June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson Drawings

Typically, I wouldn't post three articles on the same subject (outsider art) so close together, but the death of Michael Jackson has prompted me to share these drawings.

As we think about creativity and what it means, I think of what creativity has meant to myself and to my eldest son, Bryce, who has idolized (at times to the point of obsession) Michael Jackson, since he was 9 or 10 years old. This love for the entertainer, and it is love, an important milestone in a child with pervasive developmental disorder, and those feelings, thoughts and emotions led to drawings, multiple VHS, DVD, CD purchases, a letter to MJ, and sending him a copy of Bryce's first book, "The Boy in the Mirror" (no longer in print).

Bryce's captivation with "all things Michael" led my sister and I to take him to NYC on Sept. 10, 2001 for the 30th anniversary concert; an unforgettable night for us all, especially considering the events the next morning. It's the only time I saw Michael Jackson live, and as I told my husband last night, when he danced it was like an energy field surrounded and embodied him. Like more energy and charisma came forth than one person's body could hold. It was unforgettable to watch.

At the Rock 'n Roll Museum in Cleveland five years ago, Bryce stared at Michael's glove and we have a photo of him standing with a big smile in front of a guitar there decorated with paintings of Jackson.

When I heard the news of Jackson's death, I called the facility where Bryce lives and broke the news to him, and talked with him, and let him talk and cry. Our family recognizes that, to Bryce, Michael Jackson was the most important person outside of our family and Bryce's girlfriend, Sara. I was very concerned about how he would take the news, but thankfully a call later that night and to the facility this morning told me that he is okay, and has found a way to cope: thinking about other good things. Ah, we can learn a lesson from that.

One staff person, he said, told him "the world is a better place without Michael Jackson." It always amazes me how insensitive some people can be who work daily with those who find life challenging mentally and physically. I reminded Bryce that he has heard those things before, and that many millions of people throughout the world feel sad, just like he does. But that he will feel happy again.

I received the latest copy of Raw Vision (a UK magazine devoted to Outsider Art) this week. And am growing in my understanding of the genre... I want to share with you Bryce's drawings over the years of Michael Jackson. He's never gotten the tattoo he wanted of him (though he has Jesus on one ankle and a cartoon character on the other). Hopefully we won't return to that desire! But, I expect to see a new Sharpie-drawn T-shirt soon (see drawings on red t-shirt at bottom) as well as new drawings based on the many photos of Jackson being released. Bryce will wear MJ's image proudly as his own unique tribute to someone he believed understood how he felt going through life.

Update: Bryce does not watch news 24/7, nor have access to the internet, so he's been shielded from hearing "Michael Jackson's death" over and over again every day. It seems to be sinking in with him though, and I expect there will be more questions, drawings, and even tears as time goes on. But, as his brother said, "Bryce'll always have Michael Jackson's music." And, in this blog on creativity, that's an important point. Creative work allows our voice to continue on, no matter whether we are a world-famous megastar, or a woodworking grandpa, or a crocheting mother. How we treasure the physical manifestations of creativity left by those we love!

June 19, 2009

Learning about Outsider Art

Several years ago, I was browsing in Barnes and Noble's magazine section and came across the magazine Raw Vision. I'd never seen anything like the art inside of it; but it reminded me a bit of the creations done by my eldest son. Projects involving cut up paper, trinkets, glitter and lots and lots of packing tape.

Raw Vision's website states the following:

Raw Vision remains the world's only international journal of the art of the 'unknown geniuses' who are the creators of Outsider Art. Untrained, unschooled and uninfluenced by the art world, the work of these artists continues to stun and amaze. They invent their own forms, techniques and create private worlds.

Raw Vision can give art lovers a unique insight into the power
of 'raw' creativity which contrasts completely with the prosaic world of conceptual and institutional contemporary art so prevalent in our museums and galleries today. It is not for nothing that Outsider Art has been termed 'the hidden face of contemporary art', like the hidden face of the moon.

I went on to buy a few books on outsider art, and visited websites about the subject. Concurrently, my son Bryce was finding his way into adulthood, with the various ups and downs physically and mentally challenged folks do. We were seperated for awhile, and he began writing me letters and stories. Each envelope itself was a work of art, and a testament to the deciphering abilites of the USPS. Today we are only 2 hours apart; I still get notes, cards, and lists from him (including a torn paper three-dimensional nativity scene last Dec.)...and the envelopes are still decorated.

In 2002, the Ohio Arts Council granted Bryce a few hundred dollars to have books printed containing his stories and drawings. The book is called Notes from Ohio. How proud he was of it when it came out! And so was I. With four books of my own out, and with having designed and/or edited over 200 books in the last ten years including a few award winners and books by NY Times bestselling authors, I can honestly say my son's little 64-page book meant the most to me to see printed.

As time has gone on, Bryce's creations have ranged from three-dimensional to flat painted works. He's taken dolls or figures and altered them with fabric, paint, tape, cardboard... (see ongoing project of a wrestling rink made using the base of a birdcage, below). He makes collages on cardboard using photographs or drawings of family members, strings the collage through a length of ribbon and wears it around his neck on the day that person is visiting him. He weaves and strings bracelets, decoupages his hats, paints and glitterizes his shoes, and always seems to have tape stuck to his sweat pants--but then I've spent a good part of my life with paint under my fingernails...

Current projects include a desire to paint on the front, back and arms of his 4x T-shirts. To the point where at his 28th b-day party last week, I realized he's a walking work of art; or advertisement for fabric paint and Sponge Bob, the design on the shirt. And then I realized, he's found his medium! and it is paint and fabric. So, I've just purchased canvases and larger bottles of fabric paint; stay tuned. Bryce's artwork and jewelry was recently accepted into Heart to Art Galleria in Marietta, Ohio, and is available for sale at their shop there at 208 Front St. Learn more at an article I wrote on the Galleria, May 2009.

Creativity is a wonderful thing. A healing thing. A soothing, comforting thing. It impresses those who having been raised thinking "what if?" and challenges those raised hearing "you'd better not." Creativity does not discriminate against those who seem to lack in some ability the rest of us couldn't imagine living without. Like that weird plumbing fix-it tube of expandable caulking, creativity expands to fill in the empty places within us. It makes everything in life sweeter--messier, yes, but sweeter. It soothes the savage beast, too.

Creativity gives folks a common language. Because art ignores the idea of a right way to draw and a wrong way to draw, and focuses on an individual's vision, there is a spirit of acceptance that is encouraged when people for whom much of life is a case of their differentness, their perceiving "lack of-ness", their inappropriateness even, being emphasized.

Art is a way to think and dream and muse on what is important to us, what is meaningful to our lives, what makes life beautiful, or ugly. It is a way to tell others what matters to us, to get them to see it too. It is a way to communicate, and to learn. It can even the playing field. It can show us all new things.

On this page, I've placed images of some of Bryce's work. I am also listing links to websites devoted to Outsider art.

One person knowledgable in the subject states that one day Outsider Art will be considered a genre like Impressionism. Perhaps it already is. Then there will be those imitating the style, and just trying to get away with capitalizing on the term. I mean, it might be difficult to tell if something is a work of art, or just a drawing by a well-marketed second grader. But, the more we expose ourselves to the various artists, the better our discernment and appreciation of this subject will be.

Encourage all of the artists around you: no one is too young, too old, too poor, too disabled, too anything, to put pencil to paper and see what happens. This is a wonderful time to be an artist. There are so many tools and venues available to creative people today. To those who are gifted and talented and intelligent and charismatic; and to those who are struggling, and odd, and confused, and challenged. I'm glad that both of my children, two very different young men with very different lives, hopes and dreams, embrace their creativity and listen to their inner artist. Seeing creativity manifested in my children makes me feel such joy, deep inside my heart.

Note: If you are interested in purchasing Bryce's artwork, or prints of his artwork, and do not live near Marietta, Ohio, please contact me by email at "art at janicephelps dot com" and put "Bryce Art" in the subject matter. His book, Notes from Ohio, is available on Amazon.com.


Very Special Arts: http://www.vsaarts.org/

Very Special Arts of Ohio (National org.): http://www.vsao.org/

Blue Shoe Arts (Fairfield County, OH): http://blueshoearts.org/

Passionworks (Athens County, OH): http://www.passionworks.org/

Various outsider art galleries, as listed on Raw Vision's website: http://www.rawvision.com/exhib/galleries.html

Interesting collection of outsider art: http://www.outsiderart.info/sent/index.html

The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art: http://www.art.org/

Henry Boxer Gallery: http://www.outsiderart.co.uk/

The Lynch Collection of Outsider Art: http://www.ncwc.edu/Arts/Lynch/

The Anthony Pettulo Collection: http://www.pettuloartcollection.org/