Editor's note: The following essays and images were published in Resource Library on October 7, 2011 with permission of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the source materials, please contact the Boca Raton Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
Southern Folk Art from the Collection of Ann and Ted Oliver
by Ann and Ted Oliver
People, by nature, are acquirers of objects that they find interesting. Art collectors, on the other hand, are another breed all together! They gather objects with a singular vision, becoming very discriminating and specific with each work added to their collection. Some collectors will pick a single artist, genre or style of art to collect and as their collection expands, these collectors slowly focus on what they think is important.
Our focus is to bring together a body of work that will provide an opportunity to see a unified view of southern culture. Through our collection we hope to reveal the values, memories, visions and belief systems that typify the people and places of the southern United States.
Seeking out these artists requires devotion, determination and a persistent willingness to spend hours and days traveling forgotten highways. Not to mention a high tolerance for 'getting lost' on unmarked gravel roads and asking directions from any friendly stranger.
In our collection, all of the art is created by contemporary Southern self-taught folk artists and in many cases we have purchased it from the artist. While there are common themes, it should be noted that each artist has a personal point of view. This view tempered by their particular history and environment, but in the end, these artists speak in one voice about a place called "The South."
Folk art is a term first used in Germany and Scandinavia to refer to art, furniture and textiles created by ordinary men and women or craftspeople that had passed on traditions of their craft in distinct regions of a country. As art historians moved into the 20th century this field vastly expanded and other terms were used to describe these varied artist such as art brut, outsider, visionary, Intuitive and primitive.
Three pivotal exhibitions in the 1980's firmly established the southern United States as a mecca for this genre. They were, Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980; Baking In the Sun: Visionary Images From the South and O'Appalachia: Artists of the Southern Mountains. It was after these exhibitions and publications of museum catalogs that countless articles, books, short films and research projects followed.
In all of these exhibitions and publications, it was noted that the influences for southern folk art came from three directions European, African and Native-American cultures. In many cases it was the combination of these cultures that made the art so extraordinary and set it apart from the rest of the nation.
When you survey art from this region, you will see common themes such as images derived from evangelical Christian dogma, rural scenes from everyday life and detailed depictions of dreams and fantasies. Using mundane materials such as plywood, cardboard, tin, house paint and native clays the pure folk artist makes a statement about these topics with no preconceived standards or criteria. In many cases the artist feels they are on a divine mission from God, while other artists may obsessively create, as scores of ideas pass through their minds. In any case, the Southern folk artists are driven by a desire to create and communicate their ideas to the world. For some artist, art became the only way to record or present their ideas, as they were functionally illiterate.
Each artist has given us a profound insight into what makes the South such a wonderful place to live. While not all of the art gives a positive comment on life in the South, it does speak of a truth with which we can identify. This is a truth that speaks to every viewer with a universal message of what makes us human and at the same time honors a specific culture.
About the authors
Ann and Ted Oliver began seriously collecting southern
folk art more than 15 years ago. In 2005, after retiring from their professions
as teachers in Georgia, the Olivers began traveling throughout the southern
United States. They met artists and purchased what now numbers more than
1000 works by self-taught southern artists. The Olivers have taught art
in museums, schools and universities in both Florida and Georgia and have
been published widely. They regard their collection as a way to preserve
the creative legacy and culture of their southern roots. They currently
reside in North Carolina.
by Kelli Bodle
Enjoying Outsider art can be a simple and gratifying activity. It takes only an interest in seeing it and a location to display it. Unlike modern art, which may engender remorse for sleeping through your 8 a.m. Introduction to Art History class and thus forgetting all the different movements you "should" know when you reach the museum; or contemporary art, which so often can feel like it is laughing at you rather than with you, Outsider art is a welcome reprieve full of earnest creation free from pretension.
So you visit a museum and see a painting by an Outsider artist. If you had studied art history, you may be familiar with the technique the artist used to paint their piece, the content, and probably the artist's life story, as that is always part-and-parcel of an Outsider artist's appeal. If you are a more casual student of the arts you could probably pinpoint the materials used and the fact that you are looking at a painting of a dog. You could read the accompanying wall label, understand and enjoy the work, and then move on.
That's why an Outsider artist doesn't generally gain or lose credibility as a consequence of art history or the art market. Their work is more a matter of heart than commerce, often a higher calling, and not based on scholars' accolades. Without entrenched standards to follow and trends to address, each Outsider artist has a style all their own. The only "rule" that pertains to this exhibition is that the artist be self-taught and hail from the South.
However, self-taught artists don't exist in a vacuum devoid of knowledge about artistic trends and contemporary culture. Many have their own websites and participate in the sale of their work. Outsider art is not untouched by artistic culture. At the same time, it doesn't require an understanding of artistic culture to be appreciated, like much modern or contemporary art. To fully appreciate Minimal art -- such as one block of painted color on a canvas -- most viewers might prefer to know why the painting is considered so important. In the case of much Minimal art, its reduced format could be understood as a reaction against the emotionalism of the previous generation's Abstract Expressionism. The action and reaction and historical development of art does not apply when considering Outsider art.
In sum, Outsider art tends to appeal to a broad spectrum
of people. Both private collections and museum exhibitions of Outsider art
have increased over recent years. We are proud to offer a survey of Southern
Outsider artists who have attracted the attention of collectors, critics,
and museums. Today, many of their life stories have been written in books
and museum wall texts, but even without reading, one can understand and
appreciate these unique creations.
About the author
Kelli Bodle is Assistant Curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art
(above: Mose Tolliver (American, born in Alabama, 1920-2006), Siamese Twins, 1980s, house paint on plywood, 24 x 21 inches. Courtesy of Ann and Ted Oliver)
(above: Myrtice West (American, born in Alabama 1923 - ), Anti-Christ, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Ann and Ted Oliver)
About the exhibition Outsider Visions: Self-Taught Southern Artists of the 20th Century
Outsider Visions: Self-Taught Southern Artists of the 20th Century is on view September 21, 2011 through January 8, 2012 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. The Museum says of the exhibition on its website: "...A veritable feast of more than 75 captivating works by self-taught artists, this exhibition will present for the first time in South Florida, rare and fascinating works from the collection of Ted and Ann Oliver, who have spent more than 30 years studying, collecting, and writing about southern contemporary folk art. Often referred to as modern-day "folk artists," outsider, visionary, self-taught, autodidact, vernacular are just a few of the most common labels placed upon these artists and their work. Outsider Visions will offer an authoritative and provocative view of a field about which there has been much recent excitement. The exhibition presents a selection of works by some of the key figures in the Outsider world including Alpha Andrews, Rudolph Bostic, Jerry Coker, Howard Finster, Sybil Gibson, Alyne Harris, Lonnie Holley, Clementine Hunter, Anderson Johnson, S.L. Jones, Eric Legge, Woodie Long, Charlie Lucas, Willie Massey, Mario Mesa, R. A. Miller, J.B. Murray, Jeff Payne, Mary Proctor, Bernice Sims, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Willie Tarver, Annie Tolliver, Mose Tolliver, Myrtice West, Purvis Young, and others."
To view the brochure for the exhibition please click here.
Resource Library editor's note
The above texts, images and brochure were published in Resource Library on October 7, 2011, with permission of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on October 5, 2011.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Kelli Bodle of the Boca Raton Museum of Art for her help concerning permission for publishing the above materials.
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