More tributes to Mr. Imagination

Mr. Imagination, Gregory Warmack Obit Photo. Courtesy, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

There has been an outpouring of love and remembrance all across the country…

For prolific Atlanta artist “Mr. Imagination,” sleep was rare

Saporta Report
by Michelle Hiskey

“No pictures,” artist Gregory Warmack told us when we stepped inside his cramped, one-story home in northwest Atlanta last fall.

That directive felt like when visitors are told to take off their shoes or cover their heads when entering an unfamiliar house of worship.

The home of Warmack, better known in modern art circles as “Mr. Imagination,” was indeed a portal to a spiritual realm. We didn’t expect an airy studio and someone dressed all in black.  As a self-taught “visionary” artist, Mr. Imagination sculpted his own organic world where even circadian rhythms bowed.

In thick borders around each room and hallway, his layered, meticulously encrusted creations resembled masks, animals and common items like musical instruments. What he made them out of – bottle caps mostly, but also paintbrushes and other scraps – inspired me to think of him as “Mr. Re-Imagination.”

With a collection of things that had already lived once as common objects, he had wired, hammered, plastered and placed them into an extraordinary new life. A few miles from the headquarters of the world’s most iconic brand – Coca-Cola – Warmack had compelled leading museums to carve out space for the lowly bottle cap.

He had done that with himself, too. After a 2009 fire destroyed his house in Pennsylvania and much of his art, he started anew in Atlanta.

His work, which appears in permanent collections including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Smithsonian, was so vibrant and prolific that there seemed no end to it. But last week, that end came suddenly when Warmack, 64, died in hospice of complications from a blood infection.

“I don’t sleep much,” he said on our tour, when asked how he created the boggling amount of sculptures crammed into his home. (Our mutual friends were with us, and he had agreed to photographs taken earlier by one of them, which are reprinted here).

Under his roof, there was no readily apparent place for rest. His environment and productivity suggested that the basic need for stopping and shutting down didn’t exist in his world.

He – like Ben Franklin and other insomniac geniuses – operated contrary to conventional wisdom.

Just across town, at the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is considered a serious public health issue, tied to chronic diseases and vehicle accidents. At this week’s “Sleep 2012,” the annual meeting of professional sleep experts in Boston, their common enemy is insomnia. More sleep = more health.

For Mr. Imagination, less sleep was part of his calling. When night fell, there were too many things to make, to get out of his head and into three dimensions.

To recap his life, this from his obituary:

Warmack was born in Chicago in 1948, the third of nine children who gave church concerts together as the Warmack Singers. An inveterate collector of rocks, beads, trinkets, and myriad cast-off objects, Warmack started making and selling jewelry in his late teens. He also carved bits of bark, wood, and stone into faces that strangely resembled African tribal masks or Egyptian kings.

In 1978, a week after having a premonition that someone was going to kill him, Warmack was shot twice while selling his handmade jewelry on the street. He went into a coma and had an out-of-body experience that changed him forever. Reflecting that change, he renamed himself “Mr. Imagination.”

Mr. I began using new and different types of recycled materials in his art, most notably the bottle caps he is still best known for today.”  In 2002, Mr. Imagination left Chicago for Bethlehem, Pa., ‘to put down some roots and grow some vines.’ … 

“Years ago my great aunt predicted I was going to be a minister, and in a way she was right,” Warmack said. “I think every artist is a minister and a messenger in a way.”

Perhaps Warmack met his basic needs by tapping into spiritual sustenance. God was a big part of Warmack’s personal history and art, though to appreciate it, viewers didn’t have to believe in a higher power.

The art itself – like most self-taught, outsider or visionary art – suggested communication with another world. Around the clock, the art came to be because Mr. Imagination couldn’t not create it.

“Visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul,” the Baltimore museum website explains in its definition of the genre.

“Visionary artists don’t listen to anyone else’s traditions. They invent their own. They hear their own inner voice so resoundingly that they may not even think of what they do as ‘art.’ [They stay on the intuitive path of learning to listen to the small, soft voice within.”

In Warmack, that inner voice might just have been a tad bigger, a bit louder – allowing “Mr. Imagination” precious hours for all the wondrous phoenix art he left behind.


Chicago artist ‘Mr. Imagination,’ famed for using bottle caps, dies in Atlanta

Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago artist known as “Mr. Imagination,” who charmed his audience with riotous, joy-filled works made of thousands of bottle caps and found materials, has died in Atlanta.

The rough-hewn art of the self-taught Mr. Imagination, whose real name was Gregory Warmack, can be found “all over the world,” according to Cleo Wilson, executive director of Chicago’s Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art….read more

Mr. Imagination remembered for his Bethlehem artwork

Lehigh Valley Live

Famed artist Mr. Imagination left Bethlehem in 2008 shortly after a fire destroyed his South Side home but his presence is still found throughout the city.

There’s his bottle cap mule outside of the Banana Factory. The millennial arch at Lehigh University. And the grotto-like bathroom he built inside of Home & Planet.

Local friends say that presence will live on following his death Wednesday. Mr. Imagination, whose real name was Gregory Warmack, died of an infection at an Atlanta hospital at the age of 64, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, a newspaper in his hometown.

“It’s been over five years since he’s been gone, but you can still feel his presence, especially on the South Side,” said Loly Reynolds, a city artist who said she considered Mr. Imagination her “art dad.”
Mr. I, as he’s also called, was crushed emotionally following the fire at his house and took up a friend’s offer to move to Atlanta, Reynolds said. While living there, Mr. I. was pursuing his dream of opening a museum of his work, known as outsider art, Reynolds said…read more

Mr. Imagination is Dead, Long Live Mr. Imagination

Derivative Works
It is a sad day for Chicago art. Today learned today that the great Chicago artist, Mr. Imagination, has died.

I got to know Mr. Imagination in the early to mid 90s when he lived in an apartment at Clark and Sheffield. He had a regal bearing and a gentle intelligence that always made me feel like I was before some ancient king. His thrones and staves, all made from bottlecaps and other make-ready items, might have helped with that impression as well. But it all befit him…read more

Famed Outsider Artist, Mr. Imagination, Dies

Bethlehem Patch

World-renowned intuitive artist, Mr. Imagination, who left his mark while he lived in Bethlehem, dies in an Atlanta hospital. He was 64 years old.

Famed outsider artist Gregory Warmack, better known to his friends and fans in Bethlehem and across the world as Mr. Imagination, has died in an Atlanta hospital, according to The Chicago Sun Times.

Mr. I, as he was often called, became well-known for fanciful creations made of discarded items like paint brushes, ping-pong paddles and lots and lots of bottle caps.

A Chicago native, Warmack moved to Bethlehem in 2002 “to get more peace and green in his life,” according to the Facebook page of Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago.

Artists like Mr. Imagination are known as “outsider” or “intuitive” artists because they have had no formal arts education or training.

Mr. I became a fixture in the local arts community, working at the Banana Factory teaching children and creating art that added a distinctive character to the space around the gallery, including the “bottlecap mule” and the unique painted and bejeweled bus shelter that sits on Third Street outside of the gallery…read more

Trade Street ‘Memory Wall’ creator dies in Atlanta

Winston-Salem Journal

The artist known as “Mr. Imagination,” who created the “Memory Wall” on Trade Street in 1999, died Wednesday in Atlanta.

The artist, whose real name was Gregory Warmack, died of an infection at Grady Hospital. He was 64.

The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art brought Warmack to Winston-Salem nearly 13 years ago as a visiting artist to work on the wall, which is near the Campbell Transportation Center. Warmack and a group of volunteers completed work on 55-foot concrete wall, which features sculptures surrounded by stones, beads, seashells, bottle caps and other objects.