The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



Museum gotta see ‘um
Museum gotta see ‘um
September 19, 2014, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal

The Roots of the Spirit: Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination, Charlie Lucas and Kevin Sampson, at the Wiegand Gallery in Belmont, presents the West Coast debut of four notable Outsider artists. The opening reception is 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21.
THE ROOTS OF THE SPIRIT ON VIEW AT NOTRE DAME DE NAMUR UNIVERSITY. The Wiegand Gallery, part of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, hosts the West Coast debut of four of the country’s most notable Outsider artists in The Roots of the Spirit: Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination, Charlie Lucas and Kevin Sampson. The exhibit is curated by Robert Poplack, Director of the Wiegand Gallery, and Martha Henry.
While Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), Charlie Lucas (Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson have all achieved renown as self-taught African American artists, they refer to themselves simply as American artists. Born in the mid-20th century, they came of age during the Civil Rights movement when deep and abiding racial discrimination was the norm. Lacking opportunities, education and artist role models, they managed to become artists despite great social and economic obstacles.
Martha Henry said, “Their artworks express their African and American culture, their everyday lives, dreams and aspirations. When we look into the mirror of the black experience we have a better understanding of American culture, values and spirituality. Black artists have played a vital role in distinguishing our culture throughout the world, indeed the black experience is so interwoven into our larger culture that it defines much of what the world perceives today as American.”
Notions of divine intervention and spiritual renewal are at the heart of much of the foursome’s work. It is art that honors ancestors as an antidote to death and private grief. Examples are Kevin Sampson’s shrines to deceased friends and relatives; the ancestor thrones of Lonnie Holley and Mr. Imagination; and Charlie Lucas’ metal sculptures that honor his grandparents by their material and method. Their use of assemblage, found object sculpture and installation invite comparisons to contemporary art practices dating back from the beginning of the 20th century when Picasso and Braque, inspired by African art, began to use found objects in their work.
Gallery Director Poplack said, “The processes of painting, assemblage, construction and found object sculpture reveal restless minds capable of expression that ranges from the serious to playful. The work shows an openness to the spirit of imagination as well as a desire to entertain. Their immersive, layered environments — often located in their yards and inside their homes — need to be experienced to be fully appreciated.”
The Wiegand Gallery is part of the Madison Art Center, a stone building built as a carriage house on the country estate of the financier William Chapman Ralston. The exhibition space, with its porthole windows and skylights, is an inviting environment in which to experience art. The gallery’s mission is to focus attention on the contributions and accomplishments of important artists who are less recognized, as well as to exhibit lesser-known works of established artists. The Wiegand Gallery is located at 1500 Ralston Ave., Belmont, on the campus of Notre Dame de Namur University. Admission is free. For information call 508-3595. The Roots of the Spirit: Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination, Charlie Lucas and Kevin Sampson runs through Nov. 26; The public is invited to the opening reception 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21.
LAST DAYS OF MODERNISM FROM THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, AT THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM IN SAN FRANCISCO. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, an exhibition of 46 paintings and sculptures which includes works by Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko and Frank Stella. The de Young Museum is located at Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. For information call (415) 750-3600 or visit Through Oct. 12.
PROJECT MAH JONGG: THE MEMORIES AND MEANING OF THE GAME, AT THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM THROUGH OCT. 28. The 1920s through the 1960s were the heyday of the Chinese game of mah jongg in the United States — a game with a rich history in the Jewish American community, especially among women. The Contemporary Jewish Museum examines this cultural phenomenon with Project Mah Jongg, an exhibition that includes images and items from the mah jongg craze of the 1920s, including vintage advertisements, Chinoiserie and a colorful array of early game sets distributed by companies such as Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers. A game table at the core of the exhibition space encourages players and non-players alike to take part in a game of mah jongg and there are both American and Chinese sets on hand for visitors to play. 736 Mission St. (between Third and Fourth streets), San Francisco. For general information visit or call (415) 655-7800.
Susan Cohn can be reached at or