Edel Assanti is pleased to present Lonnie Holley’s first exhibition with the gallery, and the artist’s first UK solo show since his 2004 exhibition at IKON Gallery in Birmingham.
Lonnie Holley (b. 1950, Birmingham, Alabama, USA) is one of the most recognised self-taught contemporary artists, making work across sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, performance and sound. He is devoted, in his own words, to a “practice of improvisational creativity.” Holley’s found mediums are imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, combined into sculptures that commemorate and give narrative to places, people and events. The exhibition consists primarily of sculptures made over the course of Holley’s recent trips to the UK, sourcing and salvaging materials from his journeys across the country, alongside works from the artist’s Atlanta studio.
Holley was born the seventh of 27 children. As a child he watched his mother and grandmother gathering clothing, food and scrap metal to sell to junkyards, learning to repurpose salvaged detritus at a young age. Holley began his artist life in 1979, aged 29, when he carved tombstones for his sister’s two children who died in a house fire. Discovering art’s power to transcend human emotions, he started using discarded stone linings from industrial steel moulds to make sandstone carvings. Soon after, he began making works assembled almost entirely from found materials – a tradition closely tied to the “yard art” of the rural south.
The yard emerged as a crucial sanctuary and expressive space for black southerners in the Jim Crow era, where improvisational symbolic languages involving the adaptation of found materials were forged. By the mid-1980s, Holley’s own practice flourished in the format of an immersive yard show environment at his home in Birmingham, Alabama: a garden space filled with found objects, plants, paintings and improvised sculpture. The site was widely celebrated until it was possessed for the expansion of Birmingham International Airport in 1997.
Today Holley lives in Atlanta, where he continues to create pieces in diverse media that draw upon his personal history and celebrate the South’s vast industrial heritage, whilst engaging pressingly with the spirit of the present moment in human history. His most recent sculptures convey subtle narratives, addressing our challenging and changing relationships to nature, technology, politics and one another. Holley’s music is equally evocative; the centrepiece of his latest album, Mith, is a brutal and dissonant song entitled “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America.” The histories his sculptures and music relay are at once autobiographical – referencing Holley’s childhood in the pre-civil-rights-era South – and collective, inviting contemplation of the past and present as a guiding force in unlocking the future.
The exhibition will be inaugurated with a solo musical performance by Lonnie Holley – details to follow shortly.
Holley is currently included in Turner Contemporary’s ambitious survey exhibition We Will Walk: Art and Resistance in the American South. He recently appeared in the major exhibitions History Refused to Die at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, alongside peers such as Thornton Dial, as well as Outliers at the National Gallery of Art (curated by Lynne Cooke), which toured to the High Museum and LACMA. Other recent exhibitions include MASS MoCA, the de Young Museum, and the Studio Museum (curated by Thomas J. Lax). Holley’s first major retrospective, Do We Think Too Much? I Don’t Think We Can Ever Stop: Lonnie Holley, A Twenty-Five Year Survey, was organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art and traveled in 2003 to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England. His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, among others. Holley is signed to the Atlanta based record label Dust-to-Digital, and he lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia.