By Dean Treadway
“My love, my eidolon, my substance of dreams, my Dark Lord. Tension maker, Faery dweller, Protean visaged. You are part of the edifice of a painting more gigantic than any other, maker of dreams more vast than any painter ever dreamed. Guide of my brush, companion of my learning, child of my knife, builder of my painter’s life. I have returned to you. I see you again in your austerity, your splendor, your animal grace, your pain. I see you as Michelangelo heroic, as Leonardo grotesque. I see you and only you, my Dark Lord, my Prince of the Night, my Master of my hand and eye. And I am home. My blood-dabbled canvases. My rough linen. My dream images of the crowded man. I am home and secure.”
—Jimimi Fowlkes, August 19, 1979
Years after her death, a prolific painter named Jimimi Fowlkes is having her first show. Being that the entire exhibition is devoted to paintings of actor Sir Christopher Lee, best known for playing Dracula on film, the world premiere opening party/fundraiser (this Saturday, October 29 at the Blue Tower Gallery at the West End’s Metropolitan Arts Complex) surely qualifies as Atlanta’s most unique Retro-Halloween festivity. It’s not often that one can say they’ve never seen anything like one thing or another. But we can certainly say such about Jimimi’s works. This show will be a one-of-a-kind event.
Mrs. Fowlkes was a quiet, enigmatic presence in Atlanta’s Morningside community, where she lived for decades with her scientist husband Roy. It’s quite likely that most of her neighbors never realized there was a dedicated and talented artist living in their community, because Jimimi (called Mim for short) rarely talked about her work, and even more rarely showed any of it to anyone. She began painting portraits in 1970, first of herself and her sister. Then she tapped into her love of history by composing views of Victorian parliamentarians, and then of Russian icons like Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin. She went on to portray such diverse figures as Thurgood Marshall and Joan of Arc. But in 1978, she launched into a realm that would capture her passion, along with her hungering hands and eyes, nearly exclusively for the next few years.
In the face of the actor Christopher Lee, Mim found a set of features that truly possessed her. In the copious diary entries she penned alongside her paintings, she confessed her fascination with what she came to call her “Enigma”:
“I am resigned to spending this year learning the trade, painting the Enigma until I can do it blindfolded. How I love him! What beauty illuminates the face. Such joy to be permitted to spend my days in contemplating that face.
—J.F., June 6th, 1978
This goes beyond mere fandom; Fowlkes enjoyed seeing Lee in movies, but only so she could study his every move, his very structure. Ultimately, Jimimi Fowlkes painted Sir Christopher’s likeness some 250 times, always in acrylic paint (sometimes mixed with her own blood) and most often on modestly-sized canvases. She at first used promotional stills from his many DRACULA films, filmed by Britain’s Hammer Studios, as her models. But after a while, she was able to paint him in any way she imagined. She’d use brushes for a smoother texture to the works, then discovered working with a knife enabled her to build portraits with a surplus of tactile energy. There’s one painting of Lee as Rasputin (a role he played in 1965’s RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK), and another of the actor as Lord Sommerdale from Robin Hardy’s 1973 film THE WICKER MAN. And there are some portraits that look like straight-up promo shots of the actor. But most are of Lee as Dracula—sometimes disintegrating as sunlight hits his face, sometimes regal and posed, and often with multiple images of the face superimposed impossibly atop one another. To see 175 of these paintings hanging side by side on theBlueTower’s gallery walls is…well, creepily astonishing.
Chalk this phantasm of a show up to Mrs. Fowlkes, yes. But credit must be given also to Giselle Malluche, Mim’s neighbor who was bequeathed the artist’s entire output (over 500 works) after helping Mim through her last years of life. Malluche is now in the process of starting up her own long-dreamed-of charity organization, called Change to Humanity, and she’s hoping Mim’s paintings will act as a springboard for good acts to benefit Atlanta (and the world’s) underprivileged youth. The show she’s curated for October 29—complete with bands, DJs, food, drink and costume contests—has a $35 admittance fee (after 11 pm, the price goes down to $10), and it’s all going to the kids. There’s also a printed collection of the paintings in the works, complete with Jimimi’s diary entries (full disclosure: edited by me); this project, titled MY ENIGMA, should be completed sometime in 2012. Until then, this Halloween show will be your foremost opportunity to see this beyond-unique collection. Don’t miss it.
The Blue Tower Gallery is located at 675 Metropolitan Parkway, in the Metropolitan Arts Complex. The October 29 show also features music by Spaceseed and the Cold Ones, lights by Area 51 and a night of horror films in the Panorama Ray Theater. The cover is $35 ($10 after 11 p.m.), with all proceeds going to Change to Humanity.
Dean Treadway is a longtime Atlanta film analyst and film festival programmer with more than 25 years of published works. His popular film blog is called filmicability with Dean Treadway. He is also a correspondent for Movie Geeks United, the Internet’s #1 movie-related podcast.