James Brigance, whose distinctive signs and murals can be found all over Memphis, died last week. He was 57.
Brigance, whose murals livened up some of Orange Mound's bleakest stretches, hadn't been well since 2005 when he was struck by a car while riding his bike on Lamar. Brigance was diabetic, and after the accident, his legs became gangrenous and had to be amputated, bringing the painter's career to an abrupt end.
Brigance signed his walls "Brick," a nickname that resulted from his skill at painting letters over uneven brick surfaces.
"A lot of people can't paint on brick walls, you see, because it's really a challenge," Brigance told the Flyer in a December 2007 interview. "But it just came natural to me."
Brigance studied art at Melrose High School, but he taught himself to draw in the dirt near the tiny house on Douglass Street where he grew up with six other brothers and sisters. He learned how to use oil paint and watercolors from his older brother Charles, another gifted artist who worked as a scene painter for Walt Disney.
In addition to painting Hawk's Grill and the interior of the Melrose Booster Club, Brick created the original — and now iconic — paint job for Raiford's Hollywood Disco, one of Memphis' most storied night spots. He also painted the portrait of Robert Raiford that used to hang prominently on the club's north wall.
Brigance never gave up hope that he would paint again. "I need to get some glasses so I can get all the details right," he told the Flyer. "I need to get some legs. I need to get back on the walls before I get too old."
The biographical materials distributed at Brigance's funeral noted that his work was on display, not in museums, but in beauty shops, clubs, and grocery stores all over the Mid-South.