Last month The Outsider Art Fair celebrated its 25th anniversary. Although it might seem as if outsider art is now mainstream and that a fair devoted to this genre – encompassing art brut, folk art, visionary art, self-taught art – would now be outmoded, this edition proved once again why the fair has staying power. Here are some of my favorites. There were many others.
Gilley’s Gallery, Baton Rouge, LA, showed Melrose Plantation Quilt, made in 1970 by Clementine Hunter (1886-1988), one of Louisiana’s most famous female artists. The quilt is named after the plantation – and artist colony – where she lived and worked for many years first as a farm hand, then in the house. A self-taught artist, she started quilting in her 40‘s and painting in her 50’s, documenting life on the plantation.
Nearby was a special display of the quilts by women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a small, rural town whose inhabitants are mostly descendants of slaves who worked on the Pettway plantation. They use recycled clothing, feed sacks and fabric remnants to create unique quilted masterpieces, which have been shown in museums across the U.S. (A portion of the proceeds from the sales of these quilts were donated to God’s Love We Deliver)
Pardee Collection, Iowa City, IA, featured work by Oliver Williams (b. 1946), now a retired draftsman, who has been painting for fifty years. Many of his images are inspired by dreams and old family photographs, or memories of his rural childhood. I was attracted by the intensity of his palette, and how straightforward his images are (although I do wonder about that baby…)
I always stop by Fountain House Gallery’s booth, not only because of their programs for people with mental illness, but also because the work of their artists stands on its own. I especially like Alyson Vega’s Beach Quilt, made from sewn paper, sand, and paint. When I commented on it’s geometric qualities, the gallerist told me that Ms. Vega had been a math teacher! Often her images are cut from magazines and math text books. Her teaching career ended after 22 years, when she had surgery for a brain tumor. That’s when she began making fibre art.
Galérie des Nanas, Danville, Canada, displayed this magnificent hand-made coat by Danielle Jacqui, an 83 year-old artist who lives in Provence, where every inch of her house, both inside and outside, is covered with her art, and is known as “The House of She Who Paints.”
Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY (which also owns the fair) exhibited several ink and pastel works by Domenic Zindato, an Italian artist who lives in Mexico. The artist uses nibs and fine haired brushes to create extremely elaborately patterns, that only reveal themselves close up, giving his work an affinity with aboriginal art. I especially liked his sense of color.
Webb Gallery, Waxahachie, TX, exhibited a wonderful tapestry of string and yarn by Robert Adale Davis. The fluorescent colors and complex, layered, obsessive stitching, combined with Insular-like images of people and animals (think Book of Kells), set against patterned backgrounds give it an other-worldly feel. I was not surprised to learn that the artist researches the physics of vibrations.
Cavin-Morris, New York, NY, displayed a fabulous mixed media collage, New York, by Dutch artist Herman Bossert, who unfortunately died two days before the fair opened. This is one of many works Bossert made using ink and watercolor with a semi-automatic scratching technique, to create different drawings (often of different sizes) which were then placed next to each other. The cars, buildings and highways seem to spill off each of the drawings,creating the impression of gigantic metropolises. Even though Bossert had never been to New York, he certainly captured its energy.
Brooklyn-based Cathouse Proper’s booth was again composed solely of the works of Daniel Swanigan Snow, whose career as an actor infuses his mixed media assemblages that are created from found objects such as broken toys, car parts, discarded appliances, antique tools and hardware, and often incorporate flashing lights and/or video. While they address serious topics, they’re often infused with humor.