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/


Beverly Kaye said...

This is such an uplifting article! The bond between you and your son is beautiful, and obviously creativity runs deep in this family. I applaud both of you and as a dealer of outsider art, I really appreciate the view from the other side.
Warm regards to you both,
Beverly Kaye

Melissa Kline said...

Janice, this post brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart. I was so very touched by your words and the beautiful collage of Bryce's work. The essence of unconditional motherly love is infectious and conveyed so beautifully.

I love Raw Vision's statement and your words on creativity. I especially enjoyed learning about Bryce's mediums and got a chuckle at the realization of his preference for fabric and paint.

My favorite piece of art in this post is the one of he and Sara - so very sweet. I am going to check out Notes From Ohio and the other links. Thank you so much for this beautiful post. It made my day. :)

alberta ross said...

beautiful blog on many levels -it was a pleasure to read about your son and his creations - how great he has creativity in his life - we all know how essential for ones well being it can be - and well done for knowing when to allow expression and nurture talent - it's not always easy when closely involved (wood for trees)

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Thank you, Melissa, for purchasing "Notes from Ohio" and creating a beautiful, handmade collage card for Bryce. I forwarded it to him and he loves it!

Thank you Beverly and Alberta for stopping by and commenting. Your words mean more to me than you could imagine.

Cynthia Neale said...

Please let Bryce know that his book is by my bed stand and I feel his heart beat on every page when I read it. Engaging in art is a healing experience if we can let ourselves go into it without too much commentary by ourselves and others.

ausurfer said...

Great post on a wonderfully talented human being. I can see why you were so thrilled when Bryce's book was published.

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Cynthia: What a wonderful message from you. Yes, I will let him know.

Thank you, Kim! Thank you for seeing the beauty in the world and sharing it with others through your photographs and words, like these kind words here.

Sara Morsey said...

Keep up the great work Bryce. You are a true artist.

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Thank you, Sara, for your kind words for Bryce and for taking the time to read this blog post.

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