Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NYT article on outsider artists

Communicating Across Barriers Few Could Imagine

Ricco/Maresca Gallery

Judith Scott, who had Down syndrome and spent much of her life institutionalized, began creating yarn sculptures like this untitled one from the late 1980s at the Creative Growth Art Center in the Bay Area. More Photos >

Published: April 16, 2009

JUDITH SCOTT couldn’t hear or speak, yet she found a language with which to describe her inner world. Hawkins Bolden couldn’t see, yet his statues stare at you with haunted eyes. And both Royal Robertson and Ike Morgan, isolated by mental illness, communicated through paintings what they couldn’t express any other way.

Continue reading

Darin Murano

Scott Ogden, whose film about the four artists is screening on Saturdays at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery. More Photos »

These four artists, whose lives and work are the subject of a new documentary, “Make,” which is screening on Saturday evenings at 6 through May 2 at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in Chelsea, belong to a category that some call outsider or self-taught artists, although these are terms that the film studiously avoids. Certainly all of them lived and made their art outside mainstream society, and Mr. Morgan, who is still living, continues to do so. But, as Frank Maresca, one of the owners of the gallery, which is also showing a group exhibition of the four artists, said, it is not their disabilities or their harrowing stories that make their work interesting.

“All of these people were born with a gift,” Mr. Maresca said, “and it was through their situations that the gift grew the way that it did.”

Their situations were extreme, to say the least. Ms. Scott — who is the most established of the four, having had museum shows and been the subject of a book, as well as another film — was born with severe Down syndrome in 1943. Her twin sister, Joyce, was developmentally normal, and as children they were inseparable. But when they were 7, their parents sent Judith to an institution, where she remained for 35 years, so isolated that for a long time her sister didn’t know if she was alive.

In the 1980s Joyce Scott located her sister, moved her to the Bay Area, where Joyce lived, and enrolled her in a workshop for artists with disabilities called the Creative Growth Art Center. There, after showing no interest in the paints that were offered her, Judith suddenly, with no prompting, began to create strange, cocoonlike sculptures by wrapping found objects in layers and layers of multicolored yarn. She continued making these, in many variations, until she died in 2005.

A psychologist interviewed in “Make” speculates that the sculptures, which sometimes take on anthropomorphic shapes, represent memories of her childhood bond to her sister. That no one knows for sure lends her work — as with all the exhibition — an air of mystery.

To Mr. Bolden, who was blind from the age of 7 or 8 as the result of an accident, the tribal-looking sculptures that he created out of old pots, discarded kitchen equipment, pieces of carpet and other detritus found around his Memphis neighborhood were scarecrows to keep birds away from his vegetable garden.

“I think it brought him a really intense joy to scare the birds,” one of the filmmakers, Scott Ogden, said of Mr. Bolden, who was over 90 when he died in 2005. But as for whether he considered these figures art, Mr. Ogden said, “I think he didn’t even understand the question.”

Mr. Robertson, who lived in extreme poverty in Baldwin, La., and died in 1997, didn’t consider his paintings, depicting alien landings and apocalyptic disasters, art either, but a form of prophecy.

Only Mr. Morgan, whose colorful, impressionistic paintings are based on pictures in books or album covers, thinks of his work as art. Yet he also sees it as a job, the only one he had in the 25 years he spent in the Austin State Hospital being treated for schizophrenia. (He was released several years ago.) “It’s given him a sense of purpose,” Mr. Ogden said. “He spends every waking minute making art.”

For Mr. Ogden, 35, an artist who lives in Brooklyn and shows his work at Ricco/Maresca while supporting himself primarily as an art handler, “Make” is the product of a more than decade-long obsession. He was a student at the University of Texas at Austin when he encountered the work of Mr. Bolden, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Morgan at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Tex. “I just got blown away,” said Mr. Ogden, who with his baby face and few days’ stubble looks as if he should be in an indie rock band. “This stuff looked so different from what I was seeing in art school.”

No comments: