Warmack was born and raised in Chicago, the third of nine children. He was always a creative child who reported that his bedroom was so filled with art that he frequently slept under the kitchen table. Since creativity was so valued and fostered in their home, he received an abundance of encouragement from his mother, Margaret. Warmack's first commissions were from the New Star Bethlehem Baptist Church, where his mother sang in the gospel choir and which became integral to his family's spiritual and social life.
Victimized by a mugging in 1978, Warmack was shot in the stomach at point blank range and left to die on the street. During the surgery that would save his life, he had an out of body experience, traveling through time and seeing ancient civilizations which afforded him the vision he employed to create his unique, flamboyant, eclectic style of art.
Warmack survived surgery to remain comatose long enough to cement the visions he had seen:
“I went back in time and saw myself as an African king. I was reborn as Mr. Imagination and I make art that reflects my ancient tribal position in life,” quoted Mr. I to Orange Hill Art, Inc.
Around 1980 Warmack began to call himself “Mr. Imagination,” or “Mr. I.” With this new identity, his art took on a distinctly different vibe than it had before.
This new style leaned heavily on found objects and discarded items whose beauty was quickly obvious to Mr. Imagination's honed eye.
His art took many shapes, from decked-out feather dusters and paint brushes to his outdoor embedded concrete sculptures-- which he dubbed “grottoes,” all are infused with his unique vision expressing vibrancy and brimming with life.
Jeanine Taylor Folk Art and The Gallery on First are staples of Sanford's downtown art scene. When the building's owners were looking to revamp the facade, their first thought was of Mr. I and his distinct style. The transformation took three weeks during July 2007 and the community came out to support the façade’s renaissance.
Folks were invited to bring artifacts to add to Mr. I's vision where they remain today.
Jeanine Taylor Folk Art Gallery Manager Mary Shaw said, “So many people came to put things into the wall; every element of society--black, white, young, old-- came to contribute to making the wall. It was such a positive contribution to the community.”
Owner Jeanine Taylor said, “We are so fortunate to have that Memory Wall in Sanford. When he started working, we never dreamed that it would be one of his last pieces... I feel how fortunate we are to have this installation. He did things all over the world.”
Taylor went on to fondly recall the time that Mr. I spent in residence, staying in the suite over her gallery reserved for visiting artists.
“He reminds me of a little leprechaun: people follow him around, just flock to him. They're attracted to him. It was very, very gratifying to see how people got involved in the project. I think that everyone understood what a kind and generous soul he was,” said Tayor. “He was one of a kind. He never met a stranger, never doubted that he could do something. If he dreamed it, he made it.”
Mr. Imagination's funeral was reported to have attendees from all around the world. His work remains in the permanent collections of the Terra Museum of Art in Chicago, the American Folk art Museum in New York; it is also in a traveling exhibit with the Smithsonian Institution and his grottoes stand as tributes to his life and art in Atlanta, Chicago, and of course Sanford.
Jessica Pirani can be reached at JessieBerger@yahoo.com.