By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

Illustration shows a man with a possum entangled with two men and a woman.

A Hot Mess, 2020-22, salvaged lauan plywood, spray paint, house paint, paint marker, 18 x 48 inches.

In all his 61 years, artist, musician and author Sam Bartlett has never been one to sit still. Radiating energy from his work ­– which ranges from music to sculpture to stunt workshops to books ­– he is almost constantly on the move.

So, when he was sidelined from traveling and performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned to making sculptures from salvaged wood, a medium he’d worked with starting in the early 1990s. It was inspired by time he’d spent at the open-air sculpture gardens of artist Howard Finster in Georgia.

“When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t do anything I normally did,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett’s show, “Low Stakes: Everyday Comix and Plywood Cutouts,” will be on display in the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries from Feb. 3 through May 6. The opening reception, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Gordon Art Galleries and will include an exhibition tour led by Bartlett.

Cullen Strawn, executive director for the arts, said he’s wanted to bring Bartlett to ODU for years.

“I had the grand fortune of meeting Sam in the early 2000s and became a fast fan of his voracious creativity,” Strawn said. “When first viewing the Gordon Art Galleries’ self-taught collection in 2015, Sam came immediately to mind as a living artist whose work would show wonderfully in the space and whom students and community members would enjoy meeting and learning from. In addition to visual art, Sam’s music will play in the exhibition, and some of his books will be on view.”  

Bartlett estimates he’s made more than 600 sculptures over the years, but many of the sculptures on display at ODU were created specifically for the show in the Gordon Galleries. There will be around 70 on display, including one he will make on-site.

Bartlett likes to create when he’s inspired, whether it’s a sculpture, a mural or t-shirt logos for small businesses. Spontaneity is key to his process.

“I wing the design because it would be boring if I didn’t, and I like to keep myself entertained, so I never plan it out,” Bartlett said. “I don’t mind making egregious errors because I can almost always resurrect a design when I work on it more.”

He also loves the banjo and often carries one with him, incorporating it into his art and speaking engagements. These include “Stuntology” workshops incorporating small tricks and games that he often performs at libraries and schools.

His favorite, however, are the “Crankie” workshops, which he’ll incorporate into his visit to the University. A “Crankie” is an illustrated storytelling device on dowel rods where the story is drawn on the paper and moved, or “cranked,” as the story is told. Popular in the 18th century, the folk art caught Bartlett’s attention years ago, and now he travels the country interviewing communities to tell their stories through crankies.

Bartlett will lead a Crankie Show Workshop from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 2 in the James A. Hixon Studio Art Building, room 2005.

Additionally, he will speak about his zines, book deals, murals and sculptures from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in Hixon 2011.

The Baron and Ellin Gordon Galleries are located at 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, and open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in-person, or viewed remotely via Gordon the Robot. For more information on booking Gordon or the Galleries offerings, visit their website.