Art Brut III

 

Minnie-Evans-Untitled
Minnie-Evans-Untitled

In this third installment in the occasional series Art Brut (for further information please refer to the previous posts Art Brut and Art Brut II) I am concentrating on four extraordinary 20th Century African-American artists from the Southern States of the US.  Each artist concerns and insights are very different from one another, but they do share some of the overriding attributes common to art brut ; notably the urgent necessity to create, an obsessional desire to give shape and form to the inner realms of experience and vision as well as being late starters, who then prolifically produced exceptional works in a white hot blaze of inspiration.

Minnie Evans

Minnie Evans worked for most of her long life (she died in 1987 at the age of 95) as a domestic and gatekeeper at the Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina. On Good Friday 1935 Evans heard a voice say, “Why don’t you draw or die?” so she completed her first drawing that day. However it would another five years before Evans begun drawing again but she never stopped afterwards. Initially Evans used crayons and wax then oils and mixed media collage. Characterised by religious imagery, lush psychedelic colours with faces and fauna emerging from the symmetrical abstract backgrounds  Evan’s gorgeous later compositions are truly a vision of Eden before the fall.

 

Minnie Evans-Untitled 1960
Minnie Evans-Untitled 1960
Minnie Evans-untitled c 1960
Minnie Evans-untitled c 1960
Minnie-Jones-Evans-Untitled-Night-with-angel-wings-surrounded-by-eyes-1963
Minnie-Jones-Evans-Untitled-Night-with-angel-wings-1963
Minnie Evans-Untitled 1973
Minnie Evans-Untitled 1973

J.B Murry

J.B Murry worked as a share-cropper and tenant farmer in Glascock County, Georgia for most of his life. At the age of 70, Murry experienced a vision of an eagle descending from the sun. This, Murry believed, was a message from God to spread the word through a ‘spirit script’ that combined asemic writing and abstract imagery, produced while in a trance. Although illiterate, Murry could decipher the language if he looked at the paintings through a glass of water. Murry gained a reputation as a mystic and people would visit to ask for benediction and protection from harmful forces.

J.B Murry
J.B Murry
J.B Murry-Untitled
J.B Murry-Untitled
J.B Murry-Spirit Script
J.B Murry-Spirit Script
J.B Murry
J.B Murry

Bill Traylor

Born into slavery in 1854 Bill Traylor worked most of his life on a plantation in Alabama. Without formal education and illiterate it wasn’t until Traylor moved to Montgomery at the age of 85 that he started creating, using found pencil stubs on bits of scrap cardboard. He was befriended  by the artist Charles Shannon who supplied him with brushes and paint. In a three year period he produced over 1,200 works, often of animals in silhouette or his memories of rural life.

Bill Traylor
Bill Traylor
Bill-Traylor-Rabbit
Bill-Traylor-Rabbit
Bill Traylor
Bill Traylor
Bill Traylor
Bill Traylor

 

Frank Jones

Frank Albert Jones was born in Texas in 1900 with a fetal membrane over his left eye (a caul), the mark of someone, it is frequently believed, that can see into the world of the spirits. Jones said that he saw his first haints (haunts or ghosts) at the age of  nine. After several prior imprisonments (though he always maintained his innocence) it was during his twenty year stretch for  murder that Jones, at the age of 64 first started drawing ‘devil houses’. During the next five years until his death Jones produced over 200 drawings, usually in black and red (smoke and fire, suitable colours for devils) of these intricate structures where the creatures, both charming and threatening, float in their cells. At first Jones signed the works with his prison number, 114591, until a fellow inmate taught him to write his own name.

Frank Jones
Frank Jones
Frank Jones
Frank Jones
Frank Jones
Frank Jones
Frank Jones
Frank Jones

 

 

 

Collage by Toyen

Double Sided Collage Recto-Toyen 1970
Double Sided Collage Recto-Toyen 1970
Double Sided Collage Verso-Toyen 1970
Double Sided Collage Verso-Toyen 1970

During the 1960’s and 70’s the Czech Surrealist Toyen gradually abandoned painting and concentrated on producing exquisitely dreamy drypoints and double-sided collages notable for their visual wit, conciseness and razor sharp composition.

As I have noted in a previous post Toyen lived in Andre Breton‘s studio after his death in 1966. Located slap bang in the middle of the red-light district I always fondly imagine that the elderly but still subversive and transgressive creator of these collages and the illustrator of Edition 69 would have been quite content in such a spot.

 

 

 

The Sign of the Black Sun

Black Sun-Toyen 1951
Black Sun-Toyen 1951

My thoughts and as a consequence my dreams have been occupied by Prague lately, (a place I have never visited, incidentally), the city of Emperor Rudolf II with his court of alchemists, magicians, scientists and artists; where Dr John Dee and his medium Edward Kelley conjured up a vast array of angels in a Aztec obsidian mirror and Guiseppe Arcimboldo painted his bizarre composite portraits of visages made of fruit, branches, flowers and books. The city (fast forwarding three centuries) of Meyrink and his Golem haunting the ghetto; of Kafka and his monstrous metamorphoses, bewildering reversals and byzantine bureaucracies. The city of the incomparable Toyen.

Toyen’s phantasmagorical art is filled with images of transformation, of women becoming animals or vice versa, of sudden and terrifying shifts in size and scale, of spectral figures in the process of materialisation, of impossible desires becoming reality. Sometimes it seems that the decidedly ambiguous Toyen was channeling the entire occult and magical history of Prague.

The paintings that Toyen produced in the 1950’s onward, after Surrealism had shifted decidedly from revolutionary politics and towards the occult, frequently point towards the signs of Alchemist Alley, now Golden Lane. The black sun is the first stage of the magnum opus and also refers to the dissolution of the body and hence the ego.

I have included a selection of Toyen’s magnificently compelling paintings of metamorphosis and phantasmal  figures.

All the elements-Toyen 1950
All the elements-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-New World of Year 1968
Toyen-New World of Love 1968
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971

 

 

 

 

Vertumnus

Vertumnus-Guiseppe Arcimboldo
Vertumnus-Guiseppe Arcimboldo circa 1590-1591

Guiseppe Arcimboldo is a hazy peripheral figure in art history. Enjoying noble and royal patronage he was honoured during his lifetime before completely falling out of fashion during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries only to be rediscovered by the Surrealists in the 20th. Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Man Ray were all admirers and Arcimboldo’s visual puns and double meanings undoubtedly influenced Dali’s infamous paranoiac-critical method. Other art historians posited Arcimboldo as the most mannered of all the Mannerists. His composite portraits certainly show the period’s taste for enigmas and riddles taken far into the hinterlands of the grotesque and the whimsically bizarre.

Vertumnus is Arcimboldo’s most famous painting, a composite portrait of his patron, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman God of metamorphosis, the seasons, gardens and vegetable growth. The plants, flowers and fruits that form the portrait of Rudolf II are from every season and are taken to represent the perfect harmony and balance with nature that his reign would re-establish. Unfortunately events and history had other things in mind for the studious, occult inclined Rudolf II and his notably tolerant court of Prague, leading eventually to the calamity of the Thirty Year War between competing Catholic and Protestant states before engulfing the majority of European great powers.

Other notable composite portraits painted by Arcimboldo include the Four Seasons, the Four Elements and the witty The Librarian (below).

The Librarian- Guiseppe Arcimboldo 1566
The Librarian- Guiseppe Arcimboldo 1566

The Staircase to the Forest

Susanne Rempt-Staircase 2018
Susanne Rempt-Staircase 2018

The way out is through the door
verging on a vertiginous staircase
the only way is down though from
this skewered perspective that may
paradoxically lead you upward
so ever onward begin the descent,
quickly take the steps but careful
mind the gaps widening fissures
leading you into the dense forest
so easy to lose your bearings here
the sunlight barely penetrates
this vast twilight realm of hidden
dangers patiently waiting preying
in the branches, undergrowth
did you forget your thread, crumbs?
Compass or maps are no use here
in this contorted maze old as time
if by chance you ever do stumble into
the sacred point, the absolute centre
what you will find is a jumble of stone
slabs stained by millennia of sacrifice
the enactment of hushed mysteries
performed to the veiled huntress
forever unrevealed, unknowable
the sacred cannot be witnessed
any verification is defilement
of a majestic divine inhuman purity
transcendence is transgression
punishable by transformations
inexorable sarcasms of fate
so move on, there is something
to be seen here but not by our eyes
let’s just scatter to the wind
stand by the towering waterfall
that pounds, pulverises, wears down
the landscape changing eventually
courses streams you can’t
step in here twice so float flow
towards distant mother pre-adamic
hold hands jump into the swell
feel the caress of the dark masseur
the currents riptides the source
of life an unconscionable dream. .

The Art of AOS

 

Austin Osman Spare-Experiments in Relativity 1933
Austin Osman Spare-Experiments in Relativity 1933

As I noted in my previous post on the artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare he achieved acclaim and relative success at a very early age, exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Arts at 17, before becoming unfashionable and fading into a near total obscurity . Yet he was to remain a highly prolific artist up until his death at 69, experimenting with an array of styles, mediums and techniques.

Spare’s mastery of line was never in dispute, however the paintings in the Experiments in Relativity series, for which he coined the term ‘siderealism’, as well as the more occult influenced  work show that Spare was an excellent colourist. The paintings of characters from the grimy streets of Southwark, London and exhibited in local pubs reveal his brilliance as a portraitist.

I have included below a cross section of Spare’s art throughout his career. He has been called a Symbolist, Proto-Surrealist and a precursor of Pop Art, but Spare was first and foremost his own creation.

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Thoth

Thoth Tarot-Lady Frieda Harris with instruction by Aleister Crowley 1938-1943 published 1969

One of the most notorious of Tarot decks due to its association with the infamous Aleister Crowley, the Thoth Tarot was designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from the Great Beast. In addition to referencing Crowley’s new religion of Thelema,  (Do what you wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will), Lady Harris includes elements of Goethe’s theory of colour and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy in the execution of the project.

In 1937 Crowley had asked his friend the playwright Clifford Bax to find an artist to realise his longstanding ambition of re-designing the Tarot deck along Thelemic lines After two artists failed to show Bax invited Lady Frieda, then aged 60, to met Crowley. Third time around indeed proved to be a charm and they worked together on the deck for 5 years. Crowley initiated Lady Frieda into his mystical order the A∴A∴ and Lady Frieda Harris persuaded Crowley to break somewhat with Tarot tradition in the Thoth deck. Surprisingly Crowley seemed to develop a genuine affection for Harris and she in turn was devoted to him up to and during his last difficult days in a Hastings boarding house.

Crowley re-named several of the Major Arcana from the Rider-Waite-Smith, for instance Trump XI Strength becomes Lust and Trump XX Judgement becomes The Æon. Naturally the Hebrew letter and astrological correspondences are changed because no two occultists have ever agreed on such matters. The astrological significance of the Minor Arcana is very comprehensively outlined in the accompanying Book of Thoth written by Crowley.

 

Austin Osman Spare’s Tarot

Austin Osman Spare-Inquirer Card-Tarot Deck c 1906
Austin Osman Spare-Inquirer Card-Tarot Deck c 1906

Most of the occult artist Austin Osman Spare‘s experiments in cartomancy were believed to be forever lost (including the ‘Surrealist Racing Forecast Card’ pack, a real shame as this covers a number of my favourite things: art, cards, the occult and gambling), however in 2013 a hitherto unknown pack of 79 hand painted Tarot cards was verified as being the work of the art nouveau enfant terrible.

Influences from the Tarot of Marseilles and the Rider-Waite-Smith decks are evident in the design, however the idiosyncratic verve and  boldly brilliant use of line could only have been executed by the skillful hand and wild imagination of Austin Osman Spare.

 

 

Glossolalia

Alexandra Levasseur
Alexandra Levasseur

I will have you
You will be speaking in tongues
Crying out harsh barbaric invocations
Shouting entreaties to forgotten deities
Babbling away in rapturous ecstasy
Before this night is over but you better
Believe that this is only the beginning

For I will have you
Over and over and yet once again
Every element of these arcane rituals
Have to be satisfied in every aspect
The right word said in the right place
At the right time this is the right action
That will cause the doors to open wide

I will have you
I will take you there to a place you
Can only vaguely remember in dreams
A world of mesmerising fascinations
Inevitably leading to intoxicating danger
Nothing is true nothing is real everything
Shapeshifts you only have your self to lose.

Cosmic Emblems

Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra Emblem 5-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme

The German shoemaker, mystic and visionary Jacob Boehme’s dense theosophical writings are filled with alchemical references and allusions. These taken together with elements of Gnosticism and the Kabbalah make Boehme one of the most occult inclined of Christian writers.

The following illustrations are taken from the appendix to William Law’s four volume edition of Boehme’s writing translated into English. Law was an Anglican priest who lost his position when he refused to give an oath of allegiance to King George I and therefore become a private tutor. Among his students were Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall Of the Roman Empire and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, (though they fell out over Law’s admiration of Boehme).

The illustrations were undertaken by the London based German mystic Dionysuis Andreas Freher, whose work was a major influence upon the English poet, painter and prophet William Blake.

The complete series of emblems included above and below tells of Creation, the fall of Lucifer followed by the fall of Adam and man’s redemption through Jesus. Interestingly Sophia, a figure found in Gnosticism features prominently (the top S contrasting with the S of Sathan down below). The drawings of Hieroglyphica Sacra are unusual with their  near geometric abstraction, minimalism and pared down symbolism. It is alchemical art taken to its most cosmic level, an allegory of the War in the Three Realms of Heaven, Earth and HellDionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 3-William Law edition of Jacob Boehm

Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 1-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme

Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 2-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 2-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 3-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 3-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 4-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 4-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 6-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 6-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 7-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 7-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 8-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 8-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hierolgyphica Sacra 9-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 9-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 10-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 10-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 11-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 11-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 12-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 12-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 13-William Law edition of Jacob Boehm
Dionysuis Andreas Freher-Hieroglyphica Sacra 13-William Law edition of Jacob Boehme