Herbert Singleton

Herbert Singleton

Herbert Singleton was born in the New Orleans district of Algiers. His art drew heavily on life in an inner-city neighborhood and comprehensively addressed themes of racial injustice and the rich African American cultural traditions of his region. Singleton started carving at age 17, in the 1970s, making canes and relief carvings on old doors, cabinets, and driftwood.   

This vernacular artist, whose walking sticks, sculptures and bas-relief panels form part of most major collections of contemporary Southern folk art in the US (and also appear in the Collection de Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland).

The subjects of Singleton's wood panels include depictions of street life in Algiers: the black struggle, New Orleans jazz funerals and biblical stories. Their simple, cartoon-like figurations convey irony and humor as well as stark emotions.

Singleton has spent nearly 14 of his 58 years in prison, most of them in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a former plantation once worked by African slaves. Two .38 bullet wounds testify to his violent past.

He deflected questions about talent or inspiration, saying, "People make out that my art is some kind of great thing, but for me it ain't no big deal -it pays the bills."

After Hurricane Katrina left him fragile and suffering from exposure and dementia, he later died in 2007 from systemic failure and cancer.