Lonnie Holley: Keeping a Record of It Documents The Artist's Unique Power
Lonnie Holley's art begins with troubled times.
The 63-year-old's first artistic project was carving headstones for his sister's two children, who died in a house fire in Alabama in 1979. Since then, his found-object assemblages, paintings, and collages have endeared him to the fine art world -- they have even been displayed in the Smithsonian and the White House -- in part due to the patronage and care of Atlanta art collector and historian Bill Arnett.
He's always sung, too, recording crude cassettes full of impressionistic melodies. In recent years, Matt Arnett, Bill's son, has helped expose Holley's musical work. In 2012, Georgia folk label Dust-to-Digital released Just Before Music, featuring Holley's first professional recordings, and on September 3, the label will release Keeping a Record of It, a new album featuring contributions from Deerhunter's Bradford Cox and Cole Alexander of the Black Lips.
Lonnie Holley is scheduled to perform Friday, August 23, at Crescent Ballroom.
With its repetitive loops and free stretches of melody, Holley's music is often placed in "outsider" or "avant-garde" contexts. But at its core, Holley's music is folk music, and his chief concern is expressing the relationship of humans to their art.
"In a sense the record has a lot of offerings being made toward the ways of life," Holley explains over the phone from Atlanta, having just finished a pastry and iced coffee at Octane Coffee/Little Tart Bakeshop with Arnett. "What I mean by that is our ways of life as humans; how that information gets to us. A lot of times we've been respecting art and music [in terms of] 'What kind of music is this or that? Does it fit into the African American category, was it something that was done back in the days when we were called black, or colored, or even back in the days when we were called the Negros in America? Was it spiritual or was it just for the human's relaxation?' I try to bring a little bit of all of that in Keeping a Record of It, in exposing something that is necessary for the better understanding of us."
It was during car rides with Holley that Arnett realized the necessity of professionally recording the artist.
"We would be traveling, and he would always get in the car with some kind of homemade tape that he had been working on," Arnett explains. "Something he'd been working on in his studio, cobbling together tape decks...In 2002, I spent some of the summer recording a cappella gospel music in Gee's Bend, Alabama -- where the world-famous quilts were made. I went back in 2006 and set up a recording studio in an old church, and did much more organized recordings. I took Lonnie, and we recorded him in the evenings."