The Quiet Loud World of Amos Hummell

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LOWCOUNTRY’S PREEMINENT OUTSIDER ARTIST HAS NEVER STOPPED PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

Right now, Amos Hummell is all about sticks.

“Yesterday after I closed down, I went out to watch the sunset and I said I’m going to try that stick thing with the chair on top,” he said, referring to his latest work, “Hi-Tide.”

Combining two of his visual signatures, a scattering of stars and a vibrantly colorful palette, Hi-Tide portrays, well, a stick thing with a chair on top.

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“I’m feeling pretty good about it. I’m thinking this is going to be my T-shirt,” he said.

He’s only being partially facetious. That said, Hi-Tide would look really cool on a T-shirt.

Beyond the commercial appeal, Hi-Tide continues a phase in Hummell’s artistic career that has seen the artist skew from the found-art works that defined his early period. These days, Hummell’s art reflects the beauty of the Lowcountry nightscape, a serene counterpoint to his earlier more kinetic work. And like the sticks that inspired Hi-Tide, this period started with dots.

“It’s something about the circle and the dots. … I noticed the blue dots were really electric; these are perfect stars,” he said. “As far as artistic subject matter goes, the nighttime is really kind of ignored down here. I’ll paint the night. I think the night is pretty.”

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While still boasting his trademark colors, these nighttime portraits reflect an artist (perhaps begrudgingly) embracing maturity. They also reflect the increasing difficulty of rummaging through garbage bins for artistic materials.

“I started out dumpster diving,” said Hummell. “Some people say go back to doing that stuff. I say, ‘Eh, I lost it. The innocence is gone.’ When I was at Triangle Square, I was in dumpster heaven. It was easy pickings and I was young, dumb and having fun. I’m to the point now I think my days of painting on old boards are over.”

Those days started 38 years ago, when Hummell hitchhiked into town looking for a food and beverage job. After the trial by fire that was his first Heritage, he decided the arts might be a little better fit.

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“I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I didn’t know enough about the game. I was clueless,” he said.

A chance encounter with folk art dealer Joe Adams, sparked by a hand-painted sign Hummell created for a bead shop he was running at the time, flamed Hummell’s artistic ambitions.

“He gave me the talk, and I never stopped,” he said.

The art first took the form of whimsical three-dimensional pieces that bridged the worlds of painting and sculpture, infused with blazing color and fed by a deep well of humor.

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Hummell even dipped his toes into performing arts, with his Living Color show lighting up Calhoun Street for a period in the early aughts. And now we see the artist settle into the relative calm of nighttime landscapes.

“It’s been a progression,” he said. “My brother coined a term for (alternative band) Smashing Pumpkins that their sound is ‘quiet loud.’ That’s kind of what these paintings are.”

It’s Amos’ quiet loud world, we’re all just living in it.