Lot 38: PHILLIP HAMPTON, “Untitled,” (mixed-media, watercolor and enamel on illustration board). | Estimate $2,000-$3,000. Sold for $2,000 including fees

 

A SHORT MENTION in the May 22, 1952, edition of Jet magazine documents a historic first. The headline reads: “Missouri Art School Graduates First Negro MA.” The pathbreaker was Phillip J. Hampton (1922-2016), an artist and educator who 65 years ago was the first African American student to earn a master’s degree in fine arts at Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri. He made history in his hometown.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Hampton was a 30-year-old Army veteran and commercial artist with the Kansas City Call, a weekly black newspaper, when he earned his MFA. The year he graduated, he began teaching at Savannah State College (now University) in Georgia, and played an instrumental role in developing the school’s art and design program and expanding its facilities. He relocated to Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Ill. (SIUE), in 1969. There, he taught printmaking, design, and painting, and participated in the wider academic community, curating exhibitions, leading workshops, giving lectures and writing articles.

A painter who worked in abstraction and professor emeritus at SIUE, Hampton died Dec. 17, 2016. In the months since, a fully illustrated digital volume about his life and work has been published and some of his paintings appeared in an African American fine art sale at Ripley Auctions of Indianapolis, Ind., on March 18.

His obituary, published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer in Illinois, cites his evolving painting style and approach to his work: “Although Hampton’s early works were characterized by an interest in perception and the realities and aesthetics of the world around him, a shift began to take place in the 1960s when he began to investigate abstraction. …He found abstraction to be infinitely satisfying because it allowed him to break free of representational constraints. With abstraction, he could address philosophical concerns without being bound to specific narratives or didactic ideas.”

“He found abstraction to be infinitely satisfying because it allowed him to break free of representational constraints. With abstraction, he could address philosophical concerns without being bound to specific narratives or didactic ideas.” — Phillip J. Hampton obituary

THE VOLUME ABOUT HAMPTON was published by Thom Pegg, co-owner of Tyler Fine Art Gallery in St. Louis, Mo. Pegg collaborates with Ripley Auctions to present periodic sales of African American fine art. In the introduction to the publication, the art dealer says he visited Hampton recently in Edwardsville to discuss the book and talk about the artist’s work over the course of his 70-year career.

Simply titled “Phillip J. Hampton” the 141-page volume explores several of his works in depth. “Funky Rainbow Blues” is part of a unique series considered in the publication. According to the volume:

    “In 1978, Hampton proposed the research project ‘Plastigraphs: An Examination of Multimedia and Ideas Expressed as Plastic-Graphic Art Forms.’ In a complex and thoughtful written essay that served as a research proposal, Hampton traced the parallels of symbolism found in a variety of world cultures and proposed a new visual language based upon a synthesis of symbols from these world sources. The project was to create the feeling of a palimpsest of images drawing on the art and imagery of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, and Russian cultures as well as the art of the Nok and the Yoruba.

    Reacting also to the mass of imagery spewed forth from the mass media, Hampton created a new visual language of hieroglyphics inspired by forms found in his research and street graffiti. This language he applied in the Plastigraphs series, which he hoped would ‘establish a visual sensation…’ and ‘manifest a form that is as equivocal, sententious arcane, and ritualistic, and obscure as that of some ancient tablets, manuscripts, books, or icons.’ Hampton would work on these ideas well into the early 1980s.

    One of the most ambitious applications of this idea culminated in a multimedia polyptich work of 1980, ‘Funky Rainbow Series.’ The ambitious work, a combination of media and techniques that included collage, drawing, decal, painting, and shaped, printed Plexiglas, was a four-panel piece devised to swivel, fold and tuck beautifully into a special box when not fully unfurled and on display. With this project he reiterated the need to speak to the ‘spirit of the era”and hoped to “transcend several definitive art barriers’ through the use of non-traditional materials.

    In his works, Hampton would continue to challenge the status quo, proposing projects that would redefine how artistic media could be used.”

Phillip Hampton …”hoped to ‘transcend several definitive art barriers’ through the use of non-traditional materials [and he] would continue to challenge the status quo, proposing projects that would redefine how artistic media could be used.”


Lot 36: PHILLIP HAMPTON, “Funky Rainbow Blues,” 1980 (acrylic on shaped canvas). Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $10,000 (including fees).

 

RELATED TO THE SERIES referenced above, a circa 1980, acrylic painting, “Funky Rainbow Blues” was one of three works by Hampton featured in the March Ripley auction. The shaped canvas work is an innovative mix of color, form, and format.

In addition to paintings by Hampton, the 79-lot auction featured works by Romare Bearden, Margaret Burroughs, Beauford Delaney, Joseph Delaney, Charles Sebree, and Charles White, as well as contemporary artists Barkley L. Hendricks, Rashid Johnson, and Sam Gilliam.

The volume published about Hampton concludes with a chronology of his career, including solo shows, many group exhibitions, and collections that have acquired his work.

Describing Hampton as a “passionate experimentalist,” Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis presented “A Celebration of Vision: The Art of Phillip Hampton,” a solo exhibition of works by the artist in 2005. “Phillip Hampton: A Ceremony for Intimate Forms” was on view at The Gallery at Chesterfield Arts in Chesterfield, Mo., in 2008. CT

 

BOOKSHELF
To further explore the life and practice of Phillip J. Hampton, explore the recently published volume about his life. To review all of the works offered in the March 18, 2017 Ripley Auctions sale, view the catalog here.

 


Lot 37: PHILLIP HAMPTON, “Untitled,” circa 1980 (watercolor on Arches paper). | Estimate $2,000-$3,000. Sold for $1,700 (including fees)