Sam Doyle: The Mind's Eye

Art of the Americas Building, Level 3
May 3, 2014–September 1, 2014

Sam Doyle was born in 1906 on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina, the center of the region's Gullah community, where African influences thrived. He began making paintings on cast-off sheet metal and wood panels in 1944; most were portraits of people and events important to his community. He displayed the paintings to the public in the yard of his clapboard house. By the time Doyle retired in the late 1960s, his history lesson had evolved into the Saint Helena Out Door Art Gallery. In 1982, Doyle was featured in the seminal exhibition Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, which introduced the islander's impassioned artwork to a broader audience that included artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, who collected Doyle's work, and Ed Ruscha.

Known for a wide-ranging palette of vibrant colors, Doyle's approach to painting can be characterized as gestural figuration. The artist composed his figures sign-like and painted in a style that is flat and frontal. The industrial or even architectural materials on which he painted also suggest this reading. Doyle's works are to be read both visually and literally, as many include painted words that he added to further inform the viewer about this subjects, who were not just subjects of interest but unique personalities. The portraits in this exhibition primarily depict residents of Saint Helena, though they also include important figures from the wider world of entertainment and sports. All are testament to Doyle's reverence for the spirit of individuals and the culture of his community.

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Image: Sam Doyle, Dr. Crow, 1970-83. House paint on metal. Gordon W. Bailey Collection.

A World Made Visible

Few artists come along who blur the lines of the aesthetic paradigms of “fine art” or “folk art” and transcend both with a truthfulness and verve that allows us to see within the mythology. Sam Doyle is such an artist. He gives us more than mere images of vivid clarity, he opens an intimate world of America’s history...