If you live in Philadelphia, there's a good chance you've seen James Dupree's art and didn't even realize it.
Dupree's broad brushstroke rests in places you'd most and least expect.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses five Dupree paintings in its permanent collection. Totem poles created by Dupree stand at the Please Touch Museum. His penetrating portrait of founder Richard Allen graces the entryway of the museum at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. Several of Dupree's murals are on walls throughout the city.
Heck, Dupree's artful touch is even on display during the Mummers Parade. Since he began painting and designing elaborate sets and props for the Shooting Stars (a fancy brigade) two years ago, they've taken first in their division.
"They call me King James on Two Street," cracks Dupree, 59, an unlikely "ringer."
Not bad for the play-by-ear jazz pianist who says his work is influenced by "James Brown, not Bach."
And Barack Obama.
His new exhibition - "If Not Now, When?" - a trove of provocative mixed-media works inspired by the election of President Obama, runs through Aug. 31 at the Dupree Gallery, 703 S. Sixth St. in Queen Village.
The Obama exhibit strays from Dupree's trademark of polychromatic color. His primary palette for these pieces is a patriotic red, white, and searing cobalt blue.
The blue is painted on an African mask, the centerpiece of one of his works, asking the question: Who are the true-blue Americans?
"It's all of us now," Dupree says.
The exhibit poignantly explores ideas of race, class, spirituality, and gender through the nation's first black president.
All familiar themes for Dupree, who 25 years ago joined Recherche, a seven-member collective that included such respected black artists as Charles Searles, Syd Carpenter, and Andrew Turner, who displayed at the Sande Webster Gallery.
As part of the collective, it was safe to be cutting edge.
Back then, black art mostly was political, usually expressing what it was like to be black in America.
So it's only fitting that Dupree has taken pieces from some of his older works and incorporated them into his Obama works, when he again is conjuring up old and new ideas of identity. This time celebratory.
If not now, when?
But sometimes, Dupree's art was considered political even when he didn't intend it to be.
Like the time in 1993 when one of his abstracts, celebrating his wife, Anita, and the birth of their daughters was deemed "inappropriate" and removed from the walls of the rotunda at the Capitol in Harrisburg.
"They had life-size sculptural nudes displayed, and they censored me," Dupree says, still incredulous. "I thought it was a joke."
You really have to admire Dupree for the full spectrum of projects he undertakes.
Sure, it's the creative artist who finds a muse everywhere he turns. But it's the shrewd one who finds a way to eliminate the "starving" from the "artist."
"I bought [the gallery] in 1979. This is my pension," says Dupree of his prime piece of real estate.
He also owns an 8,600-square-foot studio in West Philadelphia, where he teaches and hosts residencies.
"Ultimately," Dupree says, "the question an artist has to ask is, 'Do you want fame or fortune?' I decided I want fortune. I want to make money while I'm living. I want to eat well and do my art and play golf."
"I've seen a maturity in his work," says Mel Hardy, an esteemed art collector who sits on the board of Brandywine Workshop. "The layering and introspection . . . there's a spiritual concept to it that resonates with me greatly."
Maybe that's because "If Not Now, When?" holds an intensely personal meaning for Dupree himself.
Three years ago, Dupree suffered a stroke, temporarily losing his sight, ability to speak, and mobility on his right side.
He recovered completely five days later.
There's an urgency to his work now. He wants to start a mentoring program for 12 aspiring middle school artists at his studio and even teach kids his Mummers painting technique.
Oh, and he'd like to see the Obama exhibit travel to the rotunda in Harrisburg.
For Dupree, that would be like coming full circle.