Visit the Inspiring Studio of Artist (& Dumpster Diver!) James E. Dupree

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.

18_02_27 1 James Dupree DC_4938James 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.

18_02_27 2 James Dupree StudioThree 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.


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.

18_02_27 3 Phila Dumpster DiversThe Dupree Gallery sponsored “If Walls Could Talk”, an exhibit of the Dumpster Divers’ small-scale, wall-mounted work in 2016


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.

18_02_27 4 James Dupree Studio DC_4728Dupree in the reception area of his Mantua studio


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.

18_02_27 5 James Dupree Studio DC_4926Dupree 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.


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.”


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…..

18_02_27 6 James Dupree ArtObjects from Dupree’s “Feather” series (above) and “Artifacts” series (below)

to his latest collage paintings with lenticular film inserts….

18_02_27 7 James Dupree Art CM_8722Dupree 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….

18_02_27 8 James Dupree Art CM_8915Dupree’s Trump paintings were part of his one-man 2018 exhibit at Philadelphia’s Painted Bride Art Center


And,  yes,  thanks to the advent of Airbnb,  you can even spend the night there….

18_02_27 9 James Dupree Studio DC_4951The art-filled sleeping area in the studio’s Airbnb apartment


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.

18_02_27 10 James Dupree DC_4861James 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


Claude Lewis – A Journalist After Your Heart

Last fall – when pre-election angst and anger were at their peak – Dave and I contacted over two dozen Philadelphia artists,  writers and performers,  and asked them to pose for our windows holding upbeat signs with words like create,  collaborate,  envision and,  yes,  VOTE….

17_04_20 1 Tasker Street Windows CM_5602Twenty-eight smiling artists lit up our South Philadelphia windows last October to remind us that we really do have more in common than not.

As you may recall,  participants included everyone from singer Bobby Rydell and comedian Jennifer Childs,  to jazz pianist Alfie Pollitt and sculptor Miguel Antonio Horn.

But there was one window,  front and center,  that was reserved for my earliest role model.


Like today,  the late 1960s were a confusing and complex time to be a teenager and,  three days a week,  I’d rush home from high school,  tear open the Philadelphia Bulletin,  and read Claude Lewis’ column.

17_04_20 2 Claude Lewis Phila BulletinPhiladelphia’s first black newspaper columnist,  Claude Lewis,  during his Philadelphia Bulletin days.  (Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family.)

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Artist Lou Hirshman – A Philadelphia Original (Part 2)

(Continued from Wednesday,  March 29.   Click here  to read Part 1…)

While Philadelphia artist Lou Hirshman first became known in the 1930s and 1940s for his witty three-dimensional caricatures of public figures,  his subject matter evolved with the decades.

By the 1960s,  he was using his found-object constructions to comment on social types ranging from psychiatrists and dictators,  to pot smokers and TV viewers.

17_03_30 1 The Duel_Lou Hirshman_1962Hirshman’s 1962 “The Duel” shows two combatants – deftly outlined in long strands of string – locked in eternal combat by the children’s scissors that bind them.   Their matching physiques and identical button faces hint at a different type of duel – an internal one.

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Artist Lou Hirshman – A Philadelphia Original (Part 1)

A major perk of writing our  Unexpected Philadelphia  blog and website is the connections we make with intriguing Philadelphians,  past and present.

In October,  2016,  we led you on a photo tour through the art-filled home and garden of Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Randy Dalton and former Inquirer editor Michael Martin Mills.   Among their treasures was this 1963 portrait of then-President John F. Kennedy by the late Philadelphia artist Lou Hirshman….

17_03_29 1 JFK Louis Hirshman CM_4950Artist Lou Hirshman transformed coconut and peanut shells,  matzo,  peas and Chiclets into this witty caricature of JFK.   Note the fish-shaped tie.


Which is what led us last week to a fun phone conversation with Hirshman’s son and daughter,  William  (Bill)  Hirshman and Deborah Donnelly.

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