Temptations & Highlights: A Sneak Peek at the Intuit Show of Folk & Outsider Art

  • CHICAGO, Illinois
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  • November 01, 2010

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Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee not liking wind they hasten nudely to find shelter as storm comes on again. Carbon transfer, watercolor on paper, 19 x 82" c. 1940-50. Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago IL © Kiyoko Lerner

Henry Darger (1882-1973) from Chicago was a custodian and attended church regularly but lived a reclusive personal life. His astonishing work was discovered after his death and includes a 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. Carl Hammer of Carl Hammer Gallery (Chicago) reports he will have a 10 ft, double-sided work by Darger on offer at the Chicago Intuit Show of Folk & Outsider Art, Nov. 5-7, 2010, at the Navy Pier's Festival Hall.

Hammer continues, "This work is very hard to get now. The estate from which it came has very few of these works available to be sold. The piece I will be showing at the art fair is priced at $205,000. When I began working with the estate, the same piece would have been valued at $20,000." 

Detail of Bill Traylor, Man and Cat on Organic Form. Just Folk, Summerland, CA.

Hammer also represents Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983), an American outsider artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His versatile body of work includes over a thousand colorful apocalyptic landscape paintings, hundreds of sculptures made from chicken bones, ceramic and cast cement; pin-up style photos of his wife, Marie, plus dozens of notebooks filled with poetic and scientific musings.

Ricco/Maresca Gallery (New York) represents the estate of Martín Ramíirez (1895-1963), the renowned self-taught Mexican-American master, who Roberta Smith of The New York Times referred to as "...simply one of the greatest artists of the 20th century ." Born in rural Mexico and unable to speak English, Ramirez was diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic and confined to California state hospitals until his death. The gallery reports, "In 2007, a cache of some 130 previously unknown drawings were brought to light when they were discovered in a garage in California. This astonishing find was a result of a 2007 retrospective of the artist at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Ramirez's work was virtually unobtainable until this new body of work was discovered, (which) has significantly appreciated in value over time." Ricco/Maresca also presents work by Adolf Wölfli (1864 -1930), a Swiss artist who was one of the first to be associated with the Art Brut or Outsider Art label. His images incorporated an idiosyncratic musical notation, which seemed to start as a purely decorative affair but later developed into real composition which Wölfli would play on a paper trumpet.

Eugene Andolsek, Untitled (300), ink on paper. American Primitive Gallery, New York NY

William "Bill" Traylor (c.1854 -1949), a self-taught artist born into slavery in Alabama who moved to Montgomery in 1939, where he slept in the back room of a funeral home and in a shoemaker's shop.  During the day, he sat on the sidewalk and drew, creating most of his works between the ages of 83 and 85. Just Folk (Summerland, CA) reports that "last year we acquired a collection of 28 works by the renowned African American artist which have been in Europe for the past 18 years...Traylor only produced between 1200-1400 works and the ones we will offer have not been seen in the United States for at least a decade. They are among the strongest of Traylor's work." The gallery also reports that several will feature Traylor's signature 'Traylor Blue:' "Paintings in this color are among the most collectible and valued of his works, which continue to increase in value and recognition and often command six figure prices." Judy A. Saslow Gallery (Chicago), Hill Gallery (Birmingham, MI) and Pardee Collection (Iowa City, IA) will also offer works by Traylor at the fair.

Russell Bowman Art Advisory (Chicago) represents Carlo Zinelli (1916 -1974), a schizophrenic from Italy who was committed to psychiatric hospitals all his adult life. Zinelli drew for eight hours a day with tempera paints and colored pencils. His body of work comprises about nineteen hundred paintings and a few sculptures. The paintings are created on white sheets, and from 1962 to 1968 are two-sided, the latter comprising a continuous single narrative, frequently repeating figures (often with holes to represent eyes or other features) to cover the entire background in "horror vacui" style. By 1964, his work had been exhibited, and he had attracted the attention of art historians associated with Jean Dubuffet and the Compagnie de l'Art Brut. Russell Bowman also represents Mose Tolliver (c.1918-2006) of Montgomery, Alabama or "Mose T.", as he signed all his paintings, who worked menial jobs to support his own growing family, but an ill-fated job in a furniture factory in the late 1960s resulted in his legs being crushed. Tolliver's painting ended a period of inertia, depression, and drinking for him. In the great Southern African American tradition of yard art, Tolliver began displaying his paintings outside his Montgomery home, initially offering them for sale at one dollar each.

Judy A. Saslow Gallery (Chicago) also represents Carlo Zinelli, and Michel Nedjar (b. 1947) who first achieved renown for his fetish dolls made of found materials, which at first were colorful and comical, but soon became somber, unkempt and fearsome; some took the form of morbid totems saturated in mud and blood. Jean Dubuffet, finding his work "horrifyingly tragic," contacted and encouraged him. Nedjar's dolls are permanently featured in Dubuffet's Collection d'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. Nedjar later became a co-founder of the L'Aracine Collection of Art Brut. In 1980 he began to draw. Animal and bird figures, and the human face reduced to an owl-like mask, are constant motifs. Whether in two or three dimensions, his expressions remain true to a fundamental vision of the fragility of human identity, and of the sufferings of the downtrodden and dislocated victims of modern history. His is a disquieting pursuit of human traces, which sometimes insists on the monstrous, and the horrific. At other times, his imagery takes on a transcendent eloquence, manifesting something of the aura-like poise of ancient religious art.

In the 1970's and '80's, hundreds of Chicagoans bought paintings from Lee Godie (1908-1994), a bag lady who proclaimed herself Lee Godie - French Impressionist, noting how she was "much better than Cezanne."  Born in Chicago and thrice married with children, the actual facts of her life remain a mystery. She drew with an ink pen and sometimes colored the images, using recycled materials long before it was popular. In the beginning, she created many of her works on canvas window shades (drawing images on both sides of the shade), not because recycling was popular, but because they were cheap and easy to find. Carl Hammer Gallery, Harvey Art & Antiques both of Chicago, and Outsider Folk Art Gallery (Reading, PA) will offer Godie works at the fair.

Joseph Yoakum (1880 -1972) from Chicago's South Side was a self-taught artist of African American and Native and American descent who traveled with the circus in his younger years. Heavily influence by the nomadic lifestyle of circus folk, Yoakum blended the places he visited with landscapes of his imagination, producing over 2000 drawings during the last decade of his life. Unlike some celebrated self-taught artists, Yoakum enjoyed a measure of success and attention for his art while he was alive, often visited by Chicago artists who would become known as Hairy Who and the Imagists. Harvey Art & Antiques (Evanston, IL) mounted the first exhibit of Yoakum's drawings in 1967-68 and reports he will have key Yoakum pieces on offer at the Intuit fair including an 11" x 17" drawing in the $16,000 - 18,000 range.

American Primitive Gallery (New York) will represent Eugene Andolsek (1921- 2008), who lived and cared for his mother and who for fifty years had a secret life creating drawings with vibrant colors and linear complexity in the evenings after his much disliked and stressful stenographer job. Working at his kitchen table on graph paper with a compass and straight edge, he laid out black lines and geometries, filling in spaces with colored inks mixed with eye droppers to achieve dazzling compositions. His drawings would likely have remained unknown had they not been brought to the attention of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh by his caregiver at a retirement home.  Andolsek was one of five artists included in the 2006 Obsessive Drawing exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum, New York. American Primitive also presents work by Raymond Materson (b. 1954), a self-taught artist known for his miniature pictures sewn from threads of unraveled socks.

Hill Gallery (Birmingham, MI) represents the work of self-taught artist, R.K. Cook (b. 1892) in Bay City, Michigan who worked at the Ford Motor Company for 42 years. The gallery reports, "Cook began carving actively in his spare time during the 1920's. After a work related accident in the 1950's, he retired and spent all of his time with his carving passion. Inspired by photographs in the Sunday newspapers, old copies of National Geographic and Life magazine, he explored historical scenes and objects using a jackknife, a drill and a chisel. His 'Sarcophagus,' probably inspired by the opening of the "King Tut" tomb, is obsessively carved on the outside and inside. The Tutankhamen figure is carved and painted in a stylized reductive manner, surrounded by inset jewels, a complex tableau of exotic animals (elephant, lion, tiger, camel) around the base, and large stocking-footed feet supporting the form. The interior lid is carved with a full figure of the young emperor, with full regalia, including a cameo view of a pyramid and a phoenix. Tufted red fabric lines the interior, like the best casket of contemporary times."

Marion Harris (New York) will represent Morton Bartlett (1903-1992), a self-taught artist and photographer who was an orphan, never married and lived alone all his life. Bartlett first began to make his signature dolls in 1936 and over the following 25 years, carved and dressed numerous sculpted dolls (about 15 have survived, one selling at auction in 2008 for $110,000), and created a photographic record of them which amounts to about 200 monochrome photographic prints and 17 color slides. The dolls and photographs were found after his death and have been widely published and exhibited. Marion Harris also presents the amazingly detailed cars of cardboard and found objects by Andrei Palmer (b. 1987), an abused Romanian orphan who suffers from post-institutionalization trauma, a disorder on the autistic spectrum. The realistically painted vehicles include a 1965 Chevy Camaro, a 1978 Cadillac DeVille, a 1985 yellow school bus and a cement mixer, some with working headlights!

Packer Schopf Gallery (Chicago) will present The Cowboy Constructions of Harry Young, Circa 1930-1950. The gallery reports, "The Harry Young collection includes hundreds of handmade figures on cardboard that were found in a large wooden box with "Harry Young, 38 Inkerman, St. Thomas, ON" scratched on the inside. The box includes over 350 cardboard figures of cowboys, lawmen and horses. The vast majority are hand drawn. There are a handful of figures that have "collage" faces, cut from newspaper ads for cowboy movies. The box also contains a lot of other miscellaneous items, including a wearable Marshall's badge and a small, handwritten book of "laws," which establishes rules for cowboy life, morality and justice. This work is an amazing outsider art discovery. We will have formal framed pieces, along with various ephemera from the complete collection. The work visually looks like a mix between Henry Darger and James Castle, with a leaning towards the Wild West."

Purvis Young (1843-1910) whose hometown neighborhood of Overtown-once commonly called 'Colored Town'-in Miami, FL provided inspiration, raw material, and audience for his constructed paintings with their ecstatic, rhythmic surfaces. He used discarded objects as canvases, including doors, cardboard, and pieces of wood. Young often stated that he turned his life around through art, after serving a prison term in the mid-1960s. Outsider Folk Art Gallery (Reading, PA) represents Young and also Thorton Dial from Alabama (b. 1928) whose portraiture, animal figuration, and abstraction are recurring motifs in his evocatively titled drawings and assemblages, Dial was included in the 1998 Whitney Biennial and today his large-scale assemblages sell for over $100,000. Outsider Folk Art also presents work by Chicago artist William Dawson (b.1901 Huntsville, AL, d. 1990, Chicago,IL, whose acrylic paintings and sculptured pieces of boldly colored figural forms, were exhibited at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute, as well as the Chicago Cultural Center.  In 1982, he was among 20 artists honored in "Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980," in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and in Chicago's Museum of Natural History.  

Gilley's Gallery (Baton Rouge, LA) represents Clementine Hunter (1886-1988), of Natchitoches, Louisiana, known for her immediately recognizable painterly style and her frank, economical descriptions of everyday African American plantation life in Louisiana; one of the recognized stars of Southern African-American yard art, David Butler (1898-1997), who, over the course of several decades,installed a fantastic tin zoological environment on and outside his home in Patterson; and Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), a legendary figure of the French Quarter of New Orleans, renowned for her diminutive but ecstatic paintings of biblical and personal divine revelation, inscribed in text and illustrated in images.  Morgan will also be represented by Carl Hammer Gallery and Russell Bowman (both of Chicago).

Known for presenting New England-based programs as well as founding galleries/studio art programs in New York, Brooklyn and Connecticut for artists with disabilities, Margaret Bodell (New York) will present a blend of street inspired work by young artists from progressive programs, in addition to established artists.  She represents feature drawings, paintings, textiles, and 'upcycled' art (made from recycled materials) from within the CT prison art program, including Jesus Rios' sculptures made of orange juice containers, saltine boxes, tooth paste and any other materials available in prison, interlocking each piece to create boots, bags, chandeliers, and cars. Also Vito Bonnano, Winner of the Volkswagen Accelerate Award (for new talent), a 26 year old artist whose style melds graffiti tags with overlays of street grids and stoplights. His unique crossover style fuses street iconography with obsessive autistic ordering.  Bodell will also represent Bill McDonnell, a 23 year old who resides in Providence, RI, an artist with RHD-RI Second Sight, a non-profit human services agency that serves people with disabilities.

In addition to William Traylor, The Pardee Collection (Iowa City, IA) presents works by Emitte Hych and Jim Work Emitte Hych (1909-2009), originally from rural Mississippi, spent his early years working as a share cropper picking cotton. In the 1940's he moved North to join a sister and worked as a cook chef. After retiring in his 70's, Emitte began drawing and painting animals, people and every day scenes in bold primary colors. Work is a developmentally disabled artist whose large scale drawings (ranging from 4 to 250 feet in length!) depict the American highway system and vernacular architecture--typical structures of rural communities include  barns, windmills, water towers and one or two story brick buildings. Pardee says, "Work creates a seemingly endless and elaborate maze of overpasses and underpasses interspersed with small villages scattered along the way."

Lindsay Gallery (Columbus,OH) will represent Karl Mullen (b. 1954) born in Dublin, Ireland who now resides in Pennsylvania, where he began his career as a painter. The gallery reports, "With no formal training, Mullen has developed a unique vocabulary, process and variety of material-anything and everything is his canvas, from paper to automobile hoods, toilet paper, discarded jewelry cards, receipts, coffee cups, parking tickets, milk cartons, old books, bibles, movie stubs, business cards, paper napkins and US army bandages. His paint is raw powder pigments, walnut oil and wax medium-painted with his hands; his creativity and energy have no boundaries." Mullen is also a Grammy-Award winning songwriter and musician!  Lindsay Gallery will also represent Kentucky artist LaVon Van Williams, Jr., (b. 1958) a fifth-generation woodcarver whose carvings are presently in a touring exhibition. Williams depicts scenes of life in the urban, African American community, and his love of music infuses his colorful carvings with vibrant life. Duff Lindsay reports that Van Williams is carving a new work especially for the Intuit fair!

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