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


Home for the Holidays – With 2 Dozen Neighbors (& More!)

Last night was East Passyunk Avenue’s annual tree-lighting ceremony,  and over two dozen South Philadelphia neighbors,  shop owners and dogs smiled down from our windows in what has become our annual holiday salute to the neighborhood.

So,  if you’re dining or playing near the restaurant-packed  “Singing Fountain”  between now and New Year’s Day,  check out our well-decked windows at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street….

17_12_01 1 Linn Street 2017 CM_9017We’ll keep the lights on for you ’til 2 a.m. each night.

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Dumpster Diver Exhibit Extended to November 4!

In our last post,  we told you about “DUMPSTER DIVERSions”,  our 25th anniversary pop-up exhibit by 46 members of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,  that predictably unpredictable band of found-object artists and their painter/photographer/performance artist friends….

17_10_16 1 Dumpster Divers Exhibit DC_4073Some of the more than 125 works you’ll find behind our purple door.


Based on the encouraging feedback we’ve received in our first two weeks  (hey, we can never predict what will happen when we schedule one of our unlikely projects!),  we’ve extended the exhibit to Saturday,  Nov. 4.

17_10_16 2 Dumpster Divers Exhibit DC_4077aCollage,  fiber and found-object art by Eva Aanya Preston,   Ellen Sall,  I. George Bilyk, Burnell Yow! and  Bruce Gast

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The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers’ 25th anniversary exhibit opens this Friday,  and we’ll have Divers on the inside,  Divers on the outside  (check out our new window display,  below)  and Divers on our website  (don’t miss our two-part anniversary album of Diver art).

But first,  we’d like to invite you to visit….


The Divers,  of course,  are that merry band of found-object artists and their painter-photographer-performance art friends who have worked and played together since April Fool’s Day,  1992.

17_09_30 1 Dumpster DiversAmong our 46 featured Diver artists are (clockwise from top left):  Leo Sewell,  Ellen Sall,  John Jonik,  Hugo Hsu,  Smokie Kittner and Harry Anderson

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The Dumpster Divers Are Coming!

Over the past two years,  we’ve introduced you to the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that big-hearted coalition of artists who have played,  exhibited and produced witty, found-object art together since 1992.

17_08_21 1 Philadelphia Dumpster Divers IGBWho are these people,  and do they always dress like that?   Well,   actually,  some of them do….  (Photo by I. George Bilyk)

We’ve also led you on photo tours of 15 striking Diver homes and studios…

17_08_21 2 Dumpster Diver Homes CM_DCClick here to visit the secret lairs of artists like (clockwise from top left)  Alden Cole,  Isaiah Zagar,  Susan Moloney,  and Betsy Alexander & Burnell Yow!


This April Fool’s Day marked the Divers’ 25th anniversary and,  to celebrate,  we’re hosting “DUMPSTER DIVERSions”,  an exhibit of the Divers’ found-object art assemblages,  collages,  paintings,  photography and more in our South Philadelphia studio.

17_08_21 3 Dumpster Diver Art 3Definitely the Divers:  Work by Bruce Gast,  Randall Cleaver and Leslie Stuart Matthews.  (Photos courtesy of the artists.)

Opening night is Friday,  October 6 from 6-9 pm,  and our doors will open every Friday and Saturday in October from 6-9 pm at the corner of E. Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street. Continue reading

Introducing Our New Dumpster Diver House Tour: Meet Leo Sewell

When Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum moved to Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall in 2008,  they asked city artist Leo Sewell to build a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s torch and arm,  which had originally been displayed in the park during the 1876 Centennial Exposition.

Leo obliged the children’s museum – with a fun-filled,  40-foot rendition that features everything from toys and skis,  to discarded license plates and road signs.

17_05_04 1 Leo Sewell Liberty Torch LSLeo Sewell’s Lady Liberty tribute took three years to plan and construct.   (Photo courtesy of Leo Sewell.)


Leo’s introduction to the joys of junk came early,  when he explored the dump near his childhood home.   His dad taught him to use tools,  and soon he was shaping and assembling industrial discards into wonderful new objects.

17_05_04 2 Leo Sewell DC_1618Leo constructs a flamingo in his studio.   The bird and its partner now grace the lobby of a Florida business building.

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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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