First published: Fall 2012
I first met Gregory Warmack, known as Mr. Imagination or Mr. I., in 1987 when I came home to Chicago taking a post at the Art Institute of Chicago as a curator for African Art. That was some four years after his first solo show at the Carl Hammer Gallery and he was becoming very well known.
Reconnecting after some years on different paths, Mr. Imagination and I found our lives converging around similar interests. Mr. Imagination had just emerged phoenix-like from a second traumatic fire that changed his life and forced him to face the huge loss of his beloved animals, and the damage and destruction of artwork and books of which he had a prolific production and personal collections.
I found his journey a remarkable metamorphosis and testimony to the healing power of creativity to forge a path of regeneration and renewal.
There are many myths about self-taught artists as artists. Especially black men are mythologised as emerging from lives of poverty and prison into the redemptive power of art. While this describes the lives of some African American artists, it too easily glosses over the complexity of societal issues impacting the lives of black Americans. These social paradigms are linked to the brutal historic arc of racial struggle that stretches from slavery to the present day. The details of Mr. I’s life were richly nuanced. He was a gentle and sensitive man who sought to minister to others through art. He was always a professional as he managed what became an international reputation as a self-taught artist.
Following is an interview with Mr. Imagination in August 2011 about the effect of the destructive force of fire in his life, which also proved to be a hard and painful path to personal survival and creative growth.