The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



Kevin Blythe Sampson: the man and the Intuit exhibit in West Town By: Elaine Coorens
Kevin Blythe Sampson: the man and the Intuit exhibit in West Town
Elaine Coorens

Kevin Blythe Sampson's An Ill Wind Blowing is a ship that is sailing in the Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art main gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., until Apr. 20. Created onsite as a three-piece sculpture, Sampson references Bob Dylan's song ”Blowin’ in the Wind” which Dylan took from a slave song entitled "No More Auction Block." Blending history with the world of today, the ship is a statement about three segments of the American population...the bourgeoisie, tea party and working class and poor.

Kevin Sampson

This vessel was intended to be part of a large exhibit in New York's American Museum of Folk Art after President's Obama's first election. The museum's financial difficulties sunk its creation, which would have been 5-times the size of the Chicago installation. Over the last couple of years, Sampson and Cleo Wilson, the shows curator, Intuit board member and former Executive Director, have been collaborating to make this exhibition a reality in Intuit.

The Bourgeoisie--Part 1

"I am an ex-cop," says Sampson, "who has a lot of tea party friends. In this piece I'm assaulting everyone who makes me nauseous.

The Tea Party section

"The front represents friends who cuss me out as a conservative Democrat. They are liberal, elite yuppies. The middle is the nasty crowd. They are the ones obstructing the government to the point we can't function. It is the 24-hour news cycle of insanity. The back of the boat describes the poor and middle class."

The section representing the working class and poor

In a special showing of the exhibit, artist Bernard Williams, who in November received The Helen Coburn Meier and Tim Meier Charitable Foundation for the Arts Achievement Award, and Wilson talked with the artist, before others in the audience joined them, asking Sampson various questions about the boat and his career .

"Why did you chose a ship versus a pick-up truck as the symbol," asked Williams.

Bernard Williams

Cleo Wilson

"A boat is symbolic of colonial times and war. The rats [which scurry around at the base of the ship parts] aren't jumping ship, they are the waves."

When Wilson asked him about his use of a vessel, Sampson explained, "Tragedy drove me to it. My cousin Carol died. That was when I made my first boat of wood from my backyard. Then friends were dying. My son died and then my wife. [The premature birth of his son in a high-risk pregnancy is what also took the life of his wife.] I was looking for answers, trying to make sense of my own spirituality."

Audience members were engaged and ponderous

"Would the ship have looked differently if you created it elsewhere rather than Chicago," asked an audience member. "Yes. I am process oriented. I never work alone. Here in Chicago, I don't have access to all my tools and materials. If done in New Jersey as a regular piece, it would have been built of wood that I would have painted and sanded.

As Sampson spoke, many were transfixed

"Creating this here, my sister [Donna Sampson] was here and my son came last week. I talked with all my friends on the phone and on Facebook. I showed them pictures… they made suggestions."

Williams asked how Sampson being a police detective and police sketch artist became an artist.

Donna Sampson told this reporter,  "He has the soul of an artist. We would sit and paint for hours. Father told him he had to be a cop because in the 70s, you couldn't be an artist and make a living."

Donna Sampson

Sampson, however, said, "Father was a civil rights worker. So I was a "we shall over come" baby. I grew up with everyone in the household from Dick Gregory to William Kunstler and, at one point, Malcolm X.

"My father was probably the greatest influence on my life. He wanted me to become a police officer so I went to college and partied too much. Came out of school, they said they needed black officers so, though I didn't like police too much, I took the test.

"The day I said I was going to join the police department, my mother took we to the post office and walked me over to the wanted posters. She said, 'You have to become a cop so you don't  become one of the.

"I did drew cartoons of everyone in the Scotch Plains, New Jersey, police dept. One day the chief asked if I'd like to do police drawings. So I became a sketch artist...probably did a thousand of them, especially rape victims for 15 years.

One of Sampson's drawings

"In the meantime, I figured that if you are going to be a composite sketch artist…you have to draw. They taught you how to make composites, but not how to draw. I enrolled in an industrial arts school, but by that time, I had become good at drawing and was also an airbrush artist. A friend was teaching there and she said that they needed an airbrush teacher. Having used an airbrush for a long time, I ended up teaching there until it closed, 20 years later.

Intuit's new hours are: Tuesday thru Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with extended hours on Thursday to 7:30 p.m. Closed Monday and Sunday.