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Arts / Performing Arts

The Sand Man Brings His Surprising Music — and Art — to Dallas

This Lonnie Holley Show Will Be Like Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen

BY // 11.09.17

Dallas-based literary nonprofit WordSpace is bringing renowned artist and musician Lonnie Holley to town on Thursday, November 9 as part of its African Diaspora series at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Sometimes known as “The Sand Man,” Holley is dedicated to the practice of improvisational creativity – employing found objects as materials and pulling music from nothing more than abstract ideas.

The 67-year-old artist has shown at the Smithsonian and The White House, and will show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this summer. He’s also shared the stage with musicians like Bon Iver and Animal Collective, and is currently working on a project with dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry. 

It’s anyone’s guess as to what he’ll play on Thursday. Unlike most musicians, Holley does not have an arsenal of songs prepared for each performance. His songs are played once – as they are created – and never again. The music has no traditional structure, no chorus and no consistent melody.

“When I arrive in whatever area I’m looking around and getting inspiration from my arrival,” Holley says. “I suggest to Matt [Arnett, Holley’s agent] what I’m thinking about and he makes notes of my thoughts.”

Holley and Arnett will then go through the list, taking note of what resonates with Holley on a new list – “like a second distillation,” Arnett says. About an hour before the performance, the pair will go through it again and formulate a set list. Rather than songs, the list is a group of ideas that Holley wants to sing about.

“And then sometimes he follows that list when he’s performing,” Arnett says with a chuckle.

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The Art Holley

Holley approaches visual art in a similar way, creating pieces around an idea, a recent event, or the environment around him. He works spontaneously, using trash, debris, discarded items – anything that catches his eye.

“I’ve got two blessings to deal with,” he laughs.

I’ve always said that my art and my music is like siamese twins, and a lot of times when siamese twins are born you have to separate them, it has to be humanly done. So I can’t separate my ideas, the only thing I can do is enhance one with the other.”

Often referred to as a symbol of Outsider Art, Lonnie Holley centers his work around discarded items, castoff people, the fringes of society. When asked about his setlist for Dallas, he says he’s currently thinking about the homeless population as the weather turns cold.

“He dwells in the ravines and the creeks while the rest of us try to get out,” Arnett says. “He’s trying to better understand what we as humans are doing.”

“A lot of times, we as humans don’t think on a creaturely level,” Holley says, “as how one thing eats the other thing and then we turn around and eat it.”

WordSpace will present New Dialogues with Lonnie Holley on Thursday, November 9 at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Holley will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. 

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