Prophet William J. Blackmon

 

BLACKMON, PROPHET WILLIAM J.
(1921–)
has produced art ranging from simple hand-painted signs to his environment,
Revival Center and Shoe Repair Shop,
a combination mission and business enterprise,located in Milwaukee. During his more than eighteenyear painting career, Blackmon, a self-styled preacher, has completed and sold close to six hundred works tosupport his ministry and help his community. His works convey religious and social messages through biblical parables and figures, in graphic settings alongside textsthat add clarity and unity to the works. His visual sermons revolve around contemporary moral and social issues: crime, addiction, AIDS, and family life, whichBlackmon considers essential to combat helplessness and powerlessness. In
The Best Teacher Is Jesus Say No To Drugs,
produced in 1993, Blackmon’s anti-drugadvice to junior and senior high school students is conveyed visually and with text, and points to both the temptation and the refusal to succumb to drugs.Blackmon’s parents, Dan and Gussie Blackmon, were part of the great African American migration northward, and settled in Albion, Michigan. Blackmon was oneof twelve children, and left high school to help support his family. He worked for a brief period with the New York Central Railroad, and then at the Malleable IronWorks in Albion. During World War II, he joined the United States Army and served in the South Pacific. In the war’s aftermath, he worked with a carnival inKalamazoo, Michigan, operated a shoeshine stand in Chicago, and joined the Christian Hope Missionary Baptist Church. He left the church to become an itinerant preacher, and in 1974 opened a nondenominational, storefront revival center in Milwaukee.Characteristic of his multi-figured painted narratives are bold patterns, strong color, text, and a flattened perspective. His compositions are asymmetrically balanced,and often built of segmented units that are rhythmically activated by figures with curving limbs. David K.Smith writes that Blackmon works on salvaged-wood boardsthat he cleans and repairs, sometimes attaching leather pieces, to smooth edges, and often applying a pale red undercoat. After painting a black frame, he sketches hiscomposition in pencil, and then begins to paint with latex paint. With small brushes, he retraces the pencil outline with black paint, then fills in the shapes. Titles added inwhite paint and his signature fill all of the borders.A retrospective of his paintings and signs, “Blackmon Signs of Inspiration: The Paintings of Prophet William J.Blackmon,” was organized in 1999 for the Patrick andBeatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee.
See also
Painting, American Folk; Environments, Folk; Religious Folk Art
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Balsey, Diane. “Prophet Blackmon: Painter of Predictions.”
Folk Art Messenger,
vol. 3, no. 4 (summer 1990): 1, 3.
The Bottlecap
(special issue on Prophet Blackmon), vol. 2, no. 1 (summer 1999).Hayes, Jeffrey R. “From the Home to the Projects: Affirming Community in the Art of Prophet William J.Blackmon.”
Envision,
vol. 8, no. 1 (January 2003): 8–15.
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encydopedia of Twentieth-Century Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1990.