When: Fri., Feb. 3, 9 p.m. 2017
Teasing apart the remarkable story of famed multidisciplinary artist Lonnie Holley can be a fraught enterprise, given his celebrity and the amount of stories that circulate about him. A rare figure who's equally man and myth, Holley was born in 1950 as the seventh of twenty-seven children. One of his earliest efforts in sculpture involved crafting junk-metal tombstones for his sister's children, who had died in a house fire.
As an adult, Holley has offered a psychedelic, freewheeling, kitchen-sink artistic output, which has grown to include sculpture, photography, collage, printmaking, and storytelling. His work is poetic and distinctive and hard to pin down, though much of it still values the juxtaposition of junk materials into vivid, surrealistic shapes.
Given Holley's prolific nature, his late-budding music career shouldn't be that shocking. Nor should his musical approach, which is often as disarmingly hypnotic as his visual art. His astrally repetitive Casio jams, spacey and modest, are marked by industrial echo and sci-fi sounds Holley heard working in a movie theater growing up. The lyrics are eclectic, sometimes liturgical and sometimes conversational, reflecting Holley's interests at any given moment. One song might involve his thoughts on art theory, the next, a sincere, ponderous analysis of religion's place in his life. His odd style has won him fans among many current independent artists, including Black Lips and Deerhunter, and even Justin Vernon sampled Holley on the most recent Bon Iver record.
The value of Holley and his work far exceeds his popularity and accomplishments. Yes, he's had his work exhibited in numerous museums, and you could certainly lob a ton of genre and art-world label signifiers at him. But by Holley's own admission, perhaps the best label is also the simplest: he is, more than anything, an American artist. —David Ford Smith