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Art on Film: An Evening with Lonnie Holley

After the world gave up on Lonnie Holley, the Universe sent him the gift of art.
This film tells how Holley overcame all odds to become an unlikely art superstar.

Join us for a screening of Thumbs Up for Mother Universe: Stories from the Life of Lonnie Holley. This 58-minute documentary film by George King covers the life and work of Alabama visual artist and musician Lonnie Holley over the course of 22 years. An enthralling conversation between Lonnie Holley and George King will immediately follow the screening.

Watch the trailer here:

Thumbs Up for Mother Universe: Stories from the Life of Lonnie Holley
This story of survival, endurance and triumph has much to say about race, social class and culture in the American South. While Lonnie Holley’s remarkable life and the improbability of his success as an artist are an inspiration, addressing the pain resulting from the brutal hardships of his childhood is still a daily reality. As he says in the film, “My art was the salve for a lot of those memories.”

The experiences of Holley, spanning more than twenty years and showcased in this documentary offer invaluable wisdom and motivation to anyone who engages with his creations. When Holley was abandoned by the world, the Universe bestowed upon him the blessing of art. This documentary narrates the journey of how Holley defied every obstacle to transform into an unexpected art sensation.

“The truth of Holley’s life is remarkable, marked by anguish, torment and unexpected transcendence.” – Pitchfork

“Holley’s need to create borders on the compulsive.” The New York Times

Film screening of Thumbs Up for Mother Universe: Stories from the Life of Lonnie Holley and conversation with Lonnie Holley and George King.

Thursday, September 7, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
$20 MFA Members; $40 Not-Yet Members


George King and Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was one of 27 children. Holley was stolen as an infant and sold for a pint of whiskey. From the age of five, he worked various jobs: picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state fairgrounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic, and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood. Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound. Holley’s sculptures are constructed from found materials in the oldest tradition of African American sculpture. Objects, already imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, are combined into narrative sculptures that commemorate places, people, and events. His work is now in the collections of major museums throughout the country, on permanent display in the United Nations, and has been displayed in the White House Rose Garden. In January of 2014, Holley completed a one-month artist-in-residence with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva Island, Florida, site of the acclaimed artist’s studio.

The MFA is proud to hold several of Holley’s works in the permanent collection.

Read more about Lonnie Holley in this New York Times article, Lonnie Holley’s Life of Perseverance, and Art of Transformation

Presented by Raymond James

Event Details

September 7, 2023

6–8 pm

Event Categories

Museum of Fine Arts – Marly Room

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