Kevin Sampson has an enormous talent for creating powerful works of art that are empowered and beloved by his community. Sampson, a self-taught artist, found an early penchant for drawing while he was a law enforcement officer in the City of Newark, New Jersey. His adeptness at drawing the human figure led him to become a police sketch artist, which was a very in demand position within the force. Later, Sampson’s skills at forensic sketching would be harnessed in Wanted, a project by artist and activist Dread Scott that created fake police wanted posters that expose the racial profiling used by law enforcement agencies.
Sampson’s work is largely connected to socially engaged themes including identity politics, war, and civil rights. A major motif in his work is the memorial. He creates intricate vessels from found objects that have personal significance to either Sampson or his subjects. These vessels become spiritual energy containing the collective consciousness of the community at large.
In 2013, Sampson’s epic installation An Ill Wind Blowing, encapsulated the frustration of a nation and the broken American dream. The ship’s three sections represent the glaring socio-economic divide of the United States.
The front of the ship represented the large corporations, the middle represented the social elite, while the rear symbolized class struggle and racial disparity. The vessel also featured a “basketball hoop” where visitors could write their own political frustrations on a sheet of paper, crumple it up, and throw it into the fishing net resembling a hoop.
In 2015, a giant mural called Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, which was painted on site at Andrew Edlin Gallery’s former space in Chelsea, took on a myriad of complex issues that concern both himself and his community at large. From his days serving and protecting as a police officer to his current work as an artist, Sampson has always been in tune with his community. Today, he’s well known in Newark for his public art as well as being a devoted teacher and involved with many neighborhood events.
Kevin is a busy artist these days with solo shows and projects across the country. I recently had a chance to ask Kevin a few questions about his work and what drives his inspiration and vision.