James Hampton of Elloree, SC, not at all far from here, was a creative visionary. He led a very simple life which deviated from the norm of simple work only during World War II. He never married, died of cancer in 1964. He dreamed of creating a church of a sort, and becoming a preacher. He developed a language related to this church effort which has not yet been deciphered.
He did his work in Washington DC, living there after the war, where he created his philosophy and “church” environment. The piece above took 14 years. One curator notes that there were icons like this found after his death from his time in Guam during the war and that some work from that time may be incorporated into the large scale work above.
What I respect is his complete dedication to his vision, his skill in re-purposing waste into art materials, and his design skill. Years ago I ran smack into this formidable piece in a niche in the belly of one of the Smithsonian museums.
In these works, additively constructed of things from the street, the incredible surface made of bits of foil from various sources unifies the elements into one fantastical object. Look closely and you will see discarded light bulbs repeated throughout the composition.
Symmetry in design is a comfortable choice for an artist. It is not always the most exciting. But when we think of our churches, symmetry is the overwhelming basis for their design. Hampton sits in good stead in his effort.
Repetition of similar shapes, as above, in positive and negative incarnations also serves to unify his creations. Angel wings seem to be everywhere, almost making the work seem to hover.
Amazing that the “street nature” of the two cushions above does not spoil the effect of the majesty of this throne.
In the detail below, the armature of furniture pieces picked up from the street is obvious.
The work was made in a rented garage in Washington, DC. His landlord discovered this work after his death, hoping to realize back rental payments by placing the work somewhere.
Notice at the right above that this piece is in process. Table legs have not been covered with foil yet. This is the same table as in the previous picture.
James Hampton lived a successful life, driven by a private vision.