Kevin Sampson: Solo Exhibitions In New Jersey and Beyond

Kevin Sampson: Solo Exhibitions In New Jersey and Beyond

By Susan Wallner for JerseyArts.com
originally published: 10/9/2018
 

“I’m a Civil Rights baby. I grew up laying across picket lines and blocking traffic.” Artist Kevin Sampson’s father, Stephen, was a well-known Civil Rights leader in New Jersey, and he instilled a commitment to community that his son still honors.

Community, politics and the spiritual intertwine in all of Sampson’s art, from his found-object sculptures, to his public art and murals. And right now is a good time to see Sampson’s work, with solo exhibitions at the Visual Arts Center of New JerseyExpress Newark and at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Kevin Sampson: Solo Exhibitions In New Jersey and Beyond

The playful, almost naive surfaces of Sampson’s sculptures are immediately involving: there’s a game in identifying fragments and parts such as cowrie shells, bicycle chains, Mardi Gras beads or old toys. But soon, you begin to notice greater depths, and often darker meanings.

He began making sculpture in the 1980s after his cousin died in the AIDS epidemic. Sampson gathered objects from her backyard and assembled them into a memorial – the first of many monuments he’s made since then.

“Engine Company 107 New York” honors the Sept. 11 firemen; it’s made of old fuses, pieces of wood painted to look like matches, a radio and piano keys arranged in an almost organ-like manner.

The “USS Harriet Tubman” has the shape of a Civil War-era ship, adorned with old ropes, chains and bullets, as well as what look like pearls and coins. Sampson made the ship as a tribute to the anti-slavery activist, one of his childhood heroes.

Kevin Sampson: Solo Exhibitions In New Jersey and Beyond

Sampson is always working, whether in his studio in the Ironbound section of Newark, in his friend’s woodworking shop or on location. For his solo exhibition at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit, he painted a mural on site, working with his friend and fellow Newark artist, Kevin Darmanie. The mural intermixes political images and phrases with science fiction-like energy transference and a mutated figure of Lady Liberty coming to pieces.

The show’s title, “Black and Blue,” is referenced in the mural, along with the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” on either side of the energy transference. Both movements have deep meaning for Sampson, as an African American who was on the police force for 18 years before retiring to pursue art full time.

In addition to the mural, the exhibition includes found-object sculptures, drawings and a recent series of porcelain sculptures responding to the Black and Blue Lives Matter movements. “Black and Blue,” in the main gallery of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, runs until January 27, 2019.

Sampson has a smaller solo exhibition running “in conversation” with “Black and Blue” at the Box Gallery at Express Newark, one of the Paul Robeson Galleries of Rutgers University-Newark. Titled “Olde Soul,” it features rarely seen drawings, sketches, early sculptures and ephemera from the artist’s studio. The exhibition runs through February 23, 2019, with an opening reception on October 18.

Sampson is often described as a “self taught” or “outlier” artist, more for the style of his work than anything else. Not only did he study at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, Kean College and the Art Students League, he also trained to be a composite sketch artist while with the Scotch Plains Police.

In Sampson’s opinion, people “change things into their own cultural language so that they can understand it.” It’s one way of understanding his art, which emerges from a found-object artistic tradition found all over the world, from the folk artists of Haiti to culturally mainstream artists such as Picasso and Man Ray. For Sampson, the objects he chooses to use in his work make it richer because they bring with them their own histories: “It’s about attaching yourself to one’s community,” he says, “it’s about a sense of place and memory.”

Kevin Sampson: Solo Exhibitions In New Jersey and Beyond

Sampson’s art is powerful because it works on so many levels, and connects with so many people. For those traveling through Connecticut anytime soon, it’s worth planning a stop to see Kevin’s third solo exhibition up right now, “Monument Man: Kevin Sampson in Residence,” at the Mystic Seaport Museum through the Spring of 2019. Mystic Seaport is featuring a wide selection of his ships, including the “USS Harriet Tubman,” the “USS Alligator 2” and the life-size “USS Kye Kye Kule,” which he constructed while in residence at the Seaport for three weeks in the summer of 2018.

Visit one of Kevin Sampson’s current exhibitions or follow his lively posts on Facebook to find out what else is happening in this busy artist’s life. Watch the recent State of the Arts profile of Kevin Sampson at Mystic Seaport here.

In Production: Nelson Baez, Bomba Master

By: Mae Eli Kellert

What is Bomba?

Pronounced “BOAM-ba,” this Afro-Puerto Rican genre of music and dance is lively, full of movement and rhythm, and best described, in the words of Bomba Master Nelson Baez, as a conversation between a drummer and a dancer: “The dancer is literally playing that drum through their body.” Bomba is completely unchoreographed – the drummer must predict intuitively what the dancer will do. Nowadays, drummers and dancers often perform onstage, but Nelson prefers to think of the experience of Bomba in its traditional setting: a circle amongst actively participating spectators. “As the people get inspired,” he says, “one would come into the center of the circle.” This intricate relationship between the dancer and the lead drum, or subidor, is enveloped by other drummers, singing voices, and the movements of the spectators, resulting in a beautiful and impressive artistic experience. In August, State of the Arts captured Nelson’s group Cimarrones in a live performance at the Sixth Annual Latino Festival of Hightstown-East Windsor, a showcase of the diverse artistic traditions of New Jersey’s Latinos communities.

Nelson Baez, left, leading a Bomba workshop

“The New Jersey State Council of the Arts was really instrumental in my development,” says Nelson Baez, who trained under Tito Cepeda and Mickey Sierra. Nelson is now a master himself, and is training two apprentices through the NJSCA Folk Arts Program, as well as teaching large workshops at a yearly summer camp for 75 students aged 10-16 years old. An upcoming feature on State of the Arts offers a glimpse at the intricate training behind Bomba through a conversation with Isnard “Izzy” Mil-Merced, one of Nelson’s early workshop participants who came back ten years later to train as his apprentice. Immense skill is required to master not only the detailed and varied drumming rhythms and techniques, but also the intuitive side of communicating with a dancer while on the subidor.

Nelson Baez and his apprentices, Edwin Estremera and Isnard “Izzy” Mil-Merced

As Izzy muses, “You can definitely feel the history within each song, within each rhythm, within each dance step.” To hear more about the transformative power of the music and why Nelson Baez’s hairs stand up just talking about Bomba, watch our upcoming episode on State of the Arts’ new season, premiering Wednesday, 10/3 and Saturday, 10/6 at 7:30 pm, repeating Thursday, 10/11 at 11:30 pm on NJTV. The episode airs on WHYY Sunday, 10/7 at 11 am.

State of the Arts goes to Greece

View of Athens, Greece

Here at State of the Arts, we go “on location with the most creative people in New Jersey.”  Recently, however, we went to Athens, Greece to meet Byzantine iconographer and artist George Kordis.  George created the large wall painting in the Constantelos Hellenic Collection and Reading Room at the Bjork Library at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey.

George Kordis, Byzantine Iconographer & Artist

George Kordis is a master painter and iconographer in the Byzantine tradition.  He mixes his own egg tempera paints from egg yolk, a bit of egg white, essential oil, and white wine or vinegar.  For over 40 years, he has created sacred paintings, often right on the walls of Greek Orthodox churches.  He also teaches Byzantine art.  It’s a style rooted in a religious tradition reaching back to at least the 14th and 15th centuries.  George also creates secular works, based on stories from myth and other Greek themes.

Constantelos Hellenic Collection and Reading Room Mural by George Kordis

Stockton University has a renowned Greek studies program. One of its early founders was Demetrios J. Constantelos (1927-2017), Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies, Emeritus.  The mural by George Kordis in the Constantelos Hellenic Reading Room honors his legacy.  It features Greek figures from ancient to modern times, posed alongside a river flowing from Mount Olympus.  The water of tradition and knowledge connects past and present: from the ancient philosophers Socrates and Plato, through the important Greek Orthodox leader Saint Basil, to the 20th century artists, singer Maria Callas and poet C.P. Cavafy.

(L-R) Producers Lisa Honaker and Pantelia Bairaktaris with Stockton University’s former Assistant Dean of Art and Humanities Nancy Messina, artist George Kordis, and Athens-based crew Argyris Theos and Christos Daskalothanasis in the church painted by George Kordis in Vouliagmeni

So how did we swing this international story?  Last November, Stockton’s Dean of Arts and Humanities Lisa Honaker was in Greece to attend a conference, and Stockton’s Associate Director of Research and Sponsored Projects Pantelia Bairaktaris was in her native Greece on a family trip.  As members of the State of the Arts advisory team, they took on the role of producers for this story!  With an Athens-based camera crew, Lisa and Pantelia visited George in his studio, where he gave a demonstration and told them more about his art.  That same day, they went on a field trip to Panagia Phaneromeni, an Orthodox church built in 2010 in Vouliagmeni, a seaside suburb of Athens.  George Kordis created the extensive wall murals for this modern Byzantine church over a period of two years.  They are truly the work of a modern master.

Panagia Phaneromeni dome painting by George Kordis

Finally, State of the Arts went with our New Jersey-based crew to see the mural in Stockton University’s Constantelos Reading Room.  While there, we met Tom Papademetriou, Professor of History and the Executive Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies, and Amy Papalexandrou, Assistant Professor of Art History.

A Byzantine Artist is featured on the State of the Arts episode premiering Sunday, May 27, 2018 on WHYY at 11 am and on NJTV at 8 pm.  Shortly afterwards, we’ll have a link to it here. 

 

In Production: The Montclair Show

By: Mae Kellert

The city of Montclair, New Jersey has long been a cultural hub. In an upcoming episode dedicated entirely to Montclair’s eclectic artistic community, State of the Arts features everything from contemporary art to cinema, literature to an illustrious jazz scene – celebrating a town that is truly dedicated to its arts, culture, and history.

George Inness – Winter Morning, Montclair (1882)

Back in 1885, renowned landscape painter George Inness, born in New York state and raised in Newark, moved to the city to spend the last years of his life inspired by the beautiful natural landscape. Featured above is Winter Morning, Montclair – just one of his beautiful landscape paintings of this once rural town. George Inness was just one of many artists whose presence helped transform Montclair into a well-known art colony. Now, at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM), a permanent gallery dedicated to the work of George Inness can be found. MAM senior curator Gail Stavitsky says it’s the only gallery permanently dedicated to showing work by “the father of American landscape painting.” The museum itself grew out of locally-donated collections of American and Native American art. As part of “The Montclair Show,” State of the Arts visits MAM to see how they are continuing with this dedication, featuring an exhibition by Native American landscape painter Kay WalkingStick. Curated by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Kay WalkingStick: American Artist covers five decades of her work, and will be on display until June 17, 2018.

Montclair Art Museum Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky with National Museum of the American Indian Curator Kathleen Ash-Milby.

The city attracts not only visual artists, but also writers, musicians, actors, and filmmakers. The Montclair Film Festival has been growing exponentially since its inception in 2012. This year’s festival runs from April 26 through May 6, 2018.  To attend a special preview screening of State of the Arts “The Montclair Show” at Montclair Film’s new location on Bloomfield Avenue on April 24, RSVP here!

Speakers for the 2018 Montclair Film Festival include Montclair native Stephen Colbert, pictured below with John Oliver.

Writers are also drawn to Montclair, inspired by its history and supportive community. The Montclair Literary Festival held its second year this March, including panels, workshops, and talks. One of the highlights was the inimitable Patti Smith, who held a performance and a reading from her book Devotion (Why I Write). Run by Succeed2gether and held collaboratively by the Montclair Public Library, the Montclair Art Museum, Watchung Booksellers, and local volunteers, this festival is a sound example of how this tightly-knit arts and culture community works together to bring arts of all kinds to the public.

But perhaps most of all, Montclair is known for jazz. The close relationship between different arts illustrated above is further cemented when you take a look at renowned jazz musician and long-time Montclair resident, Oliver Lake. True to Montclair’s philosophy, Lake not only creates otherworldly music, but also paints and writes poetry. State of the Arts was there for a recent performance by Oliver at the Montclair Art Museum.  He’ll also be performing at the Montclair Jazz Festival this August, produced by the Jazz House KidsState of the Arts goes on location with the artistic director of Jazz House Kids, virtuoso Christian McBride, as he teaches a master class, and talks about their mission of perpetuating the art of jazz. Along with President and Founder Melissa Walker, they make up the wife and husband team who run Jazz House Kids.

Experience Montclair’s cultural scene on this all-new episode of State of the Arts, premiering Sunday, April 29 at 11am on WHYY and 8pm on NJTV!

 

 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: You’ll Have the Sky

By marrying Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow finds celebrity and adventure, but also a lack of privacy. During their honeymoon America’s most famous couple is constantly pursued by the press. Anne and Charles have a child, build a new house, and set out as a flying team to explore aviation routes north to the Orient. They return home to tragedy.

Life goes on after the tragic murder of the Lindbergh baby. Their second son is born, and Anne begins to write again, starting a new book. The couple takes another long trip exploring navigation routes in Europe and South America, but Anne finds herself longing to return to her baby. The trial of the man accused of kidnapping and murdering Charles Jr. begins, becoming the “Trial of the Century.”

From Anne Morrow Lindbergh: You’ll Have the Sky, an award-winning PBS documentary narrated by Judith Light and Lily Rabe. Produced by PCK Media, c. 2017. Available for streaming, download, or on DVD from ShopPBS.org.

61st Annual New York Emmy Nominations!

State of the Arts has been nominated for two New York Emmys!

Winners will be announced on April 14, 2018. In the meantime, be sure to watch our Emmy-nominated features!

Historical/Cultural Program Feature Segment

Jazz in the Key of Ellison
Eric Schultz, Producer/Director

In this story, producer Eric Schultz featured a special evening at NJPAC celebrating the jazz inspirations of the great American writer Ralph Ellison. There was a star-studded evening of jazz music inspired by the author’s own record collection, and spoken word from Ellison’s writings. Wynton Marsalis, Don Katz, and scholar Robert O’Meally, all of whom knew Ellison personally,  participated.  Using historic film clips and interviews with key players, the story gives new insights into Ellison’s work.

 

Magazine Program

State of the Arts: Murder on the Orient Express, Jazz Pianist Bill Charlap, Photographer Helen M. Stummer, and Toy World
Susan Wallner, Producer; Eric Schultz, Producer

This episode of State of the Arts goes behind-the-scenes with a new stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; meets Helen M. Stummer, who spent over 30 years photographing Newark’s toughest neighborhoods; hears from one of the great jazz pianists, Bill Charlap; and takes a nostalgic look at New Jersey’s toy industry.

The Art of Science: Brandon Ballengée

By Mae Kellert

Brandon Ballengée is proving just how powerful a combination science and art can be, with fine art focusing on a world with which he is uniquely familiar – a world of amphibians, fish, birds, and all manner of flora and fauna. Working with photography, sculpture, and “installation art,” he creates work that is curious, beautiful, and openly seeks to engage viewers with nature.

Brandon Ballengée

Brandon Ballengée

Brandon holds his PH.D in Transdisciplinary Art and Biology from Plymouth University and Zürich University of the Arts and Applied Sciences, and he is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at Louisiana State University, with a focus on the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Additionally, his fine art, which directly draws from his ecological research, has gained him a 2015 NYFA Fellowship, several grants, and solo exhibitions and installation opportunities around the world.

Love Motel for Insects

Love Motel for Insects

Art in particular has a way of reaching the masses – and in environmental activism, any way of engaging the public with themes of ecology wields a pivotal power. Love Motel for Insects, Ballengée’s installation currently on view at 1000 Atlantic Avenue in Camden, is a particularly poignant example of this. This outdoor installation is presented by the Rowan University Art Gallery in partnership with Freedom Prep Charter School and Virtua Camden. Visually arresting, Love Motel for Insects is created out of canvas and emit ultraviolet light in the evening. This special lighting attracts nocturnal arthropods – allowing us to see these beautiful, mysterious creatures up close. This interaction – this showcasing of insects belonging only to the nighttime world – generates interest and, importantly, compassion in its audience. Brandon Ballengée’s installations have been constructed all around the world, allowing countless audiences the opportunity to appreciate a part of their ecosystem that they don’t often see.

2017-06-15 12.33.08

In fact, Brandon Ballengée goes further with this in his Eco-Actions project: he offers workshops and field trips to students and the general public, where he encourages a deeper understanding of science and nature. An avid supporter of the concept of “citizen scientists,” Brandon feels that education and engagement is key. As he puts it, “We can’t save organisms that know nothing about.”

Collapse

Collapse

State of the Arts featured Sea of Vulnerability, Ballengée’s exhibition at Rowan University Art Gallery, in a premiere episode, which can be seen online here. This stunning exhibit includes Collapse, pictured above, which consists of specimens collected from the Gulf of Mexico and meticulously arranged into a striking pyramid of glass jars. While the exhibition ends November 4, you can see the Love Motel for Insects installation in Camden until March 2018. This is truly a great opportunity to share and instill a love for art and science with your family and friends.

2017-05-13 11.54.49

For more reading and links to Brandon Ballengée’s art projects and scientific writings, see his website.

Two 2017 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards go to State of the Arts and PCK Media!

 

Photo by Helen M. Stummer

Quinzel, Cornelius, and Hasan, 1998

Arts/Entertainment – Program Feature/Segment

The State of the Arts story “Risking Life and Lens: Helen M. Stummer” has been honored in the “Arts & Entertainment” category. A photographer who spent over 30 years documenting neighborhoods in Newark, Helen M. Stummer has a new memoir, Risking Life and Lens. Meet the Metuchen photographer and see her work in our Emmy-winning story. You can also read more about her on our blog. Congratulations on their Emmy win to producer Susan Wallner and director of photography Joe Conlon!

 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Writer – Program

The PCK Media-produced documentary Anne Morrow Lindbergh: You’ll Have the Sky has received an Emmy in the “Writer” category! A national PBS release, this film got its start with a 2015 episode of State of the Arts featuring a Morven Museum & Garden exhibition about the famous aviator couple, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The film explores Anne’s writing and the highs and lows of her life as half of America’s first celebrity couple. Congratulations to State of the Arts producer Susan Wallner for the honor!

World War 1: A Centennial

August 2017 – By Mae Kellert

Soldiers at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey, 1919  It was one of New Jersey’s most important contributions to World War I. Now known as Fort Dix, Camp Dix served as one of the key training grounds for American soldiers. It also received troops when they returned from France. Located near Wrightstown, Burlington County, the camp was named for the Civil War general John Adams Dix. This photo was taken after the Armistice, when Camp Dix served as a muster-out location for soldiers returning from war. Collection of the National Archives

Soldiers at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, NJ, 1919 Collection of the National Archives

2017 marks 100 years since the United States entered World War I, and New Jersey’s arts communities are honoring the centennial in events across the state.

In a premiere episode airing 9/24, State of the Arts featured a reading at Fort Dix of the Cape May East Lynne Theater Company’s A Year in the Trenches, based off of texts including a memoir by the New Jersey native soldier Charles Edward Dilkes. Written by James Rana and directed by Gayle Stahlhuth, the play explores the stories of several Americans – all from New Jersey – in wartime Europe one hundred years ago, including Sgt. Dilkes, pilot Kenneth Russell Unger, and notable writer Joyce Kilmer, as well as two women –  Amabel Scharff Roberts, the first nurse to die in the war, and Grace Banker, who led the Hello Girls, a group of women telephone operators serving the US Army. Fort Dix was a particularly poignant setting for this reading, as the space served as a training camp for units in World War I, and the Fort, situated near our state’s capital, is still an active military post today. You can see this play performed on select dates from September 20 – October 14 in Cape May. See here for schedules, information, and tickets.

Americans All  1919 Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) Offset Lithograph In her right hand, Lady Liberty clutches an American flag. With her left, she hangs a laurel wreath above a list of names. The wreath is a classical symbol of victory. The gold star tells us that the soldiers on the Honor Roll are no longer alive. They have given the last full measure of devotion. Casualties of war. Only one of the fourteen names suggests Anglo-Saxon origin. Then, as now, the United States was a nation of immigrants. This poster acknowledges the immigrant contribution to the war effort. Seven million copies were distributed through the nation’s foreign-language press.  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Price FA1975.51.52

Americans All 1919 Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) Offset Lithograph – This poster acknowledges the immigrant contribution to the war effort. Seven million copies were distributed through the nation’s foreign-language press. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Price FA1975.51.52

Also in September, Embattled Emblems, an exhibition of rarely-seen posters and flags used to instill patriotism and raise funds for the war effort, opened 9/16 at the State Museum in Trenton. In seeing this exhibition, viewers can discover firsthand how art and design has historically played a role in the public’s perception of politics and current events.

The State Museum will host another exhibition to highlight this historical anniversary. Shifting Views: Artists who experienced World War I opened 10/4 and collects works by artists from either side of the war. German, Austrian, British, and American artists will be represented in the show, offering a well-rounded look at how every nation is affected by conflict as well as a direct comparison of how these artists’ experiences played roles in their art-making.

You can find more information and events listed at the WWI Centennial Commission, whose New Jersey partners include the NJ Historical Commission, the NJ Historic Preservation Office, the State Museum, the State Archives, Rutgers University, and the NJ National Guard Militia Museum. Look for “Over Here: Newark in World War I, 1917-1918” at the Newark Public Library, and “Songs the Rallied the Homefront” at the Hoboken Historical Museum among other events! 

World War I was an intense part of our history, and New Jersey’s arts organizations are making sure to honor and respect those who experienced the war in the most pivotal possible way: by bringing those memories and lessons to current generations.

Theater for Everyone

June 6, 2017 – By Mae Kellert

Theater is a joy that should be accessible to all – and Paper Mill Playhouse is actively incorporating programs to ensure that this is a reality. On an upcoming episode of State of the Arts, learn about the theater’s Autism-Friendly performances, including one of the award-winning play Mary Poppins. These shows offer a sensory-friendly experience for those on the autism spectrum, taking lighting and sound into consideration. Our upcoming episode will also feature Leslie Fanelli’s creative drama class Theater for Everyone, highlighted in the video below. Her National Endowment for the Arts-funded classes are held weekly and focus on accessibility for her students and their families. Recently, Congressman Leonard Lance visited a class to see how children with developmental disabilities are engaging with theater through these gatherings. The Playhouse also offers other services, including Audio Description and an Assistive Listening System, to ensure that Theater truly is for Everyone.


All over New Jersey, our visual and performing arts communities are coming together to achieve inclusiveness and accessibility – a prime example of this is the Cultural Access Network Project, a collaboration between the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance. In its ninth annual Excellence in Cultural Access Awards on June 22, the project will be celebrating the great achievements made by New Jersey’s arts programs in ensuring that senior citizens and people with disabilities are actively included and able to participate in events and artistic spaces around the state.

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