B. 1950, United States
Lonnie Bradley Holley was born 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.
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, 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.
By the early 1980s, Holley had created an immersive environment in his yard near the Birmingham Airport. Filled with Holley’s sculpture, the yard served as the artist’s studio, gallery, and historical record. In 1996, Holley was notified that his property would be condemned to accommodate the expansion of the airport. Holley settled with the city and moved to a property in Harpersville, Alabama, but his environment was destroyed in the process.
In 2010, Holley moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, in 2012, Dust-to-Digital released Just Before Music, Holley’s first studio album, launching an ambitious music career for the artist. Holley has performed his music at the Whitney Museum of American Art but also in music halls, bars, and theatres all over the United States and Europe. Holley approaches art and music in the same manner: improvising, inventing, and re-inventing artworks and songs using the materials at hand. His capacity for musical and artistic innovation is seemingly endless and equally hard to define.
Holley's work has been exhibited extensively since the early 1980s, including at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C.), the High Museum of Art (Atlanta), Montgomery Museum of Art, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (Winston-Salem, NC), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the de Young Museum (San Francisco), the Studie Museum in Harlem (New York), Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago), and the American Folk Museum (New York). His work is included in the permanent collections of American Folk Art Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, De Young Museum, High Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Milwaukee Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), New Orleans Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Museum of Art.