The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

9/18/14

The Roots of the Spirit’ brings in outsider artists at Wiegand

http://www.sfgate.com/art/article/The-Roots-of-the-Spirit-brings-in-outsider-5762906.php

'The Roots of the Spirit’ brings in outsider artists at Wiegand

Published 4:40 pm, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
  • “The Roots of the Spirit,” an exhibit at the Wiegand Gallery in Belmont, features artists Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), Charlie Lucas (Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson. Photo: Courtesy Of Wiegand Gallery / Courtesy Of Wiegand Gallery
    “The Roots of the Spirit,” an exhibit at the Wiegand Gallery in Belmont, features artists Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), Charlie Lucas (Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson. Photo: Courtesy Of Wiegand Gallery / Courtesy Of Wiegand Gallery

The four artists whose work will have its West Coast debut at the Wiegand Gallery in Belmont have this in common: They are self-taught, use found objects and became artists out of some personal tragedy.
They have been called outsider artists because they were not a part of the art establishment, didn’t know what they were making was art until someone gave it that label and have lives even more colorful than the objects they create. The more than 75 sculptures, drawings and paintings by Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), Charlie Lucas (Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson are part of a new exhibit, “The Roots of the Spirit.”
Although the four men — Warmack is deceased — are known as outsider artists and African American artists, they refer to themselves simply as American artists.
“The works reflect each artist’s vision and ideas about art and why they make art,” said Martha Henry, curator of the “Roots” exhibit. “Is there a commonality? They all use found objects and feel that the found objects came to them. They all feel they are doing something that teaches about the present while preserving the past.”
Henry added, “Mr. Imagination wanted to make people happy. Kevin Sampson’s subjects are about class warfare. Lucas is making art to express the fears and joys and dreams of his neighbors and community. Lonnie feels he is rescuing materials and reintroducing it as sculpture.”
The works also tell a story of the artists’ ancestry. For Holley and Lucas, who live in the Deep South, there is a “Southern vernacular,” Henry said. Born in the mid-20th century, the men came of age during the civil rights movement, and faced racial strife and discrimination. Sampson has created shrines to deceased friends and relatives; Holley and Mr. Imagination have made “ancestor thrones;” and Lucas’ metal sculptures honor his grandparents through their materials and methods.
“This is a type of art that is much more prevalent in the South and in New York and Chicago,” said Henry, whose co-curator on the exhibit is Robert Poplack. “This is exciting to have a West Coast debut.”
The exhibition sees the foursome’s work reunited for the first time since a controversial 2011 Venice Biennale showing that happened despite having their invitation to represent the American Folk Art Museum within the framework of the international art world suddenly rescinded. With the help of Henry, the four secured a venue in Venice in an 11th century garden. Some of the works shown in “The Roots of the Spirit” exhibit were created while in Venice.
Holley, who recently expanded his art to include music and recording, will create a site-specific piece made from materials found on the university grounds.
“As boundaries break down between self-taught and formally educated artists,” says Henry, “I felt it important to celebrate the achievements of these four who emerged from the depths of personal despair to make valuable contributions to the American visual experience.”
Julian Guthrie is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: jguthrie@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JulianGuthrieIf you go
The Roots of the Spirit: Opens Friday; reception 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Through Nov. 26. Noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Notre Dame de Namur University’s Wiegand Gallery, 1500 Ralston Ave., Belmont. (650) 508-3595. www.ndnu.edu/arts-events/wiegand-gallery.