|Lonnie Holley, The Seer|
I saw the retrospective of Holley in Atlanta and a concert he gave there one evening with father and son Arnett in attendance, in which Holley’s music and keyboard was combined with soprano Jayme Alilaw. I was skeptical of the collaboration but it worked. I noticed a harmonious but understated relationship at the event between Holley and the Arnetts (father and son), like friends giving each other space, though I had no knowledge of their back story at the time. The free event was somewhat crowded but most of the local audience left while Holley was performing, but Piri’ Miri Muli’ strongly recommends not passing up any opportunity to hear Holley perform, as there is no vocalist quite like him. He is said to improvise all his performances, and I witnessed him preparing for it earlier in the day by listening to music on tape.
Holley, seventh of 27 children, reunited after a stint in reform school with his grandmother who searched scrap yards for saleable material. He started making art out of the scrap immediately and brought works to the Birmingham Museum of Art in 1981, leading to a spot in a touring Smithsonian show. Arnett had heard of him and was reluctant to rep him, but upon visiting his residence was blown away.
I believe that one of the traps artists and writers outside NY, Paris, Berlin, etc. fall into is wanting to supply an easy explanation for their works, rather than produce something that initially eludes the audience in a way they nonetheless appreciate and sometimes revisit. Most of the works in the Atlanta retrospective were accompanied by an stablizing description as to what they meant, often relating to character development, values, or political issues, but the ones I liked was the steel sculptures of faces interlinked in the manner of Picasso, which Holley relates to African traditions “A lot of these things I’m doing now is part of my appreciation of my ancestry..” I said hello while he was listening to his audio recording and told him I liked these and that I liked his works that were harder to understand at first, hoping I may balance out the other feedback he gets. He replied “Thumbs up! Thumbs up for Mother Universe!" correctly identifying me as a spirit of the universe. To my delight the Fuentes show (55 Delancey) contains several large scale steel sculptures of interlocked faces as well as wire sculptures which includes a fragile and visually pleasing model boat, all from this year. Lonnie adds his voice to those who say in reference to the seasonal storms “we’re developing a sort of devastating development right now because of our Ozone layer” and wants the public to consider that the steel in US highways is “now rusted to pieces and it’s becoming an egg shell.”