Cop Art, sketch artist turned folk artist

Kevin Blythe Sampson

1954-
Newark, NJ
Mixed Media artist

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Of the many occupations from which grassroots artists tend to come, police officer is pretty rare. Kevin was a New Jersey cop and sketch artist, whose wife and infant son died unexpectedly, in separate illnesses.

Art became a therapy and an outlet, and as it turned out, a pretty successful new career path. As the self-proclaimed “mayor” of his Irontown neighborhood, Kevin walks the streets chatting with residents and salvaging junk to make pieces that reflect the stories he’s heard.

Sampson says some of his sculptures express the community’s conscience, while others testify to his feelings for his family. “I rescue other people’s memories left in the objects they leave behind, and use that power to fuel my creations.”

In 2011, Kevin Sampson and three other African American self-taught artists—Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination, and Charlie Lucas—were invited to create site-specific installations in Venice in conjunction with the 2011 Biennale.

Unfortunately this potentially groundbreaking exhibition was abruptly canceled two weeks before the artists were to depart for Venice. The four artists and a curator, decided to travel to Venice anyway to create an exhibition during the Biennale even though they had no materials and financial support.

L’Espace Re-Evolution offered these American artists the opportunity to create an exhibition in less than one week in one of the most beautiful spaces in Venice, a 1000 year old garden located on the Zattere on Dorsoduro next to the Vedova Foundation and near the Pinault and Guggenheim collections. Limited by time and working with only materials they found on the streets and in the waters of Venice, the four artists  created almost 50 site specific works that respect the Venetian spirit of this special place.

(Excerpt from Paul Flack’s Who-Ha Blog Photos courtesy of Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, 2003)

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Bibliography & Links:

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Next Stop New England”, KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2003.

Folk Art Messenger: “Kevin Sampson: Memorial Maker”

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

Cavin-Morris Gallery: “Kevin Sampson”