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.
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
, 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.
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.