grown to more than 150 artworks. All of these finds were made through the help of friends, relatives, and strangers. My great gratitude goes to everyone who kindly gave me their time, talked with me, generously helped save the artwork, and pointed me in the direction of more information and works. Thank you; and thanks to all who appreciate and enjoy Jim Brewton's paintings, prints, constructions, and artifications.
Here's a link to the conversation with Tina Brock, March 6 at 5 pm (Eastern U.S./Canadian Time), on her "Into the Absurd" series: "Pataphysical Graffiti and Constructive Mourning: Uncovering Jim Brewton’s Long-Hidden Artwork."
Tina Brock is Producing Artistic Director of Philadelphia's own theater of the absurd, The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC). Coproducers for "Into the Absurd," the online conversations Tina has been hosting during the pandemic, are: Erica Hoelscher, Associate Artistic Director, IRC, and Chairperson, Department of Theatre, Professor of Theatre, Lehigh University; and Bob Schmidt, Ways and Means Coordinator, IRC.
I'm looking forward to talking with Tina tomorrow, and we hope you'll join us--or check out the recording later on IRC's Youtube channel.
In January, my husband and I took a long cruise around South America. At about 7 p.m. on Feb 20, a night and a day’s sail from Puerto Madryn and heading SE to the Falkland Islands, my husband was in the shower and I was gazing from our balcony at the empty Argentine Sea. Suddenly I noticed what looked like an upright whale, standing on its tail. Breaching? Practicing its ballet moves? Why didn’t it move? I got out my not-great binoculars and stared at the thing.
Looked like a single black sail, torn, with a mast a few feet higher than it. Lurching? If a wreck, why was it leaning along rather cleverly in the heavy wind? Was that a person clinging to the line, counterweighing the sail? Then it looked like two sails. Impossible to tell. I think we were about 300 miles from Argentina; I know we were about 180 miles NW of the Falklands. Any windsurfer out there would be in serious trouble. But was it anything other than a weird wreck? If a wreck, why hadn’t it sunk?
The Captain of the cruise ship was usually chatty, cheerfully announcing things several times a day, like “You see these rocks here; this is not the Horn” and “Dolphins on the Starboard side.” So as we left the lone black sailing thing in our wake, I expected to hear some kind of explanation. None came. Five minutes passed, and I decided to call someone. What if I were a windsurfer near death from cold and exhaustion, and a cruise ship chugged merrily by without even radioing hello? I would be very discouraged.
I checked out my options on the cabin telephone. Messages, Housekeeping, Room Service … I opted for Passenger Services and got the usual harried yet bored individual. I stammered that I saw a Thing, a black sail-like Thing, way out to sea…. The dude said he’d tell the Captain right away. So I hung up. Beat of 10, and a call came from the head of Passenger Services. Could I describe the thing my husband saw? I said I saw it, and it looked like two black sails or a whale standing on its toes.
Five minutes later, a tall and flustered Aussie, second or third Mate or something, burst into the cabin and straight through onto our deck, introducing himself as he ran. Would I hurry up and show him what I saw? I said it was long gone, behind us. He grabbed our phone, punched some numbers and gabbled, apparently to the Bridge. The captain had already turned the ship around (!), and they told him to take me to the other side of the ship. The Mate grabbed my hand and we ran across the barky to the other side. He grabbed a steward in the hallway with his other hand, telling him to watch us as we broke and entered the nearest cabin.
We had turned around, and I hadn’t felt it in the slightest. There, right in front of us, was the sailboat. The black sails were now dark blue, with a logo, and there was a sailor on it. “Is that what you saw?” asked the mate, rather superfluously. I was greatly relieved that I had really seen something, if people were going to go turning giant cruise ships around on a dime. They might have thrown me overboard if I’d seen nothing at all. Mate got on and off the phone and told me, while running away again, that the captain said he’d been in radio contact with the sailor. He was fine, an Irishman going “Around Alone,” headed from France to New Zealand…. I didn’t have the bandwidth to find out if they meant the “Around Alone” race, or if the sailor was just alone and going around.
Anyway, I felt very proud and special for no good reason other than being vaguely involved in a momentarily interesting event. It was impressive how quickly the Captain had turned our great big wallowing cruise ship around; yet unsettling that no one on his watch, nor any of the other passengers, noticed or cared about the lone black sail. As Keanu Reeves's character says in the movie “River's Edge” (1986), “I didn’t think I’d be the only one to call.”
Thanks to my aunt Rebecca, another Brewton painting has been found! Here it is, "Cabin, Stream, and Willow Tree" (1963):
Jim and my 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, I can't find this one in her files. The New York Public Library doesn't have it, and Seventeen didn't answer my query.
I was 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 me in New York! I hope someday to read the story.
At Armstrong, Joe ran the most unconventional of corporate offices. There was a hiring freeze when I started, so I was freelance, then part-time, then eased into actual employment. During my part-time days, I also worked part-time at the Fulton Opera House, as its public relations manager. Joe clipped a photo of the Fulton staff from a mailer (that's me on the far left, in the back), and left this on my desk at Armstrong:
Joe had a life-sized cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe in his office; she was skimpily dressed for, I think, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." She was there for years before Joe's boss said, "Too naked for corporate office: She must go!" Joe was despairing, so I brought in a spaghetti-strap red gown I owned for some reason, and we dressed Marilyn in it. Problem solved.
In 1991, an artist created a very costly rust-and-boulder installation in the square below our office windows, and Joe was wroth. He didn't like the art, and he didn't like the expense, and it annoyed him to have it arrayed under his nose....
Before I moved to Lancaster, I'd worked as a PR flack for an arts organization, so I knew just the sort of pretentious press releases, artist's statements and invitations to openings that would cause maximum horror when I created a complementary installation in Joe's office. The Armstrong advertising department's props were stored down the hall from our offices--a warehouse-sized wonderland. There I borrowed fake boulders and twisted-up bits of ceiling grid, elements of my first installation: "Movement and Stasis," at "Joe's Casa del Arte." I don't have pictures of it, but Joe had a wire mesh in-box on his desk, which I filled with river rocks. Hilarity ensued when Joe came into the office.
Looking back on those days, I'm surprised our neighboring departments didn't complain more often about the noise coming from our area.
Besides laughter, we made a lot of noise rummaging and moving furniture around. From his days in the Air Force, Joe brought a very enjoyable practice of "repositioning" to his department at Armstrong. When we saw furniture or equipment going to waste in another department, we'd reposition it in two stages. First, we'd reposition it to a conference room. After a suitable interval, if no one seemed to notice, we'd reposition it to the employee communications compound. We got a really cool light table that way, and desks and chairs and lamps and things. A whiteboard. Good times.
Thank you, Joe.
In his office at Armstrong...1993-ish.
(LEFT/TOP) The caption we wrote for the photo is "This century's most powerful mind puts it all together." The quote behind him is '"No passion on earth, neither love nor hate, is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." - H.G. Wells'
(RIGHT) Must have had a meeting somewhere; hence the tie.
I learned today that my all-time favorite boss died, more than a year ago. I'm so sorry.
Working for Joseph R. DiSanto was a privilege: I got paid to learn about writing and editing from him, and he was a stellar teacher. We sometimes fought about politics, but mostly we laughed. He was one of the most brilliant, stoic, gallant people I have ever known.
During one harrowing, months-long editing project, our scribbles back and forth became so sarcastic that I made four large collages out of the clippings. I don't know if I still have those collages, but here is one little memory of Joe that I'll always save. I'd submitted the stories for a newsletter, and I was so bored by one of them that I was too lazy to give it a decent headline. This is what was returned to my desk:
For months I've been obsessed by old photographs of children who later became famous artists. Looking into their little faces was such a deep and poignant experience, I decided to choose them (based on six criteria), make multiple copies as if they were contact sheets, paint around them and on them, then paint around them in black again and varnish the results. They're mounted on canvas or cardboard. The brand names of the "film" used are appropriate to their country of origin, and the numbers also have meaning. All in all, there are nine constraints and one clinamen. Finally, they are ready for me to start working on! They will be ARTIFIED.
Past travels with a trusty camera; current work on James E. Brewton Foundation research and memoir
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