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Outsider Artists give regions their flavor

 "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." -- Aristotle

You won't find it in many American fine-art museums, even though it's an important part of American Culture.  Nor will you find it in many upscale galleries in New York City, even though New Yorkers will pay top dollar for it. Each region of the United States has its own style and variety, even though many people are unfamiliar with the most sought-after creators of the stuff.  

I speak of a type of visual art coined as "Outsider Art." Outsider artists, or self-taught artists, get lumped into the very broad Folk Art genre.  Every nation in the world has its own Folk Art heroes that give their work that particular region's flavor. The Southern United States is no different.

Outsider Art can be defined as visual art created by artists that have had little or no influence or contact with the mainstream art world.  Some refer to it as "Blue Collar" art, or art created by the hands of the working class. The genre includes pottery, sculpture, painting, woodwork, and other media. Not to be confused with crafters, these artists use many types of non-academic methods and material to express their creativity. Because of the subject matter and seemingly adolescent presentation, the work of these folk artists sometimes is seen as eccentric or non-conforming.

The South is home to arguably the best of American Folk and Outsider artists.

The visionary artist Rev. Howard Finsters's tour de force, Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Ga is filled with over 46,000 pieces from cement and wooden sculptures to religious paintings. The late Finster is considered by some to be the godfather of Outsider/Visionary art and his eclectic works remain highly collectible.

Alabama's Mose Tolliver and his house paint on plywood creations have made it as far as New York's American Museum of Folk Art's permanent collection, and Georgia's R.A. Miller's work has been used by many musicians in their videos and on their album covers.

Outsider artists like the late J.T. "Jake" McCord of Thomson, often painted in ways that many would consider childlike. His whimsical, brightly colored animals and iconic figures painted on wood and tin were more than just adolescent attempts at painting. They reflected the man's unpretentious nature and humble spirit. Stripped of discipline and artistic training, Jake's paintings mirrored nothing more than pure, raw creativity where no rules regulated the outcome of his finished piece.

I thought it was brilliant when Jenny Lindsey, Curator of The McDuffie Museum, had the front porch of J.T.'s house dismantled, moved and reassembled inside the museum for permanent display. Jake is a Thomson original and his work is deserving of memorial treatment.  

Another Thomson visionary artist that many locals have never heard of was Zebeedee Armstrong. ZB, as many called him, claimed to have received notice from a visiting angel that the ....END WAS NEAR! He spent the rest of his life obsessed with creating devices that would calculate the end of times. Elaborate thought went into his crude machines made of cardboard, wood and just about anything that he felt he could use to make his time counters.

ZB died in 1993 and since then, some of his work has been on display in the High Musuem of Art in Atlanta. Local conservator Tom Wells' collection of ZB's work is currently on loan to the McDuffie Museum.

It is certainly worth a visit there to see Mr. Armstrong's wildly vivid creations.

McDuffie Arts Council members Bodie Cummings and Bracton Ivey are folk artists with a solid following on a local and regional level.

Bodie paints on just about anything from tin to rock and although he has had some training, he excels in the folk art genre and has won several awards for his efforts. He uses bold colors to interpret themes of life in the South as he sees it. Bracton is a trained master craftsman and blacksmith, but it is his metal folk art that is in highest demand.

He has used reclaimed metal to create pieces for many institutions' permanent collections including the Georgia Children's Museum. You can learn more about these two local artists at the MAC website

A lot of folk artist like Jake and Z.B. never intended to become cultural icons. They simply occupied their spare time doing something that gave them great joy and contentment. Unfortunately in many cases with artists of this nature, they are only discovered or appreciated after their death.

The McDuffie Arts Council's intention is to help local artists of all genres avoid that situation by improving the local art scene.

Please visit the MAC website for details on how you can help, too.

Web posted on Thursday, September 16, 2010

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