The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

7/26/16


Should We Stop Using The Term ‘Outsider Art’?

Why are we calling community-oriented black artists like Kevin Sampson “outsiders”?

07/25/2016 09:42 am 09:42:29 | Updated 23 hours ago


Kevin Sampson
“I am not an outsider artist,” Kevin Sampson said.
He was speaking on a panel at the American Folk Art Museum in New York last week about sculptor Ronald Lockett alongside artist Michael Berube and Cara Zimmerman, a specialist in folk and outsider art at Christie’s. No one had explicitly labelled Sampson as such, but because he was invited to participate on the panel, it was surely implied.
“I have been represented by Cavin Morris Gallery for years,” Sampson continued. “My work showed in the Venice Biennale. It’s hard enough to be an African-American artist. Now we have to be ‘outsiders’”?
The conversation had shifted from discussing Lockett’s work to discussing the politics of how such work is categorized. Lockett was a black, self-taught artist living and working in Bessemer, Alabama. His work, made from tin, wire and found metals, explored resilience of the human spirit in times of political oppression and physical constraint. He died at just 33 years old from AIDS-related pneumonia. 


Kevin Sampson

In the strictest sense, Zimmerman explained, Lockett’s work belongs to the Birmingham-Bessemer School, along with his mentor and cousin Thornton Dial. But more often, perhaps when we get a little lazy, it’s described as “outsider” ― as in, outside the mainstream artistic institution.
Often, artists designated that way cannot personally respond to their opinion of the distinction. Frequently their work is discovered only after they’ve died, their artistic drive an obsessive secret they never expected would gain recognition. Or, oftentimes such artists live with developmental disabilities that limit their ability to discuss the way their work is referenced and catalogued. They make the work and leave its classification to curators, writers, dealers, etc.
But Kevin Sampson, a New-Jersey-based sculptor who makes enchanting molten ships and structures from found objects, memories, bones, wax and hair, is able and willing to speak on the subject. “The term ‘outsider’ is offensive,” he explained in a phone interview with The Huffington Post following the panel. “I just don’t even understand what it means.”


Kevin Sampson



Originally, the term designated an artist making work outside the context of art history, removed from the artistic institution, apart from the dialogue and marketplace of contemporary art. Basically, outsider artists were isolated, working in basements, prison cells, psychiatric wards or rural towns ― places where art was, at least in theory, born purely of the individual imagination.
“The term was great 50 years ago,” Sampson said. “But there is no more making art in isolation.” Thanks to globalization and the internet, Sampson argues, it’s virtually impossible to make art outside of some sort of dialogue. “Outsider artists made art outside of the art world and outside of a community. But me, making art outside of the community? That’s nonsense.”
Sampson’s father was a civil rights leader in Newark, New Jersey, so he grew up immersed in a household full of political dialogue and community engagement. Although he was interested in art from a young age, at his parents’ insistence, Sampson opted for a traditional college education at Lincoln University, where he majored in history. He dropped out after two years.


Kevin Sampson

Sampson’s father was friends with the mayor, who told him the city was looking to recruit more African American cops. His parents urged him to take the test to join the police force. “The rest is history,” Sampson said. At his mother’s recommendation, he used his drawing skills to become a composite sketch artist. He made over 1,000 drawings on the job over the course of 10 years, eventually serving as an expert witness in identifying suspects.
Suddenly, Sampson’s life was uprooted. His wife Pam was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their son Kyle, born prematurely, died at 4 months old. Sampson’s cousin Carol Oliver contracted HIV/AIDS and died three months later. “When I started losing people, drawing didn’t work anymore,” he explained. “I had to use my hands.”
For Sampson’s first artwork, he went into his backyard, grabbed a log and started to carve it, not knowing at all what he was doing. His cousin had turned to the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria shortly before she died in the hope it would help provide a cure. Her mother gifted Sampson a variety of objects culled from her altars. They were tangible memories, everyday talismans, found objects imbued with intimacy.


Kevin Sampson

Sampson’s first piece was a ship, representing his cousin’s journey to the afterlife. He soon found himself creating a second, and then a third. “It was the late 80s. Everybody around me was dropping from either AIDS or crack,” he said. “I started doing these memorials for all the people dying around me. My wife thought they were from hell, there was so much darkness in them, but it was a way of working through the pain.”
After his wife died, Sampson quit the police force after 18 years to devote his life to art. He began teaching art at local community centers and making sculptures that he’d often donate to family members of people he’d loved and lost. The sculptures, more often exhibited in Newark homes than in public, incorporate elements including chili peppers, wax, pork ribs and old jewelry, archeological relics that melt together to form otherworldly vessels, instruments and steeples.
Initially, the art-making was a way to heal. “Your focus becomes so intense you enter this liminal space,” Sampson explained. “It’s good for the soul.” But eventually, the work transcended the tragic circumstances from which it was born. As Sampson described his journey: “First you look at yourself. Then you look at your neighborhood. Then you look at God.” 


Kevin Sampson

These days, Sampson describes his work as political above all else. “I live in Newark, New Jersey, a very poor city with all kinds of problems,” he said. “Problems with poverty and crime and education. And with Trump running for president...” he trailed off. “My father branded me so civil rights is in my blood.”
Sampson’s contemporary sculptures incorporate American flags and allusions to figures like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. He physically melds together public icons and personal artifacts, the residue of his loved ones and symbols of the nation, melting the boundaries between them in the process. In Sampson’s sculptural world, the boundaries between public and private, outside and inside, do not hold.
Perhaps the “outsider” label strikes Sampson as so ridiculous because of how important community is to his work. “I’m a community-based artist, an artist advocate,” he said. “I go out into the community. I talk, I read. I read 10 to 15 newspapers a day. I wind up building the pieces in my head, so when I start actually making the piece it’s already kind of built.”


Kevin Sampson

Sampson doesn’t particularly mind the term “self-taught artist,” but feels most affiliated with the more general title of contemporary artist. African-American contemporary artist works, too. He sees his work in conversation with an artist like Ronald Lockett, who also makes what Sampson referred to as “death-driven work.” He discussed Lockett’s work with fellow self-taught African-American artist Lonnie Holley, also often described as an outsider. And yet, the two artists found themselves exhibiting together in 2011 at the Venice Biennale, the most insider of art world affairs, discussing their relationship to Lockett’s work, an artist they both understood as speaking in their visual vernacular. 
“He’s 10 years younger than me, but we work alike,” Sampson said. “We both came out of the darkness to create out work. Lonnie and I were talking about his work one time; we noticed he used a lot of metal. We came to the conclusion that metal is flesh. All the metal pieces he did, I looked at it immediately and I thought this is flesh, this is skin.” 
During his lifetime, Lockett lived in isolation. To posthumously categorize his work as “outsider” seems like a cruel joke. In this moment, it becomes overwhelming just how preposterous a label like “outsider” can be, and perhaps has always been. 


Kevin Sampson

Also on HuffPost:

Outsider Art Fair 2016

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3/20/16

Kevin Blythe Sampson How to make it as an artist in New York, Crain's new York Business

The Survivor
The second floor of the Newark apartment that Kevin Sampson, 61, shares with his 34-year-old son is crammed with the intricate, inventive sculptures ­created by the former Scotch Plains, N.J., cop and self-taught artist.
He’s represented by the Calvin Morris Gallery in Chelsea and sells his works for $5,000 to $20,000 apiece. Sampson says he’s lucky if he makes $10,000 a year from art. His $25,000 early-retirement pension pays the rent, and a teaching-artist position at the Rutgers University Paul Robeson Gallery pays for his food.
Rent costs Sampson $1,100 a month, which is cheaper than it could be, but the landlord—who runs a window-making shop around the corner where Sampson works when he’s hard up for cash—“protects me,” Sampson said.
He is considered the leader of a small group of older artists in Newark trying to hang on as an influx of younger artists flee the high prices of Manhattan and Brooklyn, in turn driving up rents in New Jersey’s biggest city.
“Newark is a mess,” he said. “We need new people, but I want to make sure that the artists who stayed here when nobody wanted Newark don’t get lost in the shuffle—that our legacy continues. I’m like the ringleader, raising hell.”
http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160320/ARTS/160319833/how-to-make-it-as-an-artist-in-new-york

3/17/16

Kevin sampson upcoming show at the Newark Musuem -Modern Heroics 75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum

Kevin sampson upcoming show at the Newark Musuem

https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.noluNSsg.dpuf

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.hU5lKkiQ.dpuf

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.hU5lKkiQ.dpuf

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.hU5lKkiQ.dpuf

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
 
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
 
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
 
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.noluNSsg.dpuf

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.noluNSsg.dpuf

Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.hU5lKkiQ.dpuf


Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.

Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.

Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art

- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.hU5lKkiQ.dpuf



Modern Heroics
75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum
June 18, 2016-January 8, 2017

This exhibition presents selected works from Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art.  Taking a fresh look at heroic themes in modern and contemporary art, this unique exhibition features 32 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery.   Mythical and universal subject matter, the bold use of color and dramatic scale, and the artists’ direct physical engagement with their materials are all themes explored in this exhibition.
Modern Heroics brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches. The exhibition will feature large-scale paintings by Norman Lewis, Purvis Young, Emma Amos, Bob Thompson and Mickalene Thomas among others; and sculptural works by Chakaia Booker, Thornton Dial, Kenseth Armstead and Kevin Sampson.
Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., Curator, American Art
- See more at: https://www.newarkmuseum.org/Modern-Heroics#sthash.hU5lKkiQ.dpuf

2/17/16

Wooden Ships in Chelsea: Kevin Sampson’s Unique Art Form

http://us10.campaign-archive1.com/?u=c659cacb733bbc3a87bacf77c&id=e0cfd635a8&e=09d17763a5


Wooden Ships in Chelsea: Kevin Sampson’s Unique Art Form

At Cavin-Morris Gallery in Chelsea, two wooden ships can be found stationed on a large white pedestal. “The Madjet,” with its curving stern and sculptural ornaments raised high like royal standards, easily conjures associations with ancient Egypt, with the sleek vessels depicted ferrying deities up and down the Nile. Yet with its metal fastenings, its projecting rudder, and its crisscrossing assemblage of sticks, strings, screws, and woodchips, there is a machinelike quality about the Madjet. Absent of human operators, the ship is animated instead by a force unseen, an energy that gathers its parts and holds them in a dynamic, buzzing tension. “I always try to make everything I do move,” the sculptor Kevin Sampson told me later. “The Kron-Printzen,” also on display at Cavin-Morris, offers another vibrant bricolage of wood and metal scraps, painted rope, iridescent beads, and other vaguely discernible elements, synthesized into a ghostly, two-masted ship. Named after an eighteenth-century Dutch slaver that sank at sea, entombing hundreds of Africans in an underwater grave, Sampson’s Kron-Printzen is layered with histories as diverse as its materials.
SK 203 - 1
“The Kron-Printzen,” Wood, Metal, String, and Found Materials, 26″ x 27″ x 12″, 2014. Image courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery.
These were the first of Sampson’s sculptures I had encountered. At the time, I had only corresponded over e-mail with the artist. Knowing little else about Sampson aside from the fact that he was formerly a police officer and, at any given time, a very busy man, I studied the two ships on display and felt a swell of curiosity about the artist I had yet to meet, about what fascinating combination of grand and personal narratives threaded through these works.
When I asked the gallery attendants at Cavin-Morris what they knew about Sampson, they immediately lit up. They touched and handled Sampson’s sculptures as they spoke about them, treating them not as precious artifacts but as objects that incited direct engagement. One, whose name was Marissa, remarked on how Sampson’s pieces are more robust than they might appear. His strung-up, cement-filled, and screwed-together compositions always made the journey from studio to exhibition space fully intact. As I drew closer to the ships, Marissa explained how she could recognize a system, a unique vocabulary and syntax, in each of Sampson’s sculptures. However chaotic and freeform they may appear at a glance, their interlocking wood pieces, well-placed screws, and assiduous dabs of paint give the sculptures a sense of cohesion. Each individual artwork manages to absorb the torrent of snapped twigs, fraying ropes, and bleached chicken bones, the anomalous furniture knobs and jewelry pieces that appear inexplicably fused into their new contexts. These repurposed materials never completely lose their definition, revealing their tangled past lives in vague but visceral flashes.
SK 2
“St. John,” Mixed Media, 34″ x 18″ x 19″, Mixed Media, 2005. Image courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery.
It was a chilly January afternoon when Sampson and I finally found time for a studio visit. Sampson, 61, is a father of three. With the untimely passing of his wife, he raised his children mostly on his own. To this day Sampson, a recent grandfather and a teacher at schools and art institutions, radiates parental love and attentiveness. Days, hours, and minutes before our meeting, he sent instructions on how to get to his Newark apartment from Manhattan, proposing at the last minute to meet me at Newark Penn Station where my train would arrive. When I stepped out of the exit he had specified, Sampson, dressed solemnly in a black jacket and a charcoal gray fedora, met my eyes with his. His mouth, tightly sealed and framed in thick, trimmed strokes of facial hair, opened into a smile. He greeted me with a jovial handshake, and I could recognize in an instant the charismatic warmth I had sensed in our correspondence, as well as the melancholy of his art, the dreaminess that seems inextricable from a familiarity with hardship and pain.
“I’ve been here over 20 years, and I still don’t feel like I’m Newark,” Sampson told me as we walked from the train station to his apartment and studio a few blocks away. We were in the Ironbound neighborhood, a community of mostly Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants that weathered the boom and bust of industrial growth as well as the riots that swept through Newark in 1967. As a widower, Sampson chose to relocate his family to the Ironbound from Englishtown, New Jersey in the early 1990s, leaving suburban living for a less conventional residence in an artists’ colony that occupied an old factory space. Sampson had decided to leave law enforcement to pursue art full-time. With a long career as a composite sketch artist, he studied illustration at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts — soon teaching there — and took classes at Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League in New York. The pen and ink illustrations he showed me are arresting, many resembling poster and mural designs, with their animated lines of text and whimsical, often eerie, imagery of faces and machines. Sampson has in fact worked on a number of publicly commissioned murals in the area.
"The Madjet," Wood, Metal, String, and Found Materials, 27" x 25" x 8", 2015. Image courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery.
“The Madjet,” Wood, Metal, String, and Found Materials, 27″ x 25″ x 8″, 2015. Image courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery.
But Sampson prefers working with three-dimensional media. While illustration, for him, requires prolonged contemplation, sculpture has a spontaneity that currently holds greater appeal for Sampson. “I’m a total process-oriented artist,” he told me. In this sense, art and life seem inseparable for the sculptor, who considers his time spent watching the news (“before CNN got so bad”), walking down the street, talking to people, and collecting discarded objects, to be part of one continuous artistic act. With his ships, Sampson will often build a basic framework for each vessel with materials from a hardware store and then set off on an Odyssean journey around the neighborhood to collect the centerpieces and accessories for his vessels. Sampson has often felt predestined to find the things he finds. When asked how his sculptures are made, he responds by saying they were made “out there,” out in the world beyond his studio, where he has often chanced upon exactly the objects and conversations he had been searching for. “I remember something Randall Morris said that really stuck with me,” Sampson recalled of the cofounder of Cavin-Morris Gallery and an early supporter of his work. “He said that artists like me live with their work.”
Sampson currently lives in an open, second-story space above a large Brazilian restaurant. He built the interior himself, starting with an empty, stripped-down shell. Over the years, his residence has filled up with created, inherited, acquired, and found objects. The first large room hums with the rhythms and melodies of Sampson’s own sculptures. Other seafaring vessels — including the satirical “U.S.S. Sarah Palin,” bedizened with toy figurines like a nightmarish parade float — can be seen alongside Sampson’s earlier works, his polychromatic, modified musical instruments as well as the shrine-like memorials to friends, family, and loved ones. Sampson had initially turned to sculpture as a private activity, a means of dealing with personal tragedies as well as the impact and aftermath of the AIDS and drug epidemics in the 80s and early 90s. Now, when Sampson’s sculptures are not being displayed in galleries and museums, many of them hang on the walls or sit on the floors and tables of his apartment, where they commingle with a sundry collection of busts, statuettes, icons, and dolls.
Them Twins, Mixed Media, 20 x 29 x 15, 2002
“Them Twins,” Mixed Media, 20″ x 29″ x 15″, 2002. Image courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery.

KS1
“Them Twins” (detail).
Sampson apologized several times in advance for the “total mess” in his apartment. His tone, however, was more playful than apologetic. Implicit was a respect for his way of working, of finding meaning amid apparent disorder. Indeed, his apartment reverberates with a contained chaos. Nothing feels superfluous, nor essential or permanent. Objects glow with the potential for use and change, from the wall of books slightly obscured by larger artworks by Sampson’s friends, to the boxes of cleaned chicken bones for his sculptures, to the jars of homemade pickles on the kitchen counter, repeatedly replenished for friends, family, and current and former students that regularly come through Sampson’s home. Sampson is clearly a dedicated father, grandfather, and community organizer, effortlessly adopting the traits of his own father, who was a prominent civil rights leader. A photograph of Stephen Sampson at a demonstration hangs by the door to his apartment.
“I was the black sheep — or white sheep — of the family,” Sampson joked. His father, a Sunday school teacher and independent scholar of black history, wanted his children to be well-educated and empowered members of their communities. Unable to identify a career path early on, the young Sampson devoted himself to law enforcement because he had to “do something.” Though he made bold decisions and concerted efforts to shift his focus to art, Sampson expressed that his recognition as an exhibited artist seems to him almost incidental. He still thinks little of his success as an artist, despite having often found himself in the company of elite politicians, artists, actors, and other members of what seemed a distant world. “I came into the art world after Basquiat, Keith Haring, all the drug addicts. I think the galleries and the museums were just happy to have a functional person,” Sampson said, chuckling at himself. “I still feel more policeman than artist.”

2/15/16

ARTSHIP OLYMPIA Kevin Blythe Sampson upcoming Exhibit

http://www.philasculptors.org/olympia/

ARTSHIP OLYMPIA

June 25th, 2016 – September 25th, 2016
Spruce Street Harbor Boat Basin
301 S. Columbus Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia Sculptors is embarking on a new voyage during summer, 2016.  No need for sea legs – just bring your imagination!  In collaboration with the Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia Sculptors will launch “Artship Olympia,” an exhibition of site specific installations on the historic Cruiser Olympia, moored in the boat basin at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.  Artists will creatively reinterpret Olympia, giving voice and vision to its history, stories, and culture. Artworks will be bold, subtle, loud, calming, invigorating, and disruptive. What they won’t be is predictable. Visitors will have access to the exhibition during Olympia’s normal visiting hours with additional special events to be scheduled.

1/22/16

Kevin Blythe Sampson photos of my work By John Foster Outside the Lines Design Observer

http://designobserver.com/feature/outside-the-lines/39178



 
Kevin Blythe Sampson
Spawn of the South, 2014
Mixed Media
16 x 20 x 14 inches
Cavin-Morris Gallery
 
 

John Foster

Outside the Lines


This weekend marks the twenty-fourth showing of the Outsider Art Fair in New York, one of the world's most exciting art fairs if you are looking for art that is authentic, honest, and surprisingly fresh. It has taken nearly a quarter of a century for this fair to mature into what it is today, thanks in part to new ownership by Andrew Edlin, who has become one of the power players of the field. That said, you will never meet a more down-to-earth or friendlier person. The Outsider Fair began in 1993 as a celebration of art that had, for too long, been bypassed and largely misunderstood by the rest of the art world. This was art that did not fit neatly into defined boxes, and before 1993, struggled to find a market.

The fact is "outsider art" has always been an evolving form. If we go back to the early twentieth century, there were a few visionaries who did much to bring awareness to the genre. Sidney Janis (1896–1989) was one of the first American art dealers to champion the work of what was then called “primitive artists.” His book They Taught Themselves, published in 1942, was one of the first serious books to take on the notion that serious art could be made by everyday people. It took on the idea that artists could be self-taught. 

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this art was called “folk art” and was characterized by exhibitions and early publications showing Limner painters of colonial times, weather vanes, quilts, and cigar store Indians. It was quaint and charming, but nonetheless important for what it was. In his book, Janis pointed out that important art was still happening within that earlier context—but what he had discovered was decidedly different. Though he represented leading avant-garde European and American artists, it was Janis who introduced an array of self-taught masters such as Morris Hirshfield, John Kane, Joseph Pickett, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, and Horace Pippin. At that time, Janis had such influence in the art world he could promote just about anyone he wanted, and he used his clout by making others aware of art by the self-taught. 

Europe had its own recognition of this art, with Jean Dubuffet and AndrĂ© Breton collecting art within a genre they called Art Brut (quite literally “raw art”). The art they collected were by so-called psychotic individuals who existed almost totally outside of mainstream culture. This was, to these two artist/collectors, “unaffected art”—art that welled up and manifested itself from sources unknown. And while the term art brut is still used today—the meaning of that and the term outsider art is very close in definition. 

Aside from Janis, it would be a mistake not to mention Otto Kallir (1894–1978), who established Galerie St. Etienne in New York, in 1939. Kallir was Grandma Moses' dealer, and he promoted her (and others) throughout her life.

It would be more than thirty years, in the 1970s, before Janet Fleisher (1917–2010) and John Ollman began showing exciting new work by self-taught artists like Bill Traylor (his work sold for $100 apiece then) and Sister Gertrude Morgan, in Philadelphia. In Chicago, during that same period, it was now retired art maverick Phyllis Kind (b. 1933) who began showing some of the same artists, as well as work by the Chicago Imagists like Jim Nutt, Ray Yoshida, Roger Brown, and others. 

By the 1990s, the evolution of this art was in full swing, with many galleries and collectors from around the world exhibiting it, researching it, and art magazines devoted to it. 

So, as we celebrate the 2016 Art Fair, it’s good to look back at just how long it has taken for this art fair to fully develop. As longtime art dealer John Ollman told me for this article, “I’ve long been over calling this work by this name or that. It’s just art. We show art we that we like.” 

The 24th Annual Outsider Art Fair is being held now through Sunday at The Metropolitan Pavilion at 128 West 18th Street.

A Dialogue with Kevin Sampson

https://rhinohornartists.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/a-dialogue-with-kevin-sampson/



A Dialogue with Kevin Sampson

Kevin Sampson has an enormous talent for creating powerful works of art that are empowered and beloved by his community. Sampson, a self-taught artist, found an early penchant for drawing while he was a law enforcement officer in the City of Newark, New Jersey. His adeptness at drawing the human figure led him to become a police sketch artist, which was a very in demand position within the force. Later, Sampson’s skills at forensic sketching would be harnessed in Wanted, a project by artist and activist Dread Scott that created fake police wanted posters that expose the racial profiling used by law enforcement agencies.
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Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York.
Sampson’s work is largely connected to socially engaged themes including identity politics, war, and civil rights. A major motif in his work is the memorial. He creates intricate vessels from found objects that have personal significance to either Sampson or his subjects. These vessels become spiritual energy containing the collective consciousness of the community at large.
In 2013, Sampson’s epic installation An Ill Wind Blowing, encapsulated the frustration of a nation and the broken American dream. The ship’s three sections represent the glaring socio-economic divide of the United States.
The front of the ship represented the large corporations, the middle represented the social elite, while the rear symbolized class struggle and racial disparity. The vessel also featured a “basketball hoop” where visitors could write their own political frustrations on a sheet of paper, crumple it up, and throw it into the fishing net resembling a hoop.
In 2015, a giant mural called Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, which was painted on site at Andrew Edlin Gallery’s former space in Chelsea, took on a myriad of complex issues that concern both himself and his community at large. From his days serving and protecting as a police officer to his current work as an artist, Sampson has always been in tune with his community. Today, he’s well known in Newark for his public art as well as being a devoted teacher and involved with many neighborhood events.
Kevin is a busy artist these days with solo shows and projects across the country. I recently had a chance to ask Kevin a few questions about his work and what drives his inspiration and vision.

Do you consider yourself a Humanist artist?
As I understand Humanism, it’s about giving value to humanity by working in concert with human values, all the while understanding that all humans are to be treated with the same understanding and respect.
If this is the case,  then this does apply to how I live and work. I am a community based artist, one that feels a responsibility to that community and people in general. As an African American it is a natural fit, as I seek to highlight the hopes, dreams, and problems of the (world) community as a way of staying in the fight, for the rights of all.
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The Madjet….The Kron-Printzen, a slave ship. Courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York.
Do you consider the figure to have a vital role in your art? 
Rarely, most of my world uses other means to feature the human condition. I tend to construct vessels, which illustrate a political thought or a spiritual connection, to either this world or the world beyond.
What is your artistic studio process like?
I am not a studio based artist “I live with my work” meaning that I don’t have a set place to work (I work all over my house.). I don’t set aside time for the studio, instead I work outside, inside and all around the town.  I am a process orientated artist; I work by reading by my constant contact with the public. When I finally construct my work it is already done in my head. And I rarely have the need to see my 0wn work after it is done.
Do you feel that contemporary art should have a commitment to issues that affect our daily lives? 
I have been teaching for over 30 years one of the things that I do, is make my students read the news, to follow it religiously. To become acquainted with social issues and causes particularly if they are artists of color. I do feel as though the world is sorely in need of protest and commitment to the many issues that affect this world. But I don’t expect every artist to have this commitment. But I do like it when they do.
 You take on very direct issues in your work, what are some specific reasons that you’ve chosen to address and create a visual dialog for these issues? 
I am the son of a civil rights leader, my father Stephen Sampson who was a self taught historian drilled into my siblings and my head commitment to civil rights of all. So it’s in my DNA and my father haunts me daily and keeps whispering in my ear his desire that I continue to fight for African Americans in particular and all people in general. Its just how I roll, religion and politics are interlinked in my head through the history of the African American.
Your work often has a prophetic vision of the future. Can you describe how you react and interpret the current state of the world into your sculpture and drawings?
What I really try to do is to “spirit Necklaces of a vanquished peoples magic”, meaning that through my work, with out being obvious, I try to create objects of power that show the problems of the world, while offering artistic solutions that cause these problems to transcend their circumstances. I attempt to create beauty where this is none as well as retrieving objects discarded by my community in an effort to give this objects (which hold memory) a new life…a new voice.
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The USS Mr. Imagination.  Photograph by Jeffrey Machtig. Courtesy of the John Michael Kohler Art Center.
What’s next on the horizon? Any new shows?
I show constantly, I am currently showing at the outsider art fair this weekend, at my gallery of 23 years, Cavin-Morris Gallery’s booth. I have another show at Cavin-Morris Gallery, NYC in March.
I am showing in Philly with Philadelphia Sculptors on board the USS Olympia docked at Philly’s sea port in June. I have been giving the ships chapel to create an installation inside of.
I am also working on a Major Public art piece, for the Power Company PSEG (McCARTER Switching station) a new building with a strong public art feature.
The city of Newark and its Mayor Ras Baraka are creating a wonderful Public space at this site, it is being administered by Danny Simmons of Corridor Gallery Brooklyn and Victor Davson, Director of Aljira Gallery in Newark. I will be creating a 14 foot sculpture (along with a group of artists) that will be permanently installed on this site at Fairmount Ave in Newark.

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