Spending a dreary winter afternoon with Philadelphia artist James E. Dupree is like winning a trip to the tropics: He’s warm, funny, gracious, and full of fascinating stories about pinging – and getting pinged by – the conventional art world as an African-American male.
James E. Dupree – Philadelphia’s own Black Picasso
And visiting Dupree’s art-packed, 8,600 square foot studio in Philadelphia’s Mantua section is like exploring an inspiring alternate universe.
Three rooms in the marvelous maze that is Dupree’s West Philadelphia studio
His widely exhibited work has been collected by individuals, corporations and museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
And his imaginative three-dimensional works and indomitable spirit made this classically trained artist a perfect addition to the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that merry band of found-object artists whose studios and homes we’ve been touring.
IN THE BEGINNING
James Dupree was raised in both West Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and was one of the first African-American graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s MFA program.
In 1984, he opened his Dupree Gallery at 703 S. 6th Street in Philadelphia’s Queen Village section, where he and his wife Anita Brook Dupree raised three daughters.
The Dupree Gallery sponsored “If Walls Could Talk”, an exhibit of the Dumpster Divers’ small-scale, wall-mounted work in 2016
A DREAM REALIZED….
In 2005, the tireless Dupree bought a dilapidated warehouse on Haverford Avenue in Philadelphia’s struggling Mantua section and lovingly restored it into a combination art and teaching studio, music and living space, and display area for his 5,000-plus artworks.
Dupree in the reception area of his Mantua studio
….AND ALMOST STOLEN
But his labors came to a near bitter end in 2012, when the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority seized his deed under a soon-to-expire Eminent Domain law, with the idea of awarding his property to a redeveloper.
Dupree mounted a bruising battle with help from the Institute for Justice, local media, and artist groups like the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers, who immediately declared him a member.
Dupree fought the takeover with art, painting his studio exterior red and adding images ranging from the Yoruba warrior god Ogun, to a councilperson as a cockroach being forced into the light
After a draining two-year battle, the city finally dropped its condemnation proceedings – largely as the result of its own error in condemning only part of Dupree’s property.
INTRODUCING THE BLACK PICASSO
One positive takeaway? When a city councilwoman brusquely asked him who he thought he was, Dupree developed a response that helped diffuse his anger: “Since you don’t know, I am the Black Picasso”, a sobriquet he has since cheerfully embraced. “I like it because it always gets a reaction,” he grins, “whether anger or laughter.”
STEP INTO THE VIRTUAL STUDIO….
So join us for a photo tour of Dupree’s West Philadelphia studio where, in addition to walls bursting with paintings, you can explore everything from his three-dimensional work…..
Objects from Dupree’s “Feather” series (above) and “Artifacts” series (below)
to his latest collage paintings with lenticular film inserts….
Dupree incorporated Karen Bystedt’s Andy Warhol photos into these pieces whose images change as you walk past them
to his striking political, social and racial commentary….
Dupree’s Trump paintings were part of his one-man 2018 exhibit at Philadelphia’s Painted Bride Art Center
….AND THE REAL ONE
And, yes, thanks to the advent of Airbnb, you can even spend the night there….
The art-filled sleeping area in the studio’s Airbnb apartment
THE TOUR STARTS HERE!
So, click here to take our Unexpected Philadelphia photo tour of Dupree’s inspiring studio.
As always, when you arrive at our website, click on any thumbnail image to page through larger versions of all the photos. You’ll also see a scrollable caption under each large photo if you’re on a non-mobile device like a PC or laptop.
James Dupree with one of his new “transitional interactive paintings”, combining paint, colored light, and lenticular film images
You can also follow our blog by clicking the black “Follow” button near the top right of the screen. Increased family responsibilities mean that we can’t post as often, but we’ll have another great studio tour available by summer’s end.
Kate & Dave