A Lonnie Holley Concert And Conversation at the Parrish

Lonnie Holley during his recent residency and performance at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton. Photo courtesy of the Elaine de Kooning House.

The Parrish Art Museum will present a special evening of conversation and performance with visual artist, musician, filmmaker and educator Lonnie Holley on Friday, April 23, at 6 p.m.

Holley, whose work will be on view at the Parrish from April 24 to September 6, was a recent artist-in-residence at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton. In this evening-length program, he will be in conversation with Chief Curator Alicia Longwell, play the keyboard and sing, accompanied by Washington Duke on drums/percussion. The program will be livestreamed from the Parrish. To reserve, visit parrishart.org.

In Holley’s original visual art environment, he constructs and deconstructs works, repurposing their elements for new pieces. This often leads to the transfer of individual narratives into the new work creating a cumulative, composite image that has depth and purpose beyond its original singular meaning.

Likewise, the layers of sound in Holley’s music are the result of decades of evolving experimentation. Holley’s musical process is uniquely his own. His music and lyrics, improvised in the moment, morph and evolve with every event, concert and recording. In September 2018, Holley’s  third studio album, “MITH,” was released on Jagjaguwar and was included in many “Best of the Year” lists including the New Yorker and Newsweek. His first film, “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship,” premiered in 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival.

Holley’s artwork has most recently been in exhibitions at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and MASS MoCA.

Lonnie Holly’s”Using your Eyes to Listen,” 2020. © Katherine McMahon.

Holley was born in 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of  5, he worked various jobs — picking up trash at a drive-in movie theater, washing dishes and cooking. He lived with foster parents in a whiskey house until the age of 11, when he was picked up by the Birmingham Police Department for violating the city-wide curfew, imposed during the height of the civil rights movement. He was sent to the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children, which was little more than a slave camp for African American youth. His early life was chaotic, to say the least, and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood. After his birth family discovered his whereabouts, he returned to Birmingham to live with his paternal grandmother. For the next 10 years he had a series of jobs, including working for the Campbell Soup Company picking vegetables, working as a greenskeeper at a Country Club in Florida, and working as a chef at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando when it opened. He returned to Birmingham in his early 20s.

Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, filmmaking, printmaking and sound. Holley’s sculptures are constructed from found materials in the oldest tradition of African American sculpture. Objects, already imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, are combined into narrative sculptures that commemorate places, people, and events. His work is now in collections of major museums throughout the country, on permanent display in the United Nations, and have been displayed in the White House Rose Garden.

Since 2010, he has lived and worked in Atlanta, Georgia.