BORN: 1925 in West Africa
DIED: 2000 in Madison, WI
Simon Sparrow was an American folk artist, painter and mixed media artist who was born in West Africa and grew up in North Carolina on a Cherokee Reservation. Simon Sparrow began creating art at age seven and also began his practice of informal and street preaching in his youth. He moved to Philadelphia and enlisted in the army in 1942. He later moved to New York before settling in Madison, Wisconsin.
After he moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s, he became a self-taught artist best known for his mixed media constructions and paintings. He is known for his naive collage, assemblage, and outsider art.
He used a variety of found objects and paint to create glittering images of people's souls. He related his method to West African traditions, in which the gods have "inner eyes" to see much more than just physical appearance.
Simon Sparrow believed his images came from God, and before he started to paint, he would let his mind go blank so the spirit could enter. He described this process as "sweeter than anything on earth . . . I feel like I'm climbing."
Mr. Sparrow work can be found in collections all over the nation, including the Smithsonian.
He received a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award (WVALAA) in 2012.
Photo Credit: Photo by Glenn Trudel, coutresy Wisconsin Historical Society