Grassroots artists come from all different backgrounds, but police sketch artist is pretty rare. But such is the story of Kevin Blythe Sampson, the Newark-based self-taught painter, muralist and sculptor who is known for using his work to tackle difficult social issues.

Coffee & Cigs - God and Guns by Kevin Blythe Sampson
Coffee & Cigarettes – God & Guns by Kevin Blythe Sampson

I am a we shall over come baby.

Kevin’s father, Stephen Sampson was an activist and community leader and he Sampson home was the epicenter of where many local protest marches were planned with many national leaders coming and going and meeting with his father. These included important civil rights leadersleaders like Ruby Dee, William Kunsler, Malcolm X, Dick Gregory Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and many more.

Much of what Sampson makes is with found objects. His sculptures become vessels filled with spiritual energy containing the collective consciousness of the community at large. Other work testify to his deeply felt feelings for family. His early influences are evident, as is his commentary on social injustice and other themes including identity politics, war, and civil rights.

I rescue other people’s memories left in the objects they leave behind, and use that power to fuel my creations.

Invaders From Mars
Invaders From Mars by Kevin Blythe Sampson

Long retired from the police force, Sampson mentors and advocates for Newark youths and has helped a whole crop of young artists find a path to gain admissions into art school.“Wanted by his family, friends and neighbors.”

In Collaboration with Artist/Activist Dread Scott

Wanted,” is recent project created in collaboration with artist/activist Dread Scott and supported by  No Longer Empty. It resembles a series of police wanted posters which each features a “police sketch” of a young adult, a description of them and a statement of what they are wanted for.

“This project started out as an indictment of “Stop and Frisk” and the wider criminalization of youth of color.” But, in light of the over 500 extrajudicial police murders of Black and Brown people since this project was staged, the work has become a tragic and prophetic indictment about the universal problems of police brutality and violent abuse of power.

The youth on the wanted posters were drawn by Kevin Blythe Sampson,  a former police sketch artist, based upon descriptions from adults who only briefly saw the young person they described. Like the drawings on actual police wanted posters, the sketches are simultaneously specific and generic. The text on the posters are based on actual non-illegal activity that youths are frequently stopped by police for.

… I don’t think art by itself is a revolution, but I think that it can contribute to people more substantially and fundamentally seeing a different world. Dread Scott, Artist/Activist:

Being young and living in Harlem or Brooklyn or South Central LA is not a crime.

We, with our faces have nothing to hide.

Sign of the Times, Screen print (on paper and on aluminum); 2001, 39″ x 39″ by Dread Scott

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