Rev. Seymour Perkins, self-taught artist, 1931-2009

(all photos ©2008-9 Kelly Ludwig, Detour Art, all right reserved)
(On May 10, 2004, I visited Rev. Perkins with the guys from Rare Visions and Hank Lee, owner of San Angel Folk Art in San Antonio, the photos are from that day.)
from the San Antonio Express News

East Side artist Seymour Perkins dies February 10, 2009

By Elaine Ayo – Express-News
For decades, the self-proclaimed Rev. Seymour Perkins brought his own flavor to the corner of South Hackberry and Nevada streets, eliciting both praise and ire from his neighbors as he battled to save his house from city bulldozers.

Perkins, 78, an eccentric self-taught artist who earned a national reputation among collectors of so-called “outsider” art, died Tuesday night at a local hospital, said Carlos Richardson, president of the Denver Heights Neighborhood Association.

It was a reputation almost unnoticed amid the controversies surrounding his house. City officials and some neighbors had called the house a haven for criminal activity and a dangerous, dilapidated building that needed to be torn down.

But supporters of Perkins called it a priceless piece of San Antonio culture that just needed to be cleaned up. Perkins’ case now sits in the 4th Court of Appeals, more than a year after a city board voted to demolish the house.
Its walls had been adorned with paintings and drawings, but these works were lost when the house was damaged in an October (2008) fire. A November 1997 fire destroyed the initial stages of the museum Perkins was dedicating to his slain daughter, Debbie Jo.

In recent interviews, the retired crane operator from East Texas said he started his ministry for prostitutes and drug addicts after Debbie Jo was killed in a drug-related attack in 1994. Shortly before her death, Perkins said the angel Metatron appeared.
“Angels,” the story of Debbie Jo, and other autobiographical bits and pieces mixed with broader statements on race in Perkins’ artwork. He painted portraits of figures real and re-imagined, with subjects ranging from Solomon Coles, the first black graduate of Yale Divinity School, to portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe and Frida Kahlo depicted as African Americans.

“Just his renderings are very skilled and beautiful. Because he’s a character, people tend to dismiss the craft, but he has a very beautiful hand,” Arnold Aprill, a longtime collector of Perkins’ work and an arts educator with the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education, said last month. “The fact that the images are kind of visionary and ecstatic and mysterious — that’s fun, it’s interesting.”

Aprill helped organize a Perkins show in Chicago in 2005 after discovering the work through his late partner, playwright Sterling Houston, who lived about a block away from the East Side artist.

“He was just so insightful some of the time and other times I really couldn’t figure out what he was talking about,” Aprill said of Perkins.

For Perkins, painting on canvas “was generally the exception; his strongest work has very much an improvisational feel to it,” said another friend and collector of his work, Paco Felici.

Felici first came across some of Perkins’ wood carvings at an estate sale in Seguin and spent several months tracking him down.
“I asked him if he ever considered painting and he really had not,” said Felici, a visual artist himself and collector of traditional Texas artists as well as the self-taught, so-called “outsider” artists. “I first brought to him some latex house paint and some found wood. I left him to his own devices.”

After trying to sell his work from a stand in front of his house, Perkins ventured out to the Riverwalk and First Friday celebrations at the Blue Star complex in Southtown. There, he met Hank Lee of San Angel Folk Art Gallery, who still sells his work locally.
“I can’t help but think that in time people will recognize the astounding … power behind it and the dizzying variety of subject matter and media that he undertook and how well he did that,” Felici said. “Cast against the backdrop of circumstances of his life, it is no less than astounding.”