BAIA Bits: visionary artist Mr. Imagination overcomes being shot, house fire to cement international legacy
In 1978, 30-year-old Chicago native Gregory Warmack had a chilling premonition he would die a violent death. One week after his disturbing vision, the mixed media artist was shot twice while vending his handmade jewelry on the street not far from the impoverished Maywood neighborhood where he grew up. Warmack remained in a coma for two weeks, hovering near death.
Warmack did not die from the vicious attack. Instead, he was born again.
Warmack later acknowledged an “out of body experience” that changed him forever. As a result of the traumatic event and its resultant spiritual awakening, the reinvigorated artist assumed the moniker “Mr. Imagination” and began incorporating different types of recycled materials in his art, including bottle caps, rocks, beads and other trinkets.
In the early 1980s, upon carving figures from chunks of industrial sandstone, Mr. Imagination’s artwork grew more popular. He was known to work with youth and further encourage them by incorporating images of African pharaohs and kings into his pieces. Simultaneously, his art was recognized as representative of those marginalized by society given its employment of cast-off objects and discarded materials from the streets and alleyways of his hometown. It further symbolized his own triumph as these unwanted objects were transformed into stunning pieces of art, into visual manifestations of his own unique identity.
In 2009, after living in Pennsylvania for eight years and sustaining a house fire that destroyed most of his work, Mr. Imagination relocated to Atlanta where he created a haven for young and emerging artists. By this time, his works had been featured by and collected in museums around the world, as far away as the Halle Sainte Pierre in Paris. Here, in the states, his creations were included in, among other collections, the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the Center for Intuitive and Outside Art in Chicago, and at House of Blues locations in Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando.
Mr. Imagination died on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in Atlanta.
His art, and his imagination, live on.
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