Lonnie Holley - Camden Art Centre

Camden Art Centre is delighted to present a major institutional solo show by American artist and musician, Lonnie Holley (b.1950, Birmingham, Alabama).

This major exhibition will centre newly commissioned sculptures and paintings alongside significant pieces from the last few decades, to celebrate the work of an extraordinary artist, positioning him not only as a significant figure in the Black Art tradition from the southern states of America, but as an important artist in the mainstream of international twentieth century and contemporary art. Holley’s work continues and extends the assemblage tradition of modern and contemporary American artists that might include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Ed and Nancy Kienholz, but his totemic bricolage of salvaged materials combines an animistic collaboration with materials and objects in the African tradition – treating bones and hide ritualistically while acknowledging their spirit – with a highly narrative approach to everyday objects and the traces they carry, including tyres, tree roots, shoes and chairs. Influenced from an early age by American culture – sneaking through back doors or sewer pipes to the drive-in cinema and Alabama State Fairground or working at Disneyland Orlando – his primary material is the iconography and cultural refuse of Americana, signifying the failed promise of the American dream.

A resolute maker, with an innate sensibility for materials, Holley  compulsively improvises to convey his meaning ‘by any means necessary’. He finds beauty in what is immediately at hand, and has a visionary capacity to intuit, appreciate and reveal to others the significance, symbolism and meaning of the overlooked or discarded. He learned how to make art as a child in the ‘creeks and ditches’ around his home in Alabama where he would dig for worms and find buried objects. As if connected to the regenerative cycles of decomposing organic matter in the soil, and in an act of recuperation, he introduces a redemptive aspect to rejected objects, giving them dignity, and new life.

With immense generosity and a willingness to share his experiences with others, Holley’s work is infused with and highly conditioned by his own journey, including his early childhood embedded in the civil rights movement, the legacies of slavery, and the oppression and exploitation of black people. Whilst being deeply rooted to a specific, traumatic, place and past, Holley speaks to universal concerns, projecting an optimistic and inspirational message about how to live a life well and to prepare a world for future generations. The work speaks powerfully about humanity but also what is beyond the human condition, through his deep love of the natural world which extends to other organisms, life-forms, the planets and the stars. As he often says, it gives a ‘thumbs up to mother universe’.