The artist Luther Hampton sits at a table next to the bar at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale, drawing his own face on the sketch book in front of him. When someone sits down across from him, after an exchange of pleasantries, he asks for more coffee, turns the page and says he’s one of the “fastest sketch artists in America” – he can draw the visitor’s face before the server returns with his coffee. He does, and it’s a good likeness.
But Luther Hampton’s niche in the tourist trade on Beale doesn’t describe his significance as an artist. A few blocks west of B.B. King’s, at the Tops Gallery – a dazzling, small art space in what used to be a basement coal-storage room near Front Street – there’s a revelatory collection of Hampton’s work as a sculptor.