Junior was a multifaceted artist

As an artist, Alvin Junior wasn't limited to just one way of communicating with the world.

He was a painter and a poet, a man who wrote and performed music, including with his own bands.

"One form blends itself into another art form," Junior once said. "When I'm writing poetry, I get an idea for music. When I'm painting, I get an idea for poetry. There's a very fine line between poetry and lyrics. They're really the same."

James Alvin Junior died of natural causes April 22. He was 76.

"I think he was a good artist," said Curtis Carter, professor of aesthetics at Marquette University and founding director of the Haggerty Museum at the university. "He also exemplified the connection between visual arts and music in the African-American culture.

"He was an important artist in the tradition of Jacob Lawrence and the long tradition of African-American artists. It's very much part of American art."

Junior's only formal training was the chance to study painting for six months under a federal government program in the 1980s. He also played piano and trumpet.

"He was self-taught. Everything he ever did was self-taught," said his cousin, Tina Moore, who was part of his music. Moore performed with Junior's bands, including Tufu, which had played for years at her Jamie's Club Theatre.

"It was an honor to sing with his group," she said.

His oil paintings often featured musicians, the colors warm and glowing and almost vibrating with sound. Local exhibitions included a show at the Van Wal Gallery in Fox Point in 2006, and his work has been exhibited elsewhere in the U.S.

To help pay the bills, Junior usually had a day job as a custodian or managing apartment buildings.

He was born in Harrell, Ark. His family moved to Milwaukee when he was a youngster.

Junior didn't remember a time when he wasn't trying to draw, as he explained in a cover interview for M Magazine in 2006.

!For Christmas, we always got a coloring book," he said. "I'd finish mine and hang around waiting to see who didn't want to color all of theirs. In grade school, the art teacher came around once a week bringing big, long pieces of brown paper for us to color on. I couldn't wait to get my hands on that paper."

He counted saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker and artist Vincent Van Gogh among his influences.

"The best people are nonconformists," Junior said. "Every day we're bombarded by conformity, and we have to fight it. People expect you to conform; they expect you to settle down to the norm. Whether it is parents or the establishment, someone doesn't want you to be yourself. I always say deformity is conformity's child."

It was a good way to live.

"You'll be happy inside," he said. "I resisted my whole life retiring on another man's dream."

Survivors include Joyce, his wife of 36 years; daughters Lolita Plummer, Felicia Junior McLandau and Angelique Junior; son Anthony; stepson Carl; sisters Mary Morton, Floree Roberson and Naomi Ricks; brother Jesse; grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial gathering will be held from noon to 3 p.m. May 28 at the Silver Spring Country Club, N56-W21318 Silver Spring Drive, Menomonee Falls.

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