A Dialogue with Kevin Sampson

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.


Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York.

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.

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Anthems for Mother Earth Goddess

For the final show in their Chelsea location, the Andrew Edlin Gallery invited a strong roster of artists to create new mural works directly on their walls. The central theme of the exhibition titled Anthems for the Mother Earth Goddess is the environment, and each artist takes on this theme in a uniquely profound way, be it spiritually, politically, scientifically or emotionally. Just as the cycle of nature is ephemeral, so too are the works in this show. They will be demolished along with the building sometime in the near future.

While the show as a whole is a treat to experience, two particular works struck me with profound intensity. They are by Kevin Blythe Sampson and Brian Adams Douglas.


Kevin Blythe Sampson’s mural titled The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (2015)

Sampson’s expressionistic tree bleeds out from the poisonous doctrines that have tainted civilization. The names of places where national injustice have occurred are scratched into the bark. The mangled roots, which form the word “MIASMA”  bleed into the Earth and spreading foul poison throughout the land. Hooded Klansmen, at the base of the tree represent catastrophic ideas like the Keystone pipeline and fracking, as well as the GMO corporation Monsanto and the Republican National Convention (which supports these aforementioned problematic environmental issues). The tree is tapped by problems that drain our society of justice and peace. A poached Rhino (with it’s horns cut off and black human feet) reminds us that we are an endangered species as well.


A mural by Brian Adams Douglas titled Everhigher (2015).

Brian Adam Douglas’ epic realist mural is the most dramatic in the show. It’s an end of days theme where nature has taken back the Earth through a biblical flood that would rival Noah’s. There’s a huddled mass, piled on top of each other in the form of a pyramid. They are seemingly the last survivors of the catastrophic storm. One barren tree is still standing tall from the flood waters. It is held afloat by a life preserver.

The rest of the must see murals are by Saya Woolfalk, Chris Doyle, Peter Fend, Rigo 23, and Katerina Lanfranco.

So while you’re walking along the adjacent Highline experiencing one of the more positive ways in which we can interact with and preserve our natural environment; don’t miss this show where the anthems to Mother Earth will get stuck in your head for days.