Thomas, James ‘Son Ford’ - The Devil and His Blues exhibition catalogue
James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas. The Devil and His Blues.
New York: Karma/NYU Steinhardt 80WSE/Souls Grown Deep Foundation, 1996.
Fine. Sealed, as new.
James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues accompanies the eponymous show at Studio Museum and New York University’s 80WSE Gallery, the largest ever devoted to Thomas’ work. Thomas (1926–1993)—a self-taught African-American artist and musician who lived in severe poverty for most of his life—created small, often painted clay busts of friends and family and people he met. “When I do my sculpturing work things just roll across my mind. I lay down and dream about the sculpture,” he wrote. “That gives you in your head what to do. If you can’t hold it in your head, you can’t do it in your hand.” Nearly 100 of these sculptures are displayed alongside full-bleed installation shots and text contributions by David Serlin, William Ferris, Thomas J. Lax and Kinshasha Holman Conwill, among others.
Delta blues musician, gravedigger, mechanic, housepainter and sharecropper James 'Son Ford' Thomas made small clay artworks from Mississippi "gumbo" clay from the time he was eight years old until his death in 1993. A self-taught artist, he is best known for his uncanny busts of historical figures, friends and imaginary characters sporting artificial hair, dentures, glasses, and other relics of the living world. He also made unfired clay sculptures of birds, snakes, squirrels, fish and skulls—all of which had significance in the folk spiritual practice, 'hoodoo.' Often, his skulls doubled as ashtrays or pencil holders. "A skull has got to be ugly because it's nothing but bones and teeth. People are more likely to be interested in something like that than they would be in a bird. They'd rather see a skull. Then too, a lot of people have never seen a real skull and they're probably wondering how it will be when they die. They say, 'Will I be in the same shape that skull there is in?'