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Art that 'messes with your soul'
The visionary sacred folk art of Rudolph Valentino Bostic highlights Beach Institute show

Religion and spirituality have been major driving forces behind art and artists for thousands of years.

Acknowledging the power of metaphysical art at Easter time is the Beach Institute, which in conjunction with the Hurn Museum is hosting an exhibition of sacred folk art, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, through April 30.

“We’re trying to help add another dimension to exhibits at the Beach Institute and to bring folk art more into focus,” says Hurn Museum Curator Michael Sottile. “This show is specifically on the power and glory of folk art, and the bulk of the work is by African American artists. We want to show Savannah that folk art is a force.”

The show includes the visionary works of Savannah’s Rudolph Valentino Bostic and other local folk artists. We had a chat with Bostic last week.

“I’ve been painting about 20 years,” says the 67–year–old artist, whose preferred surface is cardboard. “I enjoy taking that clear piece of board and putting a subject on there. It’s almost like a movie that all of a sudden goes blank. At that moment you want to know what happens next. There’s a strong mystery. Sometimes it makes me stay up all night painting.”

Bostic came by his nocturnal creativity when he was working the night shift at a local bakery.

“I worked at the bakery from 3 p.m. to 11 or 12 at night. I’d come home, wash up, eat, then take out the paints and the brushes while everybody else would be sleeping,” he recalls.

“My goal is to find a place — not paradise really — but a place in my mind where I wanna live, where the scenery comes from out of my own mind. A place of peace.”

Still, Bostic’s main inspirations come directly from the Bible. A chance meeting with a young artist persuaded him to pursue the concept of “drinking from the bitter cup.”

“A piece this fella did on ‘the bitter cup’ caught my eye. Now I just can’t get away from that idea. The idea of Christ taking on the sins of the world, drinking from a bitter cup.”

Another piece came to Bostic when he contemplated the Passion of Christ, specifically the journey to Calvary to be crucified.

“They were beating him and dragging him toward that hill. Everyone was afraid to help. But a good Samaritan gave him a drink of water, and their eyes met,” Bostic says.

“I want to do something about that moment when their eyes met. At that moment Christ was suffering not because he was the son of God, but because he was a person. When someone helps you at a moment like that, you’re going to want to look that person in the face.”

While having no formal training in art whatsoever, Bostic delivers what is surely one of the best definitions of art you’re likely to hear:

“Doing art is many different things. It’s like when you’re playing basketball, and jumping and running. Your spirit is free floating in other world,” he says.

“The arts is something that messes with the soul. It carries you into a different state of serenity. There’s no pain, no anger.”

Bostic says that every artist needs a trusted critic by their side to keep them honest. For him, that role was played for many years by his mother.

“Mom tells me when I’m doing something wrong. She’ll criticize my work. She’ll say, ‘You got to move that eye over a little,’ things like that. But now that she got a little sick she doesn’t do that no more,” Bostic says.

“My sister took over that job,” he laughs.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Where: Beach Institute, 502 E. Harris St.

When: Tue.–Sat. noon– 5, through April 30

Cost: $5

Info: 234–8000