The Art of the Outsiders

Collectors of outsider or self-taught art have led the way to preserve and honor this type of art. In fact, most self-taught makers don’t consider themselves artists, creating art out of self-expression to describe their lives, feelings, and beliefs. Vassar Lehman Loeb Art Center currently exhibits the work of self-taught artist Inez Nathaniel Walker, organized by Mary-Kay Lombino, The Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator at Vassar College. The exhibit of drawings shows the progression of the artist’s life beginning when she was in prison, through nearly two decades of life producing over 1000 drawings. The Vassar connection is important in that when Vassar alumni Pat O’Brien Parsons was shown her earliest works, she began collecting and selling Walker’s artwork at her gallery. Vassar now holds over 100 pieces of artworks by self-taught artists donated by O’Brien Parsons, including some by Walker.

Inez Nathaniel Walker first began making drawings and would use whatever scrap paper was available. In the exhibit, a vitrine holds one of her first drawings that was on the back of the mimeographed prison newsletter. The drawing is a profile portrait of a man dressed in a zippered sweater with hands in pockets. The artist spent much time creating the hairstyle with deliberate marks that indicate wavy hair. Many of the drawings use this formulaic style to arrange the composition featuring a portrait of a person centered within the paper and intricate patterns for hairstyles and clothing.

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Inez Nathaniel Walker (American, 1907-1990)
Standing Woman with Raised Arm, 1974
Felt-tip pen, colored pencil and pencil on paper
Bequest of Pat O’Brien Parsons, class of 1951, 2014.16.14

In the drawing, “Standing Woman with Raised Arm,” we can see how the artist first drew the woman’s figure in pencil and then went over the lines with colored pencil and marker. The figure wears a sophisticated striped dress, and her hairstyle is an intricate design of curved lines, the disproportionate size of the hands and feet contrast with the overly large head and eyes. The figure is standing before a background embellished with yellow patterning.

In “Man with Goatee,” Walker records fashionable men’s wear from the 1970s: large cuffs, collars, and wide pants are proudly worn on this figure. Walker spent the time to give this figure an on-trend Afro along with long sideburns, a mustache, and goatee. The clothing has been decorated with an array of curved stripes

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Inez Nathaniel Walker (American, 1907-1990)
Man with Goatee, 1974
Colored pencil and pencil on paper
Bequest of Pat O’Brien Parsons, class of 1951, 2014.16.15

, and the background has three horizontal groupings of unique colored patterns. The figure gazes directly at the viewer as he poses in his finery.

Not all of Walker’s artworks feature a single image – some of the more intriguing drawings have two or more figures engaged in a moment together: scenes depicted include exchanges of money, conversations, or lounging in fanciful surroundings. Walker describes details from a life seen or imagined and puts her vivid pattern imprint on each scene.

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Inez Nathaniel Walker (American, 1907-1990)
Untitled (Two Women at Table), 1974
Pencil, crayon, and felt-tip pen on paper
American Folk Art Museum, gift of Pat O’Brien Parsons, 1996.12.150

Mary-Kay Lombino wrote in her catalog essay: “Her art is made in an unselfconscious way and does not obey the criteria and principles of mainstream art but it is best appreciated for its formal liveliness and the incongruities that grab our attention and make us look more attentively.”


This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy! section March 8, 2019. 

Freehand: Drawings by Inez Nathaniel Walker is on view at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center through April 14, 2019. The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is located on the Vassar campus: 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie.

 

The Art of Pink

February in winter brings us Valentine’s Day, where the color pink is synonymous with love and pleasure. Pink has also symbolized friendship, affection, harmony, and inner peace. In Poughkeepsie, NY, a recently formed artist cooperative, Queen City 15 gallery, exhibited “Tickled Pink” featuring 13 artists exhibiting their own artistic response to this theme. Barbara Masterson served as the juror for this exhibit and exhibits one piece, “Janell,” from her series on migrant farm workers. She wrote in her juror’s statement,

“The tickling pink concept is of enjoyment great enough to make the recipient glow with pleasure.”

Looking through the exhibit, the idea of pleasure is abundant: From

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“Sledding” Carolyn Edlund

Carolyn Edlund’s realistic painting “Sledding,” featuring a child enjoying some blissful time out in the snow, to William Noonan’s lushly painted landscapes of Dogwoods blossoming in the spring. While the color pink is apparent in each of their paintings, each artist uses the color to help viewers recall that pleasure linked to walking in an orchard in spring or sledding in perfect snow.

Carl Grauer exhibits a large painting “Dorothy Ester Francis Judy” featuring Judy Garland in the four phases of her life. As the character Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, she stands to face the reality of her life. The four images of Judy Garland stand in a field of tall poppies and the sky is a fantastical shade of pink.

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Carl Grauer “Dorothy Ester Francis Judy”  

Julia Whitney Barnes exhibits “Bricks and Stones May Break,” featuring a rosy pink sunset over the water in the distance. The wall in the foreground is an intricate composition of bricks and stones, each painted in vibrant rosy hues. The dark silhouette of a tree serves as a point of transition between the wall and the sea and sky.

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“Bricks & Stones May Break” Julia Whitney Barnes

Nansi Lent’s mixed media collage “The Future is Female” represents the female voice with the gestural use of paint, text, and collage. Paola Bari’s work in porcelain tile painting is a traditional women’s craft that this artist has brought to new heights with her intricate designs and perfect surfaces. The final touch of framing them presents them as a venerated object that can be exhibited on the wall.

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Painted porcelain work by Paola Bari
Nansi Lent, __The Future is Female
“The Future is Female” Nansi Lent

Donna Blackwell creates jewelry of gold, silver, and precious stones designed with a modernist flair and in the theme of the month, she has adorned the jewelry case with festive pink bows. The artist describes her jewelry: “All of it is designed with the hope that the wearer will feel pleasure each time it is worn.”

Sculpture is well-represented in this exhibit with the work of Suprina and Undine Brod – before you enter the gallery their artworks are featured in the front windows. Brod’s “Ready but Unable” features a creature tied to a child-sized pink chair, unable to reach the roller skates directly below. Brod’s creatures manage to look charming and menacing at the same time. Suprina exhibits several of her sculptures, including “Seduction.” Suprina utilizes found objects in all of her work, ultimately creating something new. Her works transport us to a world where the imagery is visceral and symbolism speaks quietly with authority.

The original version of this article was published on February 8, 2019, in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy! section.

Gallery 15 featured Tickled Pink on exhibit through February 23, 2019, featuring the work of Donna Blackwell, Undine Brod, Donna Fraser, Carl Grauer, Brenda Harbuger, Carl Karni-Bain, Pam Krimsky, Nansi Lent, William Noonan, Barbara Masterson, Karl Volk, Julia Whitney-Barnes, and Lisa Winika. Gallery 15 is located at 317 Main Street, Poughkeepsie. Gallery contacts: queencity15gallery@gmail.com

The Art of Winter

In the Hudson Valley region, there are a number of nontraditional venues that exhibit work of regional artists. The Moviehouse in Millerton is a fine example of a space that has mounted exhibits that allow artists to show a body of their work to a new audience that appreciates fine-art movies. The recent exhibit, Winter Showcase, provided an opportunity to see work by five regional artists that exhibit their work beyond the Hudson Valley.

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“Hill and Hollow” by Audrey Francis

Audrey Francis exhibited “Hill and Hollow,” an oil painting that captures a beautiful moment of the imagination. The bright yellow background sets the tone with an unlikely gathering of a variety of birds, perhaps symbolizing safety in numbers for a species. The vision of vibrant color paired with beauty from nature is alluring.

In Norm Magnusson’s “Decorating Nature” series of photographs, Magnusson paints on, or colors, pieces of nature. His approach to beauty takes a wry look at nature as the ultimate beauty, but with the possibility that the human hand might make a few improvements.

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From Norm Magnusson’s series, Decorating Nature.

Magnusson states that; “We use nature how we see fit: we strive to bring order to it, we try to make it prettier…more profitable.” Magnusson continues to explore through his artistic practice the complicated aspects of our culture and how it relates to our lives.

Robert Hite is known for his three-dimensional sculptures of shack-like structures, which originally grew out of his paintings. The artist has stated: “There is an organic cross-pollination between painting and other ways in which I work.” In the painting “Birdstack Black,” visitors can see how Hite centers the object in the center of the canvas, similar to how religious portrait painters arrange their sacred subjects. The continuing exploration of the house structure at the bottom of the artwork creates a base for the stylized birds to gather. The image brings to mind the phenomena of birds gathering in one place at sunset.

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Robert Hite, “Birdstack Black”

Nadine Robbins is a portrait painter that depicts her subjects as the genuine humans that they are. Robbins states that in her work she “serves to echo the reality of the American experience, one that is diverse, fluid and multifaceted.” For instance, “Sativa Sunrise” is a realistic portrait of a young woman captured in the prime of womanhood: viewers could imagine that she might be a worker at the neighborhood grocery store or a student at the local university, but her fresh beauty and self-awareness are apparent. Robbins states that her “portrait paintings tell the stories of ordinary people from all walks of life paired with a sense of defiance and irreverence for societal norms regarding gendered ideas of behavior, identity, and sexuality.”

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“Sativa Sunrise” by Nadine Robbins
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“Lost G(LOVE)” by Roxie Johnson

Roxie Johnson exhibited abstract and conceptual work layered with nuances of memory and loss. She states that: “Painting is an avenue through which I explore those innate passions that drive our humanity and lie embedded deep in the heart.” The surface of her work, “Lost G(LOVE)” bring to mind the memories of a night out. Viewers could create their own stories to support the visual clues worked into the painting by the artist; a woman’s lost glove, bits of newspaper, and fragments of textural pieces that create ethereal documentation of a memory.

This article was originally published January 25, 2019, in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy!. 

Winter Showcase: Artists of the Hudson Valley featured the work of Audrey Francis, Robert Hite, Roxie Johnson, Norm Magnusson, and Nadine Robbins through February 5, 2019.

The Moviehouse is located at 48 Main Street, Millerton and features changing exhibits. http://www.themoviehouse.net, email: info@themoviehouse.net, 518-789-0022

The Art of Photography Now

Every year The Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) invites a nationally known curator to create a contemporary photography survey exhibit utilizing their curatorial vision. This year they invited Elizabeth Ferrer, Vice President, Contemporary Art at BRIC, a major New York cultural organization to jury the exhibit Photography Now 2018: Still-Life, representing a variety of styles that contemplate a state of being, or a still-life. In her curator statement, Ferrer wrote: “Still-Life ventures into seemingly distinct territories – the realm of the inanimate, of things, and in tandem, of contemporary lived experience.”

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Rock, 2018; from the series A Place to Disappear by Pablo Lerma

Each of the thirteen artists exhibits several photographs, providing viewers the opportunity to see their vision and approach to photography. For instance, Pablo Lerma approaches his photographic practice by imagining what would happen if humans disappeared from the earth. His photo, Rock, from the series A Place to Disappear, shows rolling green hills, horizontal striations of the earth strewn with rock, where a single large rock becomes the focus of this landscape. Using a similar viewpoint, Cecilia Borgenstam photographed locations within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. These photos showcase the natural beauty of the park alongside the detritus that people left behind. For instance, in Perego Stroller. Red Flowers, viewers will see what was once a luxury baby carriage abandoned beneath the dramatic tree branches.

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Perego stroller. Red flowers, 2017; Archival pigment print by Cecilia Borgenstam 

Artists using the urban landscape for their still-life include Ken Dreyfack, who captures the facades of buildings with dramatic lighting, reminiscent of a movie set. His photography series,

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Rear Entrance, 2015; from the series Silent Stages by Ken Dreyfack 

Silent Stages, is featured in this exhibit and each photo has a narrative quality. Jarod Lew’s works use Detroit’s urban spaces as a stage for the inhabitants to live their lives. Lew’s photo, Belle Isle, is a surprisingly alluring image of a young woman – her direct gaze is softened by a slight smile as she stands in water with the cityscape behind her.

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Belle Isle, 2017; from the series, Maybe I’ll See You There by Jarod Lew
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Jonathan, 2017; from the series The Land of Illustrious Men by Daniel Ramos

Daniel Ramos exhibits four photographs from his series, The Land of Illustrious Men, a family narrative about life experiences between the United States and Mexico detailing vignettes of memory as still-life. As an example, in Self Portrait, 2002, the viewer can experience a room with objects in the artists’ home. A decorative mirror captures a portion of his face as if he is but a small piece of these narratives.

Ferrer also selected photographers using images of people as a way to explore notions of social responsibility. She commented: “Whether in work interrogating social issues or embodying a more philosophical reading of humanity, I am struck by the persistent desire to represent what is real, true, and beloved.” Laurent Chevalier explores self-identity of black men and brings social justice into the conversation. Channell Stone’s photographs strive to reclaim “the Black body as a recognized aspect of humanity.” Soohyun Kim uses traditional family portraiture photography to put faces on families faced with immigration hardships.

This photography survey shows that artists are at the forefront of opening a dialog that validates what is real in their lives from a variety of viewpoints and artistic practices.


This article originally appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal Friday, November 16, 2018. Photography Now 2018: Still-Life was on exhibit through January 13, 2019. Featured artists include Ruth Adams, Keliy Anderson-Staley, Cecilia Borgenstam, Laurent Chevalier, Evan D’Arpino, Ken Dreyfack, Leah Edelman-Brier, Soohyun Kim, Pablo Lerma, Jarod Lew, Daniel Ramos, Niv Rozenberg, and Chanell Stone. 

Artists retain copyright on all photos. 

The Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) is located at 59 Tinker Street, Woodstock, New York 12498.

 

The Art of Cultural Remembrances

When I first learned about the customs around Día de los Muertos I felt surprisingly joyous, even though the holiday is focused on remembering family and friends who are no longer living. Celebrated in Mexico and many other Hispanic cultures, the holiday is similar to the Memorial Day in the United States including rituals around remembrances, stories, and family gatherings.

What better way to remember the quirks and family legends around the grandpa’s love of tequila, or Aunt Maria’s passion for cigarettes? These favorite items are placed on the graves along with bread of the dead, a sweet bread baked with a skull and crossbones into the dough, flowers, and candles.

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Bread of the Dead

img_20171101_1633024552371679130242658.jpgDuring this time, families gather at the cemetery to clean and refurbish grave sites. After the work is done, many will bring food and drink and make a night of celebrating the lives of these important family members. Storytelling and reminiscences play a big part of the gatherings. Copal incense is burned to help guide the spirits of the dead back to the gathering so they may partake in the celebration of remembrance. Markets are filled with Marigolds or cempasuchitl (flower of the dead), which are much taller and bigger flowers than the Marigolds seen in most gardens, which are purchased to decorate the graves. The flowers add color and scent to the altars, to guide the dead back to celebrate with friends and family.

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Decorated graves in a cemetery outside of Cuernavaca.

IMG_20171101_162442.jpg  El Día de los Muertos is recognized across the entire community with altars to remember those passed, not only in homes but in stores, local plazas and community centers. The altars are creative and personal: sugar skulls are embellished with colorful frosting spelling out the names of the remembered sit alongside photos of the remembered, festooned with papel picado, cut paper banners.

 

If you are interested in seeing more about this beautiful cultural celebration, there is a 1957 film by Charles and Ray Eames that shows more about Día de los Muertos through its icons and artifacts. http://www.openculture.com/2014/10/charles-ray-eames-short-film-on-the-mexican-day-of-the-dead-1957.html

 

Documenting the Art of American Roots Music

During October, music photographers who have captured the essence of musicians from acoustic traditions exhibited their work in American Roots Music at The Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York. Roots music, also commonly called folk music in the United States, are musical forms created without the use of synthesizers and electronics, incorporating early blues, country, folk, rhythm and blues. Music journalist Frank Matheis organized and curated the American Roots Music exhibit inviting twelve prominent and internationally renowned music photographers in this exhibit of black and white fine art photography.

We are all familiar with the folk music tradition led by world renown king of folk music, Pete Seeger. Fine art photographer and artist, Bibiana Huang Matheis, captured images of Seeger in concert and at his home. In the photo on display, Huang Matheis caught the moment when Seeger has one hand on his beloved banjo and one arm outstretched to the audience. Seeger’s expressive face is framed against the inky black background, capturing him in song.

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Pete Seeger in concert by Bibiana Huang Matheis. (2008) 

Bill Steber has documented blues culture in Mississippi for the last 20 years, chronicling the state’s blues musicians and traditions that gave birth to or influenced the blues. Steber’s documentary photography of guitar evangelist Flora Fluker perfectly captures her intense singing style.

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Bill Steber captured Guitar Evangelist Cora Fluker in Marion, Mississippi. (1996)

Many of the photographers that document the musicians also make music. Bill Steber performs with several bands and John Rocklin is the co-founder of the Honesdale Roots & Rhythm Festival, sings and plays guitar in several bands. Rocklin’s involvement with music started at a young age when his father took him to Washington Square Park exposing him to music. “I stood right next to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.” Rocklin met and soon became friends with Little Sammy Davis, a blues harmonica legend. Inspired by his photographs of the musician, he pursued art photography and went on to capturing music legends such as B.B. King, Johnny Winter, and Odetta.5 LitteSammyDavisbyJohnRocklin

Douglas Baz is a freelance and fine art photographer residing in Dutchess County. The images in this exhibition are from a documentary project that he and Charles Traub photographed in Cajun Louisiana in 1974. A large exhibition and book of this work will be exhibited at the Historic New Orleans Collection Museum during 2019.

George Mitchell and Axel Küstner used a documentary approach to capture photography and field recordings of blues musicians; similar to a folklorists’ approach to documentation. Mitchell’s photo of Jesse Mae Hemphill on her porch shows that music was an everyday part of life. Axel Küstner is known as one of Europe’s blues experts. Küstner’s 1980 photo of Flora Molton sitting on a Washington D.C. corner performing to passerby depicts the essence of roots music – it is by the people and for the people.

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Flora Molton performing in Washington D.C., (1980) photographer Axel Küstner

The late Myron Samuels was a serious blues fan and photographer. Samuels was also a street musician playing blues harp at Portland, Maine area venues and farmers markets. His work in this posthumous exhibit includes photographs of Etta Baker, Ted Bogan, and John Cephas.


This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy!, October 5, 2018. American Roots Music was on display at The Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street, Beacon, New York;  October 6-28, 2018.