In-depth viewing required for Lonnie Holley’s exhibit

Lonnie Holley poses on Dec. 13 in front of the sign that announces the Lonnie Holley exhibit at SECCA.

In-depth viewing required for Lonnie Holley’s exhibit
December 20
13:10 2018

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

There are art exhibits where you can easily move among the paintings and sculptures and feel like you understand what you’ve seen … and then there’s the Lonnie Holley exhibit at SECCA.

“Somewhere in a Dream I got Lost” is SECCA’s newest installation of works by Lonnie Holley. Each work of art demands an in-depth viewing, almost like you need to breathe in his work to understand it. It is both simple and complicated, much like Lonnie Holley, who has filled his 68 years with art, music and travel.

Holley’s complicated life began with his birth in Birmingham, Alabama. He started working at a young age picking up trash at a drive-in movie theater and washing dishes, and lived in one foster home, and then another. At the age of 29, he began his art career, practicing “the art of improvisational creativity,” using found materials and combined narratives to create sculptures depicting deep and spiritual messages.

His creativity is boundless, including painting, sculpture, music, song, and most recently, directing a film about his life that will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival: “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship.”

On Thursday evening, Dec. 13, the exhibit of his works opened with a reception at SECCA attended by over 50 people. Along with art lovers and those who were already following Holley’s work, Nathan Ross Freeman brought some of his Authoring Action kids to view the exhibit and to then choose one piece that personally spoke to them to write about. Elvira Dominquez, who attends Southeast Middle School, chose a black and white print that particularly touched her. She said, “The picture reminds me of when I came to Authoring Action and I felt depressed and the picture looks like I felt then.”

Indeed, his pictures and work can reach out and grab you, touching you and making you think about what you’re seeing, then going deeply inside the work to understand the underlying message or symbolism. Holley explained as he took groups of guests around the exhibit, “Each one of the pieces is a lesson that I learned.” He continued, touching on the title of the exhibit, “Sometime we all get lost in a dream and how long do we want to be lost in that dream in America?” he asked.

Holley explained how his art comes to him this way: “You do the art and give it time, allow it to develop in that time, to grow you as well as your project.” He encouraged people to “be free, do what you want to do; come out of your cocoon.”

Wendy Earle, the curator of the exhibit, said that she wanted to look into SECCA’s history and to do a collection of works from artists who had exhibited several years ago. As she was looking through past collections, she found that some of the artists had passed away. Then she saw Holley’s work and was intrigued. He had done a show in 1990 called “Next Generation Southern Black Aesthetic.” She contacted Holley’s manager and he arranged for her to visit Holley in Atlanta. There he has three studios, one a working studio, one a warehouse, and one in his home. She was able to find everything to create an exhibit from pieces in his warehouse.

Earle is delighted with how the exhibit came together. She was drawn in particular to a group of old oil cans that had timeworn faucets welded to the top. At first glance, it looks like a simple display. But then when you consider that Holley grew up in the Deep South during segregation, you have to think about what those old cans may have held, and the battered faucets that are on top could easily have come from faucets where he probably was not allowed to drink from when he was growing up. The depth of his work is what makes it so incredible to view.

Lois Koufman attended the reception and commented that Holley was “the ultimate recycler. It speaks of ethnicity, spirituality, religion and God and how he intersects all those different aspects. His work speaks to saving the environment through repurposing items that many of us would toss in the trash.”

Holley’s work is in collections in major museums across the country and is on permanent display in the United Nations.

“Somewhere in a Dream I Got Lost” will be on exhibit at SECCA, 750 Marguerite Drive, until May 18, 2019. Allow at least an hour or more to view the collection, read his narratives and inhale the majesty of his profound spirit.

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