Keeping a Record of It (Harmful Music), 1986, Lonnie Holley, Salvaged phonograph top, phonograph record, animal skull 13 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 9 inches, Courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo: Steve Pitkin
Lonnie Holley, at the age of 63, is finally getting his proverbial moment in the sun. The artist’s second album, Keeping A Record of It, was released today by Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital label, and he is currently touring the US with Deerhunter and Bill Callahan. Earlier this year Holley performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art during the Blues for Smoke exhibition, and a solo-exhibition of his visual work is scheduled to open at the James Fuentes Gallery on September 15 in New York. Holley’s life has not, however, always been this glamorous.
Lonnie Bradley Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of 5, Holley worked various jobs, picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state-fair grounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.
Holley performing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Photo: Matt Arnett
Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, and perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, are manifest in the artist’s drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, 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.
Two Door Drive-by, 1996, Lonnie Holley, Courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo: William Arnett
Holley does not make and perform music in a studio, nor does his creative process mirror that of the typical musician. His music and lyrics are improvised on the spot and morph and evolve with every event, concert, and recording. In Holley’s original art environment, he would construct and deconstruct his visual works, repurposing their elements for new pieces. This often led 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. The layers of sound in Holley’s music, likewise, are the result of decades of evolving experimentation.
Holley performing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, joined on stage by Avey Tare from Animal Collective and Bradford Cox (on drums), August 26th, 2013. Photo: Matt Arnett
Keeping A Record of It appropriately borrows its title from a sculpture by Holley from 1986. The album builds on the style and success of Holley’s first album, Just Before Music, also on the Dust-to-Digital label, and features contributions from Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and Cole Alexander of the Black Lips. It is a testament to Holley’s seemingly endless energy and childlike curiosity that have captivated both the music and fine art worlds. His intuitive responses to new materials, ideas and situations are sophisticated, engaging, and singular in approach.
According to Dust-to-Digital co-founder Lance Ledbetter, “Lonnie approaches music and art in the same way. It’s almost always a reaction to what’s in front of him. He’s more vibrant when presented with something new so rehearsals aren’t particularly useful. His music is about the moment. His lyrics, on the other hand, often come from a very deep place based on his life experiences.” Holley’s records and artwork have made the artist increasingly accessible, but nothing can replace the experience of seeing him perform live. With exhibitions and concerts scheduled across the United States this year, there has never been a better time to get out and go.