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Simon says
From the Isthmus archives, June 24, 1988
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Credit:Glenn Trudel

Associate editor Bill Forman profiles self-taught artist and street preacher Simon Sparrow, whose twin callings began at age 7 in North Carolina but led him on a circuitous path to Madison. In five years, Forman writes, Sparrow has gone from selling his glittery, colorful collages in restaurant parking lots to critical acclaim and exhibitions at the Smithsonian, Chicago's Carl Hammer Gallery and Madison's Caturas' Gallery. Sparrow, 62, explains that he is beset by fleeting but dazzling visions of Christ and heaven. "I couldn't never name the colors," he says. "You can name the gold, bronze, silver, red, blue, white. You can name those colors. But there's so much more, so much more. And it's so beautiful. Something like you would never see on this earth." He often paints in an almost hypnotic state of concentration, he continues: "Most artists I know, they can explain their work because it's their mind doing it. You understand? The mind is seeing what they're grinding out. But you see, my mind is blank in my work. The same way as when I'm preaching." He considers formal art training irrelevant, perhaps even harmful. "A lot of artists tell me they go to school to learn to be an artist," he says. "And when they tell me that, I stop them. I say: You cannot learn to be an artist; I'm sorry." Sparrow dies in 2000.

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