Kevin Blythe Sampson


Kevin Blythe Sampson, 65, is a sculptor, painter, muralist who is recognized for tackling difficult issues that concern him and his Newark, New Jersey neighbors.

He was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and is a product of a family that was totally committed to civil rights and community concerns, and this continues to be a recurring theme in his work. Sampson considers himself to be a “we shall overcome" baby.

Sampson became a police officer-detective for the city of Scotch Plains, New Jersey where he served for over twenty years. He is the first African American Uniformed Composite Sketch Artist in the country. He received numerous commendations for his work as both a police composite artist and a detective, including the 200 Club's Medal of Valor (for saving a life). 

Sampson has been a gallery artist with Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York, NY since 1992. His work is in numerous collections including the Museum of American Folk Art and the Montgomery Museum of Art. He has received the Marie Walsh Sharp Foundation residency and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, as well as awards from various art councils.

Project Description

No Wind, No Waves

I have been making work for over thirty-five years; I am also a retired Police Officer and the First African American Uniformed Composite Sketch Artist in the country. I use many of the skills acquired during my time as a Police Officer interviewer to go into a community, find out its dreams, desires, and hopes. Through my work, I aspire to shed light on many of the current problems affecting communities all over the world and to give hope to the hopeless. My father was a civil rights leader, so I consider myself to be a civil rights activist and this informs both my work and my life. 

I have completed more than a few residencies, including the Joan Mitchell in Nola, the Arts and industry at the Kohler, and recently at the Mystic Seaport Museum. At the Mystic Seaport museum last year, I was invited to live aboard a ship for a month and create a work of art made of objects that I found on the museum grounds. I was the first artist to inaugurate its artist-residency-program.

Over the course of many years, I have constructed numerous found object works, centered on vessels that can be boats, ships, or spiritual vessels for other kinds of journeys.

What I would like to do is to use my grant to travel to other seaside locations, where I could collect materials, meet and get to know the community and to create additional boats from these sites that will record the history of the community, linking their concerns and joys, and putting it all under the watchful gaze of current events. I like to comment both on life, liberty, and the pursuit of truth.