James Brown died Feb. 22, 2020, in a car crash in Mexico. Photo: Courtesy

James Brown, an artist who rose to fame in New York’s 1980s art scene and later lived and worked in Merida, died Saturday at age 68.

Mexico City’s Galería Hilaria Galguera, which represented him, confirmed the news on Instagram. Artforum reported that Brown and his wife, Alexandra Condon, were killed when their car, en route to Valladolid, veered off a road in Yucatan.

Brown had been featured in a retrospective at Fundacion de Artistas as recently as 2015. At the time, he had moved on to Oaxaca and Paris. His work was compared to that of Jean-Michel Basquiat and East Village painting of the 1980s, but with influences from primitive art and classical Western modernism.

The pair ran the Oaxaca-based publishing house Carpe Diem Books, which produces limited-edition books and prints. Producing just 20-25 copies each, the artist’s books and prints reflect the traditional typography techniques using locally produced metal and wood typefaces. 

Brown was born in 1951 in Los Angeles, where he attended high school and college, before attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After graduation, he joined the East Village’s interdisciplinary art scene. In 1983, Brown featured in the group exhibition at Tony Shafrazi Gallery alongside Basquiat, Donald Baechler, Kenny Scarf, Keith Haring, Futura 2000 and other figures from the city’s art world at the time. While in New York, he eventually delved into sculpture, experimental printmaking and ceramics.

In the following decade, Brown and his wife began working between Merida — where he and his family moved in 2004 — and in New York and Paris, although he was most recently based in Oaxaca.

His works are held in the collections of museums that include the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City.