Messenger photos by John Matuszak
Michael Banks’ "As They Come," a painting using tar and oil on wood panel, is one of the examples of "outsider art" on exhibit at the Schumacher Gallery’s "Beyond Boundaries: Self-Taught Artists," on display through Feb. 15. The artists employ unusual materials to express their unique visions developed without the influence of formal training. The exhibit is being presented in conjunction with Art Access Gallery of Bexley.
It’s sometimes called folk art, or outsider art. The French call it art brut, or raw art.
Its practitioners work outside the influence of art schools or galleries, using the materials at hand – from mud and metal to sticks and bones – and their own inspiration.
Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery will present an exhibition of work by these mavericks in "Beyond Boundaries: Selt-Taught Artists," now through Feb. 13.
The exhibit has been organized in cooperation with Art Access Gallery in Bexley, which has long championed these non-traditional artists.
"The work is produced from the enjoyment of producing art, from the pure joy of creativity," commented Gail Burkart of Art Access.
Cassandra Tellier, director of the Schumacher Gallery, also perceives "a sense of joy" and freedom in the works, "and a lot of humor."
Other works, such the paintings of Michael Banks, have an "edginess," she added, speaking to an existence that is sometimes a difficult struggle.
Art Access had submitted some of the pieces for Schumacher’s "Dealer’s Choice" sampling of local gallery offerings, but they didn’t fit with the traditional works. But Tellier was intrigued enough to plan for the gallery’s first showing of outsider art.
Many of the artists are African-American, and others are Appalachian, according to Tellier.
"Before the Depression, all African-American art was outsider art," Tellier said, with blacks excluded from galleries and formal training.
That ended temporarily when Franklin Roosevelt insisted on equal access and pay for all artists, regardless of race, employed through the Works Progress Administration.
The door slammed shut again after World War II, but many of the African-American artists entered teaching to pass along their knowledge, Tellier said.
The folk art world is thriving as never before.
Burkart travels once a year to the Kentuck Festival in Alabama, where many of the artists gather to reunite and sell their wares.
"It’s in a big field, and people line up at 6 in the morning to get in," Burkart said of the event that has grown in popularity over the last 10 years.
Many of their works have been included in New York City’s American Folk Art Museum and other public and private collections in the United States and Europe.
Despite the increasing contact with the larger art world, most of the artists remain unspoiled by such outside influences, retaining what makes them unique, Burkart has found.
The artists include Woodie Long, 65, the son of sharecroppers who worked as a housepainter for 25 years. He began producing his own paintings 19 years ago, picking up his wife’s brushes during a lull in employment.
He has since sold more than 7,600 paintings, and his patrons have included Tommy lee Jones and Johnny Cash.
Like many of the artists, Long selects his subjects from childhood memories and the rural community around him.
Such paintings as "Fishermen" have a feeling of motion about them, Tellier pointed out.
|Jimmie Lee Sudduth, born in Fayette County, Ala., in 1910, painted from the age of 7, using syrup from the mill where his parntes worked, along with mud, grass and berries to create portraits of rural scenes and his dog, Toto. Sudduth passed away last year.|
Jimmie Lee Sudduth was another festival mainstay, before his death last year at 97. His life as an artist began at age 7, when he smeared mud and honey on a tree stump to make a picture, and noticed that it did not wash away in the rain.
In addition to the 36 kinds of mud Sudduth found around his house, he added grass and berries for color.
Common subjects included trains, houses, alligators, and his dog, Toto.
"Jimmie Lee has the same joy in each stroke he had years ago," his friend Woodie Long commented in a Smithsonian magazine article.
Bernice Sims is another artist whose paintings have a narrative quality, Tellier noted, and are reminiscent of the murals of Aminah Robinson.
Sims renders scenes of daily life, and events she observed as a civil rights activist, such as the crossing of the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
"Mostly I’m conveying the history of blacks, the things we’re accustomed to," Sims explained in one article. "I paint the civil rights pictures because I like to keep it alive. There are some things my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren should know about. And since I can’t do any writing, I tell the story in my paintings."
One of the best-known folk artists represented is William Hawkins. Born in 1895 in Kentucky, Hawkins had a thrid-grade education and made his living through farming, trapping, breaking horses, driving trucks, even managing a flophouse.
He didn’t start painting until around 1978, and produced the drawings on display in the last 12 years of his life. He passed away in 1990.
Tiffany Owensby creates figures such as "The Lovers," confined in a violin case, with papier mache made from sewing patterns that bear the logo that best speaks to the appeal of the outsider art – simplicity.
It is a simplicity that more traditionally trained artists, such as Picasso and Gaugin, sought to emulate, Tellier noted.
The outsider artists are already where their more learned peers are trying to arrive, Burkart conceded.
The Schumacher Gallery, which includes an extensive permanent collection of European, American, Asian, African and Inuit art, is located on the fourth floor of the Blackmore Library. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m., during the school year. Admission is free.
Capital’s MLK Day of Learning issues "A Call for Justice"
Capital University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Learning Jan. 21 will issue "A Call for Social Justice" with a daylong series of workshops and special events to honor the memory of the slain civil rights leader.
The annual day of learning will be held in classrooms and lecture halls throughout the Bexley campus, located at 1 College and Main.
Workshop topics include "Health Disparities in Ethnic and Racial Minorities," "Resisting Oppression: The Meaning of Laughter in the Midst of Suffering," "Modern Activism" and "Risk Your Life for a Change: A Story of Starting a Shelter for the Rural Homeless."
Howard University law professor and author Harold A. McDougall will deliver the keynote address in Mees Hall. A community gathering will be held at 8:30 a.m. in Schneider Lounge, located in the Harry C. Moores Campus Center. The procession to Mees Hall will follow at 8:45 a.m., and Convocation will begin at 9 a.m.
McDougall was a civil rights organizer and voter registration worker in his early years and served the NAACP from 1994 to 1997, first as vice president of a local branch, then as National Legislative Director, operating out of the Washington Bureau. He was elected to the National Governing Board of Common Cause in June 1997 and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of the West Indies in 1999. He has worked as a consultant for the Kellogg, Kettering and Village foundations.
A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, McDougall has been a law teacher since 1975, lecturing and publishing in the areas of urban social and economic development, civil rights, and the workings of state, local, and federal government.
His book, "Black Baltimore: A New Theory of Community" (Temple University Press 1993), ties these themes together under the rubric of "civil society," the focus of much of his current consulting and public speaking.
His latest venture is the development of an "Invisible College" to provide mentoring and counseling for the progressive movement’s next generation of leadership.
Workshops will run from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Ongoing events will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in various locations on campus. They include children’s activities, The Schumacher Gallery exhibition, "Beyond Boundaries," and the Love Luggage service project.
Special events will run from 1-4 p.m. and include a concert by Capital University’s gospel choir and a showing of the Michael Moore film "Sicko."
A special jazz luncheon featuring Bob Breithaupt, Dave Powers and Gene Walker will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Capital Court (Main Dining Room), located in the campus center. Tickets are $11 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Tickets will be on sale in the post office lobby of the campus center. All other events are free and open to the public.
For the complete schedule of events, including time, location and facilitator information, visit www.capital.edu/MLK-day.