Tubman exhibits work of renowned visionary artist Mr. Imagination

Arts / Article

Mr. Imagination (aka Gregory Warmack), 1948–2012

The work of famed visionary artist Mr. Imagination (aka Gregory Warmack) is currently on display at the Tubman African American Museum (a Knight Arts grantee) in Macon. “The World of Mr. Imagination: 1948–2012” features selected works from the artist’s home and studio in the Riverside neighborhood of Atlanta and includes several photographs of the site. The exhibit is an exciting display of skill and ingenuity by the well-known outsider artist, but the circumstances of the show are also tinged with sorrow. Mr. Imagination passed away in an Atlanta hospital earlier this year due to complications from an infection, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The late Mr. Imagination was one of the most prominent visionary artists in the U.S. His art is in the collections of major museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art and the American Visionary Art Museum. According to the Hammer Gallery, he was commissioned to create the “Unity Grotto,” an entranceway arch at the House of Blues “Voo-Doo Garden” at Walt Disney World and to create four awards for the National Blues Foundation of America, called the “B.B. King Blues Hero Awards.” In 1997, he was named “Artist of the Year” by the Folk Art Society of America.

Gregory Warmack was born into a family of nine children in a poor Chicago neighborhood in the late 1940s. At 30, he was robbed at gunpoint, shot and left for dead. Hospitalized and in a coma, Warmack had what is described as a near-death experience. He saw a vision that altered his perception of himself and his purpose in life. He began to see himself as a successor to a long line of kings and artisans stretching back for centuries to ancient Egypt. He came to understand this vision as an inheritance of power and purpose directing him to become an artist. His mission in life became making art that would have a positive impact on the world.

After a year of recovery, Warmack soon reinvented himself as “Mr. Imagination.” He lived and worked in Chicago for the next 22 years. The Hammer Gallery in Chicago gave the artist his first formal exhibition and represented him for many years.

“Sun Shield,” 1999, mixed media. Photo courtesy of Martha Henry

In 2002, the artist’s brother died. Soon after, he moved from Chicago to Bethlehem, Pa., where her lived and worked until 2008 when a fire claimed his home. The blaze destroyed most of his work but he did manage to salvage some of his sculptures. He gathered the remains and moved to Northwest Atlanta.  There he had two houses — one for storage and one for living, working and storing materials. He began a process of transforming the property and turning the site in a visionary environment he dubbed “The Garden of Peace.” About two years after moving, Mr. Imagination held his first exhibit in the Barbara Archer Gallery in Atlanta. He was known for his use of bottle caps especially, but also for his reuse and recycling of discarded materials in his work.

“Everything he did was about recycling and that kind of mirrors how his life went. His life was a series of catastrophes that he regenerated himself from, so you see that idea in the artwork too. A lot of cast off materials, recycled material,” explained Jeff Bruce, curator at the Tubman African American Museum.

Shadow Box, 2003, mixed media. Photo courtesy of Martha Henry

“The World of Mr. Imagination: 1948–2012” is on display through January 5, 2013. An opening reception will be held on Friday, October 19 from 6-7:30 p.m. Admission is free for museum members, $8 for the general public.

Tubman African American Museum: 340 Walnut St., Macon; 478-743-8544;  www.tubmanmusem.com