A series of programs exploring the past, present and future of Pataphysics - the "science of the particular" - in Philadelphia and beyond


James E. Brewton (1930-1967)

'Lost' paintings, prints and constructions by James E. Brewton, rediscovered after more than 40 years in isolated private collections.

Organizing Institutions

Slought, James E. Brewton Foundation

Contributing Institutions

University of Pennsylvania


Emily Brewton Schilling, Patricia Weingrad


Barbara Berry, John Heon, Aaron Levy, Katie L. Price, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Si Rosenthal, Michael R. Taylor, Ronald Weingrad, Patricia Wright

Process initiated


Opens to public





4017 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

James E. Brewton was a prolific artist, although his life was brief. Since his suicide, his paintings and prints have been scattered; most of his supporters thought only a few artworks had survived. In 2008, with the encouragement of art historian and curator Michael R. Taylor, the Brewton Foundation was organized to locate, catalogue and conserve the Brewton oeuvre. Over the past six years, hundreds of works have been found.

This exhibition - on display at Slought from March 21 through May 1, 2014, with an opening on Friday, March 21 at 6pm - emphasizes Brewton's Pataphysical riffs. When he discovered Alfred Jarry's writings, Brewton found a kindred spirit—in Jarry's deliberate defiance of rational discourse, his absurdly monstrous Pere Ubu character, and his imaginary science of 'Pataphysics.

As Brewton stated for a show catalogue in 1965: "The pataphysician is concerned ... in the manner of a child looking through a kaleidoscope." Brewton integrated the Pataphysical approach to life with the other great influences on Brewton's life and art: the Surrealists' comportement lyrique and the northern European CoBrA art group. Brewton appropriated and synthesized these concepts into his own "Graffiti Pataphysic."

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James Edward Brewton died just as he was beginning to distinguish himself as one of Philadelphia's premier painters and printmakers. Born in Ohio in 1930, he served in the Korean War. On the G.I. Bill, Jim studied at the Ruskin School in Oxford (1954-55) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1955-58), winning national recognition while still a student. Although his training was traditional, Jim was an instinctive avant-gardist, delving into surrealism, Pataphysics and expressionism.

In the late 1950s, Jim saw the wildly colorful CoBrA artists' work and was electrified. He went to Denmark and worked with Erik Nyholm and Asger Jorn in 1962-63, returning in 1965. By then Jim had developed his method of artistic exploration: a synthesis he called "Graffiti Pataphysic."

His late works reflected the times: elegant and sharp commentaries on war and racism, and enthusiastic celebrations of women. Jim's talent was exceptional, but his personal life was calamitous and he shot himself on May 11, 1967.

Two memorial shows were held in Philadelphia, at the Academy in 1968 and the Kenmore Galleries in 1971. "A truly gifted artist," wrote Hobson Pittman in 1968, who "from his earliest work, gave evidence of a peculiar and constant search for the nebulous and metaphysical symbol. [Brewton's] deep understanding of aesthetics was evident in everything he did."

Visit the Brewton Foundation website »

"I think style in art is injurious to anyone who likes freedom of movement. I would rather innovate than live in the comfort of a manner."

– James E. Brewton, 1965