Jimmy Lee Sudduth
Jimmy Lee Sudduth was born on March 10, 1910. He was raised on a farm at Caines Ridge, near Fayette, Alabama. He began making art as a child, surrounding the porch of his parents' house with hand-carved wooden dolls and drawing in the dirt or on tree trunks outside. As his talents became known in the community he began collecting pigments from clay, earth, rocks and plants for use in his finger paintings. He used his fingers because "they never wore out." His numerous works were typically executed on found surfaces such as plywood, doors and boards from demolished buildings. He experimented with mixing his pigments with various binders to make them adhere better, including sugar, soft drinks, instant coffee and caulk.
His first public art exhibition was held in 1968 at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa. A 1971 exhibition in his home town of Fayette earned regional attention and, beginning that year, he became a featured artist at the annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama. In 1976, he was invited to play harmonica and exhibit some of his painting at the Smithsonian Institution's Bicentennial Festival of American Folk Life. He appeared on the Today Show and 60 Minutes in 1980. He was honored with the Alabama Arts Award in 1995 and served as an artist-in-residence at the New Orleans Museum of Art. His work is featured in many collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, the High Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Birmingham Museum of Art and the House of Blues.
He was one of the early masters of southern self-taught art. Although the field is often conflated with "outsider art," Sudduth demonstrates the limitations of the latter term. He was an active member of his community, and his work, though idiosyncratic, is firmly grounded in the African American culture of the rural South. Nor does it display the flights of imagination seen in true visionary art. He drew his subject matter from the world around him: people he knew (and celebrities), architecture, farm scenes, machinery, flowers, and animals of e woods and barnyard. Very rarely, he portrayed a religious figure such as Christ, Moses, or John the Baptist.
Although it is commonly believed that Sudduth's early paintings were executed exclusively in mud and found pigments, such as motor oil or plant juices, in fact, his earliest known paintings contain large amounts of house paint. Anything he could find or get from his helpful neighbors right across the railroad tracks where he worked as a gardener to the Moore family. No one knew, but it was them who really supported Jimmy Lee. His next-door-neighbor, Jack Black, helped Jimmy Lee become the artist he is today through his love and commitment of Alabama art. As his fame grew, dealers advised Sudduth on ways to make his works more permanent and more colorful, and by the 1990s, no longer able to collect his own materials, he began using commercially-sold acrylic paints, applied with sponge brushes onto wood panels prepared with a flat black ground.
He spent his last year in at the Fayette Nursing Home (actually he refused to go to the nursing home for quite a while). He died at the Fayette Medical Center on September 2, 2007 at the age of 97.
- Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama. Jan 15 - Mar 27, 2005, curated by Susan Mitchell Crawley
- Crawley, Susan Mitchell, et al. The Life and Art of Jimmy Lee Sudduth. Montgomery, Alabama: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and River City Publishing, 2005. [ISBN 0892800453]
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