BAHM: 2.3.17 Lonnie Holley
Lonnie Holley, age 67 on February 10th, is an artist, musician and educator born in Birmingham, AL. during the Jim-Crow era. His work is often described as sculpture and assemblage, incorporating found objects, discarded scraps and natural materials. He builds his totemic pieces in a spontaneous manner, weaving disparate objects together to form a web of metaphors and poignant narrative. The pieces are titled with bits of anecdotal wisdom or reflections on historical events, often related to rural life and black history. Sandstone is a common material used for his carved sculptures and incidentally the material that sparked his interest in art making at the age of 29, after a family tragedy. Holley has been very forthcoming with his personal story of growing up in rural Alabama and traveling around the South. These stories, often poignant, sometimes seemingly mythical, create an aura of singular folklore around the work, coupled with the recurring use of religious symbols such as fire and the cross.
The use of found objects speaks to the elevation of symbols of rural life; a washboard, a wooden chair, the handle of a wagon entwined with a tree root evoke the deteriorating past and the reinvention of the utilitarian for a spiritual purpose. Speaking of his self-taught artistic process Holley stated, “I was educated by lifting up or picking up this material from the level of what they say are trash and debris.” Pieces like Grown Together in the Midst Of The Foundation (1994), explore the tradition of passing down labor skills from generations and the rejection of that tradition in favor of other forms of societal contribution.
Holley’s work was featured in the notable More than Land or Sky: Art from Appalachia show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1981 and is in several collections in the U.S. Currently, his solo exhibition at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center titled, Lonnie Holley: I Snuck Off the Slave Ship, is on view from Jan. 12 – April 2, 2017.
Lonnie Holley Just Before Music (full album) 2012
Holley discuses his piece, In the Grip of Power
NYT article: Lonnie Holley, The Insider's Outsider
ArtsATL article: Solo show at Atlanta Contemporary