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Four Elements

James Brantley

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-09-02T12:00:00-04:00 in Black Artists | Comments

James Brantley is an African American painter born February 1, 1945, in Philadelphia. His interest in art began at the age of seven when he started visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He went on to earn a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia in 1971. He also attended the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) in 1972 and the University of Pennsylvania in 1973. He worked for the Philadelphia Departments of Recreation and Juvenile Justice for twenty-five years as a recreational leader to bring art and career presentations to youth ages thirteen to seventeen who were living in a facility until a judge adjudicated their pending cases. 

On racism in Philadelphia galleries, Brantley commented, “It’s systemic. If you were to ask the galleries about it, they’d probably respond that Black artists don’t apply, or that they don’t know where the Black artists are. But if you’re a gallery director, you owe it to both the public and the artists to go out and find them. They’re there!”[1] He joined the artist collective Recherché, which means “rare, or much sought after,” after leaving PAFA because “a fist is stronger than a finger.”[2] Reflecting on his life, he stated, “When I think back to when I was a young kid from North Philadelphia at Simon Gratz High School in 1963, studying at PAFA for a year, getting drafted into the Army, being in Vietnam for a year, getting discharged honorably from the military, and then starting back at PAFA and graduating in 1971, I realize it’s been quite a ride!”[3]


PMA Collection

PMA Library



[1] Gold, McCay, and Brantley 2015, 52.

[2] Ibid., 55.

[3] Ibid., 59.



Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia. 1990. Recherché: James Brantley, Moe Brooker, Charles Burwill, Don Camp, Nannette Acker Clark, Walter Edmonds, Jimmy Mance, Hubert Taylor. Philadelphia: Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia, Moore College of Art and Design.


Gold, Susanna W., Rachel McCay, and James Brantley. 2015. “A Conversation with James Brantley.” In We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s. Philadelphia: Woodmere Art Museum.


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