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Kevin Sampson

Arc of Renewal 

“Art is a form of nourishment (of consciousness, the spirit)” - Susan Sontag

The image of an electrical arc forming a luminous bridge over the gap between two electrodes can also relate to the concept of spiritual energy. Arc of Renewal seeks to form a spiritual and/or emotional bridge, between prayer, art, and remembrance that will elicit an emotional call and response between the viewer and the installation.

Cruiser Olympia has been on exhibit at the Independence Seaport Museum since 1996. The location in the bow of the ship chosen for Arc of Renewal was established as a chapel in the 1950’s, long after Olympia was decommissioned in 1922. During Olympia’s active careersailors made use of any available quiet spaces for prayer and reflection. Although not originally identified in this way, this isolated space may actually have provided such a sanctuary.

Working with the understanding that spaces designated as sacred gain their power with use, Sampson uses art to create objects of power and remembrance. Their placement within this alcove may yet return spiritual energy to this space. He defines spirituality as the expansion or evolution of consciousness towards the eventual goal of perfect wholeness. In order to make a space “sacred,” he invokes his theory of spiritual restoration and renewal. “Intention” is to focus on the physical space where the spiritual work will be done. “Practice” is repeatedly returning to the space and renewing it, feeding it, and nurturing it with a spiritual outreach. By combining these two elements, Sampson reimagines a new “chapel” using “mystical vessels and objects of power” that will create a call and response between the space, its history and the new art objects.

About the Artist


Kevin Sampson was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey as the son of a civil rights leader. Though continually artistic growing up, he initially trained and joined the New Jersey police force, applying his creativity with work as a sketch artist. He served as an officer of the law for 18 years, 10 with police sketching. A series of family tragedies eventually caused him to fully turn to the artistic profession.

After leaving the police force, he taught at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art for 16 years and has continued to teach at various art schools and community programs, including serving as the head art teacher at the Ironbound Community Center in Newark for over 12 years. . He has continued his own education through courses at Lincoln University (PA) and the Parson School of Design (NY).

Working in both 2D and 3D, Sampson focuses on content that reflects his social, racial, religious and political views. His 3D work is made of reworked and transformed found objects including cement, bones, tiles, fabric and various painting mediums including acrylics, oils and stains. He sees the bones, tiles, tiny specks and leftovers from day-to-day living, as specters that are a part of the conceptual vocabulary of impermanence and memory.

His subjects are the people that he has known; people who had been part of this world; and people who have lived lives that he thought ought to be remembered. By constructing vessels of physical memory inspired by Caribbean and American Southern styles, he builds works that are about family in all forms. They are both political and intimate, frightening and freeing.

Sampson is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award for Art and has received the Maria Walsh Sharp Foundation residency. His work is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum and he has been an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He continues his strong community commitment through projects such as the City of Newark’s “City Mural Program.” He is represented by the Cavin-Morris Gallery in New York City.

The New York Optimist: Kevin Blythe Sampson

Cavin-Morris Gallery

Kevin Blythe Sampson: Ironbound (video)