James Brutus, an emerging and promising artist, went head first into the art scene. His body of work focuses primarily on painting and portraiture where his reputation of powerful figures balance between both meticulous brush strokes and dynamic loose energy. These figurative pieces question the social notion of nature and beauty – thus the age-old human longing for perfection.
Brutus earned his B.F.A. Degree at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan. There his focus geared towards Illustration and Fine Art. At this time, he is working with inks, acrylics, oils, and digital as such repeatedly changing where his portfolio targets more portrait illustration assignments. He has created illustration for newspapers and magazines, such work has been seen in Michigan View, Chicago Tribune, among others, as well as for private clients. He also exhibited several of his work in galleries throughout Detroit and Chicago.
In 2009, Brutus announced his arrival back to his thriving, highly respected art scene hometown, Miami, FL (where real oranges grow). He hopes to modestly continue participation in group shows, commissions, and freelance projects.
I meet with him at the Panther Coffee shop in the Wynwood Arts District to talk about his work.
How was the art scene in Detroit?
When I arrived to Detroit I thought a bomb had hit the place. Abandoned buildings still left there from the riots, roads were disgusting. It was grey, dark, and gloomy during the winter all the way up to the spring. The art scene was strange. It was hidden and functioned more on word of mouth, as far as events go. There were a lot of hole in the wall galleries and met many of the old time artist. For example, the Cass Corridor Artists from back in the 60’s and 70’s, where they produced engaging art based on found materials. Many of the students from the school wanted to show some of their work. So they would convert their apartment building to a gallery. It was funny, they would take all their furniture and put it into storage and then they would throw the work up and have a show. Now, I’m serious about this, I would go from Wednesday to Sunday to galleries every single week. And on Fridays and Saturdays, I would go to four or five different openings but for the most part it was a slow moving city.
A lot of my friends left and eventually I did as well. A part of me wished I stayed because the art scene right now is beginning to blow up. However, while I was there a lot of the instructors and artists were telling me to go down to Miami because it was had an art scene which was growing. I didn’t take it seriously until I started reading some articles and saw some magazines on Art Basel. Eventually, I made my way down here and got involved with a gallery in Wynwood where I currently show.
What themes are you addressing right now?
I grew up here in Miami in the city of Opa Locka, a town right next to the airport and adjacent to Hialeah. There are a lot of warehouses. It reflects Detroit as far as poverty, crime, not much of diversity. People on the streets up to no good. I was looking at different artist from African American community and seeing their content. Many of them touched on subjects and ideas they grew up with. So it was right there in front of me. My own subjects and ideas I grew up with and began to address that in my work in terms of different scenarios.
I know one painting that you’ve seen (main image) with three guys with their arms behind their heads almost in a submissive pose. The piece is supposed to convey to the viewer as either you’re a police officer or you’re a witness to the event. The story behind it was that three guys, whom my younger brother knew, were in a police pursuit. I came to find out that they were up in Delray and they robbed a bank, this happened early last year. They took three counties in a police pursuit down on I95 where one of them threw a firearm out the window in the middle of the highway, just trying to get rid of the evidence. But when you have two helicopters above your car it’s going to be something that will catch their attention. Finally, they end up in Miami Gardens and two of them got caught immediately. The other one hid in a house hold, apparently a girlfriend or baby’s mama that lived there. They eventually ended up finding him there.
My brother called me up and told me that so and so got caught and I thought, that’s why all those helicopters and police cars where all over the place. He was at the park and saw all the state troopers, Opa Locka Police, Miami Garden Police driving through 135th. At the time, I was priming a canvas getting ready to work on a project. I found the story relevant and decided to paint about it and just went by the story. Let say as if I was at the scene, how would I perceive it?
So I made it on a large scale and excluded the handcuffs, made it dramatic that way the viewer could understand the topic. I got a lot of snake eye looks and complements about the piece.
Why snake eye looks?
It was the topic. One of my friends told me that you’re suppose to reflect our community in a positive way. And there are those who cannot relate to this situation or don’t want to relate. I felt, to see something like that is too powerful to be on displayed in most galleries.
So who are you looking at right now as far as artists?
Well, right now I’m looking at Charles Wright(American), Kerry James Marshall(American) , and Nicolai Fechin(Russian). Much of their work is fork art and I want to incorporate that sensibility in my own work. So much of it is street scenery and buildings from Detroit, Chicago, and Miami – where it almost looks surreal but not quite. I still want it to look realistic in a way but still have a sense of renewal, destruction, or progress in waiting. I want it to be reflected in color. I consider myself a colorist where I mix my entire pallet to the colors which are appropriate to the subject matter. This is from my extensive experience with color mixing as restoring paintings to working at a t-shirt shop. I can tell you the number of the color and match it right there in sight. So I use that as a vehicle in my work. The want the work, to have an impressionist look to it where I can include my knowledge of color theory to my concept of folk, and portraiture. I want to tell stories with my work and find that it has been missing in a lot of contemporary art. Hopefully it will change, that word contemporary to something else. I will have to wait until the art historians think of a word to describe what it is.