Art Brut IV

Matthew Nightingale-Untitled 2018
Matthew Nightingale-Untitled 2018

Art brut also known as outsider or visionary or self taught art is an ever expanding field as it has attracted considerable attention in the 21st Century, now with its own dedicated galleries, museums, exhibitions, art fairs and publications. In this the fourth group post on this fascinating subject I have chosen three artists currently at work and one who, although working on creating his own imaginary utopia for sixty years was only discovered in the first decade of the new century, towards the end of his life.

Matthew Nightingale

An ex-prisoner Nightingale takes between six months to a year to create his meretricious crafted paintings, often combining mixed media. He has only recently agreed to representation, by the excellent Henry Boxer Gallery in the UK, as he is loathed to be parted with his work, so information concerning the artist is scarce. Highly decorative borders featuring flora, fauna and religious iconography frequently surround a central figure of a woman, skull or foetus in utero. Finely crafted inserts are another notable feature.

Matthew Nightingale-2018
Matthew Nightingale-2018
Matthew Nightingale-2017/2018
Matthew Nightingale-2017/2018
Matthew Nightingale-2015
Matthew Nightingale-2015

Anne Marie Grgich

One of the most respected art brut artists working today, who has exhibited all across the world, Grgich has mastered her own unique form of collage. Taking a book from the 1950’s she will over-paint, collage and then paint some more to form layers. Renowned for her bold expressionistic faces, I am also particularly taken by her vibrantly crowded recent works.

Anne Marie Grgich-Mute Siren
Anne Marie Grgich-Mute Siren
Anne Marie Grgich-Corseticus 2016
Anne Marie Grgich-Corseticus 2016
Anne Marie Grgich-Population Olympics 2013
Anne Marie Grgich-Population Olympics 2013
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Anne Marie Grgich

Margot

Apart from a brief artist statement which reveals that even the name is a pseudonym, I could find no information about this artist. Born in 1982, at the age of 32 Margot suddenly started drawing tirelessly. Precise, elaborate, bursting with a kinetic energy and a over-flowing symmetry, the art speaks for itself.

Margot-Construction utopique n31
Margot-Construction utopique n31
Margo- Matrone
Margo- Matrone
Margot-Alterego
Margot-Alterego
Margot Untitled
Margot Untitled

Renaldo Kuhler

A talented self taught artist, Kuhler worked at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History as a scientific illustrator for most of his life. He always had happy memories of his brief period growing up in Rockland County, New York in an otherwise unhappy childhood and it was here that he based his imaginary kingdom of Rocaterrania, bordered by Canada and Northern New York state. Rocaterrania had its own laws, language, ethnic groups, customs and even members of a third sex called neutants.

Renaldo Kuhler
Renaldo Kuhler
Renaldo_Kuhler
Renaldo_Kuhler
Renaldo Kuhler
Renaldo Kuhler
Renaldo Kuhler
Renaldo Kuhler
Renaldo Kuhler-Map of Rocaterrania
Renaldo Kuhler-Map of Rocaterrania

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

 

 

 

The Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace

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Le Facteur Cheval-Max Ernst 1932
Max Ernst’s 1932 collage Le Facteur Cheval is a homage to the extraordinary creator of the Ideal Palace, that marvellous folly that the Surrealists so loved: Ferdinand Cheval.

Born in 1836 in the Drome departement of France, approximately 30 miles south of Lyon, Ferdinand Cheval left school at 13 with an apprenticeship to a baker, however he eventually became a postman. One day in 1879 while doing his 18 mile round in the small village of Hauterives where he lived, Cheval in his haste stumbled over a stone. Stopping to examine the cause of his trip, Cheval was stuck by the strange shape and beauty of the stone and it reminded him of a dream that he had fifteen years previously and which he had almost forgotten. In the dream, which he found hard to express in words, he had built a palace or castle or caves. He had told nobody about this dream for fear of ridicule, it felt ridiculous to himself. However the stone had brought back the dream and he put it into his pocket to examine at leisure.

The next day he returned to where he found the stone and to his delight he found many more stones even stranger and more beautiful than the cause of his near fall. Cheval said that the stones “represents a sculpture so strange that it is impossible for man to imitate, it represents any kind of animal, any kind of caricature. I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture.”

For the next thirty-three years Cheval built his Ideal Palace, pushing a wheelbarrow on his postal rounds to carry all the stones he collected. He frequently worked late into the night with the aid of a oil lamp, binding the stones together with lime, mortar and cement. The images of exotic locales that he saw on the postcards and illustrated magazines he delivered on his route inspired his imagination and found expression in the eclectic mix of architecture of the Ideal Palace, where Hindu Temple, Arabic Mosque and Swiss Chalet (among others) styles somehow form a unified whole.

Cheval, as he feared, was scorned by the local community, and his visionary Ideal Palace was derided as the work of a madman. This changed however when the project was featured in national newspapers and tourists started visiting. In 1905 a tourist register was opened. Cheval declared the Ideal Palace finished in 1912 and inscribed on the building ,”The work of one man.” He also stated his desire to be buried underneath the Ideal Palace.

Although Cheval comes across as a charming eccentric he was obviously a man of dogged determination, so when he learnt that French law strictly forbade his burial upon the grounds of the Ideal Palace, he set about building his own mausoleum, at the age of eighty. He spent the next seven years building another fantastical and beautiful structure. One year  after its  completion Ferdinand Cheval died and was buried in the mausoleum that he had constructed.

As well as the Surrealists, who would often embark on pilgrimage to a site which they considered to be a monument to naive art and the transformative powers of the imagination, the Ideal Palace was much admired by Picasso and Anais Nin, who published an essay on Cheval. In 1969 the Minister of Culture, the novelist Andre Malraux declared the Ideal Palace a cultural landmark and later in 1986 the Facteur Cheval was featured on his own postage stamp: a touching and luminous irony.

Today the Palais Ideal Du Facteur Cheval Monument Historique receives 120,000 visitors yearly and is considered one of the most outstanding examples of Art Brut/outsider art in the world.

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Ideal Palace
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Ideal Palace
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Ideal Palace
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Ideal Palace

Ideal Tomb
Ideal Tomb

Art Brut

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Augustin Lesage
In his artistic statement of intent, the prose poem What I Believe by J.G Ballard, Ballard lists some of the things he believes in, which notably include a number of Surrealist artists and ‘The Facteur Cheval, the Watts Tower…and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.’  Ballard also writes in his annotations to The Atrocity Exhibition that the dedication for the book should have been, ‘To the Insane, I owe them everything.’  

It was a feature of Modern Art to seek inspiration outside of the recognised Western Canon. The Cubists expressed admiration for African sculpture and incorporated elements within their art. Members of The Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) Group, including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke were interested in the art produced by the mentally ill and children alike. However it was with the publication of Dr Hans Prinzhorn’s study Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) in 1921 that really captured the avant garde imagination and was to influence the nascent Surrealist movement. One of the artists featured was Adolf Wolfli, whose work with its obsessive detailing, elaborate fantasy worlds and horror vacui encapsulates Art Brut (raw art) as the French artist and collector Jean Dubuffet later termed art produced by the mentally ill.

In 1948 Dubuffet, along with Andre Breton, The Pope of Surrealism, formed the Compaigne de l’Art Brut. He collected thousand of works which forms the Collection de l’Art Brut, located in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Below are examples of Art Brut artists work. Art Brut is also referred to as Outsider Art, Folk Art, Naive Art and Visionary Art, all terms that are problematic for various reasons. Several for the artists are mediumistic artists who were never diagnosed with mental illness. Formally trained artists who were later institutionalised such as Van Gogh and Richard Dadd (A Fevered Mind’s Master Stroke) are by and large excluded.

Adolf Wolfli

A violent psychotic who experienced intense hallucinations, the Swiss artist Wolfli spent the majority of his life in prison or the Waldau Clinic, a psychiatric hospital in Bern. He started drawing at the age of 40 and in the remaining 26 years produced a vast body of work, including a semi-autobiographical epic with fantasy elements that stretched to 25,000 pages and 1,600 illustrations, which often feature his own idiosyncratic invented musical notation.

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Adolf Wolfli

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Adolf Wolfli
Augustin Lesage

A coal miner by profession, Augustin Lesage spent his life in Lille, France. He was 35 when he heard a voice tell him he was going to be a painter. After further communications with the spirit, whom Lesage believed to be his little sister who had died at the age of three, he received detailed instructions as what materials to buy and what to paint. He developed a uniquely detailed and symmetrical style incorporating motifs from Egyptian and Indian art.

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Augustin Lesage
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Augustin Lesage
Madge Gill

In 1919 the English artist Madge Gill gave birth to a stillborn baby girl and almost died herself. She was left bedridden for several months and blind in one eye. Upon recovering the 38 year old Gill developed a sudden and intense  interest in drawing and over the next forty years produced thousands of works in various media, mainly black and white ink drawings signed by her guiding spirit, ‘Myrninerest” (my inner rest)’. Female figures in intricate dress proliferate among the geometric designs.

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Madge Gill
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Madge Gill
Martin Ramirez

Martin Ramirez left Mexico in 1925 to find work in America. In 1931 he was attested for vagrancy which led to Ramirez being diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He would spend the rest of his life in Californian psychiatric institutions. His work frequently feature trains and repeated arches.

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Martin Ramirez
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Martin Ramirez