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The distinctive images in coloured pencil on paper created by Frank Jones (1900-1969) have earned this African American self-taught artist, who grew up in poor, northeastern Texas, near the border with Oklahoma, a solid place in outsider art’s canon. So, too, has his life story, for Jones produced his remarkable drawings, only several hundred of which are known to exist today, during the latter years of his life, while he was an inmate at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, north of Houston.

Now, in New York, Shrine, a gallery at the southern end of Manhattan’s Lower East Side district, is showing nine emblematic Jones drawings in 114591, an exhibition that takes its title from Jones’s own prisoner number. (It remains on view through September 13, 2020.) The artist, who was illiterate, routinely marked his drawings with that number.

Jones’s drawings were discovered in the 1960s and first came to market at the now-defunct Atelier Chapman Kelley, which, in that era, was an important gallery in Dallas specialising in modern and contemporary art. At that time, the market for outsider art in the United States was still in its infancy.

Jones produced his drawings, depicting what he referred to as “devils’ houses”, while he was incarcerated. Using ordinary, blue-and-red accountants’ pencils and found pieces of paper, he drew cross-sectional views of wiry-looking structures inhabited by horned, winged, bird-like “haints” — demonic spirits whose cute looks belie their mischievous or even malevolent nature.

Jones claimed that he could see such spirits in the real, physical world around him, and that they were always poised to tempt the vulnerable and to cause harm. By capturing them and giving them visible form in his drawings, he believed that he could, in effect, disarm these troublesome forces.

Although Jones’s drawings regularly turn up at the Outsider Art Fair and in recent years have been shown at Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago and at Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York, in general, given their rarity, they are not often shown in quantity, allowing viewers to examine them in depth. Shrine’s current show includes nine drawings, including, notably, five that have emerged from a private source and that have not been shown publicly for many years. 

For collectors interested in such artworks’ provenances — the records of who has owned particular works of art over time — these drawings can be traced back to earlier gallery sources, their collective history evoking that of the development of the outsider art field in the U.S.

Of special interest in the drawings on view are Jones’s use of such colors as green, orange, and violet, in addition to his usual palette, and the irregular, nonrectilinear shapes of some of his “houses.”

As is often the case among the most compelling bodies of work in the related art brut and outsider art genres, the mysterious nature of Jones’s drawings are a large part of their irresistible allure.
 

Edward M. Gómez
Senior Editor
Raw Vision

Based in Dallas, Texas, where he has lived and worked for most of his life, Murray Smither, 83, a former art dealer and longtime collector of American folk art and outsider art who has specialised in the creations of self-taught artists from his home state and the broader American South region, is now bringing a large portion of his art holdings to market.

Dealers Julie Webb and Bruce Lee Webb of the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, a small town roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of central Dallas, have been working with Smither to divide paintings, sculptures, and other objects from his collection of hundreds of items into thematically cohesive groupings for presentation in “Thoughtful Collection,” an ongoing exhibition that is now in progress at their spacious venue. It will remain on view, with periodic rotations of displayed material, both at the gallery itself and online through the end of this year. 

As dealers and art collectors themselves, the Webbs have long been recognised in the United States for their discoveries and expertise in the outsider art field. The Webbs not only have known Smither for many years; over the decades, they told Raw Vision, they have also learned much from the older, experienced collector about the art history of their region as it has related to the emergence and development of local collectors’ and dealers’ activities focusing on the creations of self-taught artists.

Looking back over his long career, Smither recently told Raw Vision, “I enjoyed meeting self-taught artists, such as Frank Jones, Mildred Foster, or Floyd Clark. I liked these people, and they liked you liking their art. I wanted to start buying it — and I did.”

Smither was born and brought up in Hunstville, Texas, a city about 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Houston. It is the home to Sam Houston State University (formerly Sam Houston State Teachers College, where Murray studied journalism) and the Texas State Penitentiary. That large prison houses the state’s execution chamber, the most active facility of its kind in the U.S. today. After finishing his undergraduate university studies in Huntsville, Smither moved to Dallas, where he worked for Texas Instruments (TI), the semiconductor-manufacturing company.

In Dallas, Smither’s interest in art blossomed. There, he took painting classes and eventually left TI to work in galleries, later establishing his own gallery in the early 1970s. 

Earlier, though, in the 1960s, at the prison in Hunstville, Smither judged an exhibition of art produced by its inmates and chose the Black, self-taught artist Frank Jones (1900-1969) as the winner of the contest. He became friendly with Jones, who made drawings with the stubs of blue-and-red accountants’ pencils on found scraps of paper. They portrayed what the incarcerated artist called “devils’ houses”— wiry-looking structures, shown in cross-section, featuring horned “haints”, or demonic spirits. 

Smither played a significant role in bringing Jones’s mysterious drawings to market, and in recent years, as their prices have risen, they have become highly prized by serious collectors of American outsider art.

Over the years, Smither also championed the work of the Rev. J. L. Hunter (1905-1999), Eddie Arning (1898-1993), and George W. White, Jr. (1903-1970), a Texas-born self-taught artist of African, Mexican, and Native American ancestry, who made paintings and mixed-media tableaux. In the 1980s, as his personal collection of art and objects made by self-taught artists, with a focus on those from Texas, expanded, Smither became an art appraiser and a consultant to corporate art collections. Through his contributions to exhibitions and advocacy on behalf of the artists whose creations had seized his attention, he played a key role in bringing to the public’s attention the unusual work of such artists as Jones, White, and many others.

Highlights of his personal collection, which is now being brought to market by the Webb Gallery, include biblical and local scenes by the Rev. Johnnie Swearingen (1909-1993), who is known as a “memory painter” of his native Texas; early portraits on paper by Ike Morgan (born 1958); painted-wood figurines by Hunter; and unusual paintings on paper or board by Valton Tyler (1944-2017), Lonnie Holley (born 1950), and Jimmie Lee Sudduth (1910-2007), along with rare works by Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) of New Orleans. 

Smither’s art holdings come to market at a time when emblematic works of historical significance and exemplary aesthetic quality by American outsider artists have become highly sought after by collectors and dealers alike.

Although he feels the time is now right to bring his collection to market, Smither did note, wistfully, “For me, all of these pieces are filled with memories.”

Edward M. Gómez
Senior Editor
Raw Vision

Untitled (1), Dru McKenzie, 2010. Coloured pencil and marker on paper, 60 x 45 cm (24 x 18 in.)

From July 10 – August 28, 2020 Tierra Del Sol are hosting an exhibition of Dru McKenzie's work, curated from artworks made over 25 years.

McKenzie draws on various inspirations found in high fashion magazines and National Geographic to produce a richly layered and deeply personal iconography.

McKenzie’s mastery lies in her interpretative approach to her subject matter. [She] transforms ordinary imagery she encounters in the world and on the page into something potent and uniquely her own, with an indigeneity that invokes a mysticism fundamental to sensory experience.

This resonance is accomplished in the emblematic rendering of her images and the layering of colored pencil and brush tip markers on dynamic color fields of acrylic paint.

Color references pop aesthetics in McKenzie’s compositions ... [she] explores geometry and dimension when she considers the elements of a subject’s face, paying particular attention to eyes and eyelashes, made more resolved against her emotionally weighted, hued backgrounds.

 

These magical works are on view for the first time at Tierra del Sol Gallery in Chinatown. The exhibition can be viewed in person by appointment or on the gallery website.

Follow the gallery on Instagram @tierradelsolgallery.

The Iranian self-taught artist Davood Koochaki died in Tehran on June 20, 2020, of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 81, leaving behind one of the most distinctive bodies of work to have emerged internationally in the related art brut and outsider art fields in the past several decades. 

Koochaki’s unusual drawings made with pencil and coloured pencils on paper, often with smudges left visible, depict mysterious, partly human and partly animal-like creatures lumbering forward or seemingly caged within bright-white pictorial space. After first becoming known more than a decade ago, Koochaki’s work went on to attract enthusiastic collectors in Europe and the United States, securing its creator’s place in the art brut-outsider art canon as an emblematic visionary from a part of the world far beyond the Western European and North American regions in which this kind of art’s history traditionally has been rooted.

Born in 1939 in the province of Gilan in northern Iran, an agricultural region on the coast of the Caspian Sea, Koochaki came from a poor family of rice growers. As a little boy, he left school to help his parents work in the rice paddies, missing out on a basic education, although, years later, he taught himself to read and write. As a young teenager, he left his family and headed to Tehran, where he settled and eventually became an automobile mechanic. He married and had children, and opened his own auto-services garage.

Around the age of 40, Koochaki began making art, but it was not until he was in his sixties and had retired from his mechanic’s work that he devoted his energy full-time to making art. 

In an exclusive interview, the art dealer Morteza Zaahedi, who, with his wife, Sarvenaz Farsian, operates Gallery Outside Inn in Tehran, the first-ever venue in Iran specialising in the work of self-taught artists, told Raw Vision, “Koochaki’s son-in-law, Ali Zakeri, a painter, was the first to discover the older artist’s talent. He introduced me to Koochaki nine years ago. At that time, I was writing articles for a weekly art publication.” 

Prior to that time, before Zaahedi had opened his gallery and began representing Koochaki, Zakeri had organised some showings of the artist’s work at such other venues in Tehran as 7 Samar Art Gallery, Dey Gallery, the Saba Cultural and Art Institute, and the Iranian Artists’ Forum.

Zaahedi recalled that, after viewing photos of Koochaki’s drawings on Zakeri’s computer, he eagerly accepted an invitation to meet the artist and view his work in person. Thereafter, Zaahedi became his official dealer and representative; later Zaahedi and Farsian opened their gallery. 

Zaahedi’s postings on Facebook of photos of Koochaki’s creations, with their highly original imagery, attracted the attention of art dealers outside Iran. Separately, in 2010, Nico van der Endt, the founder of Hamer Gallery in Amsterdam, learned about Koochaki’s work from an Iranian filmmaker who had been following the activities of self-taught artists and street artists in Iran. Through her, he obtained a batch of Koochaki’s drawings, and in 2012, his gallery presented its first exhibition of the artist’s works. In time, Galerie Polysémie, in Marseille; Christian Berst Art Brut, in Paris; Cavin-Morris Gallery, in New York; and the private dealer Henry Boxer, in London, also showed Koochaki’s work.

The exposure Koochaki’s art gained outside Iran and the acclaim it won from foreign sources sparked interest in his work back in his homeland. Zaahedi said, “Buyers in Iran became more and more interested in Koochaki’s works. During the last three years of his life, he actually enjoyed the meaning of fame and financial success to some extent. Koochaki was a great man, a great artist, and I'm sure he will be appreciated more in the future.”

Today, Koochaki’s drawings can be found among the holdings of such museums as the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, and among those of such privately owned, publicly displayed collections as the Museum of Everything (London) and abcd/Art Brut Collection Bruno Decharme (Paris).

Pointing to some of his drawings, whose enigmatic subjects conceal and teasingly reveal elusive figures within their own looming forms, Koochaki once quipped, “I try to draw perfectly, but this is what comes out!” For all their mysterious subject matter, the artist’s unusual images also express an exuberant sense of joy in their own creation.

Davood Koochaki is survived by his wife, Zahra Hoseinzadeh, and their five adult children, and by his extended family.

Edward M. Gómez
Senior Editor
Raw Vision

Image: © Pier Nello Manoni

LE LIVRE DE PIERRE
Lucienne Peiry
Paris: Éditions Allia
ISBN: 979-10-304-1214-7

This concise summary of the life and remarkable oeuvre of Fernando Nannetti (1927-1994) examines the unusual character of his artistic production — which, regrettably, no longer exists, except in photographs — and of the circumstances in which it was produced. His now-vanished works have earned this self-taught Italian draughtsman a secure place in the canon of the most definitive, emblematic art brut creators.

Written, in French, by the well-known art brut historian and curator Lucienne Peiry in a manner that is lucid and engaging, Le Livre de Pierre (The Book of Stone) pulls a reader not only into the isolated world in which Nannetti produced his mysterious graffiti but also deep into the process by which he created his writing-drawings on the exterior walls of the psychiatric hospital in Tuscany in which he spent most of his life.

Peiry, a former director of the Collection de l’Art Brut, organised an exhibition focusing on Nannetti at that well-known museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2011. Her text in this small-format book is based in part on the research she conducted for that earlier presentation but it also offers a new invitation to discover the work of a creator that is unique in the annals of art brut.

Fernando Oreste Nannetti was born in Rome in 1927; his father was unknown. As a young boy, he lived in an orphanage and was sent to a psychiatric institution for children. Later, he suffered from a spinal illness, for which he received treatment, and for a while, as a young man, he lived alone. However, in 1956, at the age of twenty-nine, after already having been diagnosed as schizophrenic and having experienced hallucinations and feelings of persecution, Nannetti was arrested for offensive behaviour toward a public official and sent to the Santa Maria della Pietà psychiatric hospital in Rome. In 1958, Nannetti was moved from Rome to the Volterra psychiatric hospital in the Tuscany region of central Italy.

It was there, Peiry explains, that the “taciturn, solitary” Nannetti, withdrawing from the surrounding chaos of his fellow patients’ “brawls, brouhahas, frenzies, and howls”, used nothing more than the metal prongs of the buckle on his hospital-issued vest to incise mysterious lines of text, in stylized, angular letters, on the external stone walls in the courtyard of the psychiatric hospital in which its residents took their daily breaks. His writings flowed back and forth horizontally and around the architectural details that decorated the stone walls.

Peiry notes that Nannetti covered these surfaces “with ingenuity” with his “biographical, auto-fictional, telepathic, and even pseudoscientific or cosmogonic declarations”. The hospital’s stone walls, she explains, “became the sensitive screen for his poetic projections,” and, in Nannetti’s hands, a simple belt buckle became “an instrument of freedom” and the confined man’s “escape key.”

Peiry’s book includes photographs that Pier Nello Manoni shot of Nannetti’s wall drawings in 1979, before they deteriorated with the passage of time. The Volterra hospital closed long ago. Le Livre de Pierre also reproduces, for the first time ever, several of Nannetti’s abstract drawings in ballpoint-pen ink on paper, whose dense compositions suggest affinities with the works of other art brut artists and with those of certain modern artists whose works have been characterised by limited formal vocabularies of line and pattern.

Le Livre de Pierre offers more than just an introduction to the life and work of a distinctive art brut creator. It also vividly captures his creative spirit.

Edward M. Gómez
photos: © Pier Nello Manoni

 

Ce résumé concis de l’histoire de la vie et de l’oeuvre remarquable de Fernando Nannetti (1927-1994) examine le caractère extraordinaire de sa production artistique, qui malheureusement n’existe plus, sauf dans des photographies rares, ainsi que les circonstances dans lesquelles l’artiste a réalisé ses créations. Aujourd’hui tout disparu, son oeuvre lui a valu une place sûre parmi les créateurs les plus définitifs et les plus emblématiques de l’art brut.

Écrit dans un style lucide et engageant par Lucienne Peiry, historienne et organisatrice d’expositions renommée dans le domaine de l’art brut, Le Livre de Pierre amène ses lecteurs à la fois dans le monde isolé dans lequel Nannetti a produit ses graffitis mystérieux et profondément dans le processus de création qu’il a employé pour réaliser ses dessins-écrits sur les parois extérieures d’une l’hôpital psychiatrique en Toscane où il a passé la majeure partie de sa vie.

Ancienne directrice de la Collection de l’Art Brut, à Lausanne, Suisse, Peiry a organisé une exposition consacrée à l’oeuvre de Nannetti pour ce musée renommé en 2011. Son texte dans ce petit livre repose en partie sur les recherches qu’elle avait faites pour cette exposition antérieure mais il nous invite de nouveau à découvrir l’oeuvre d’un créateur qui est unique dans l’histoire de l’art brut.

Fernando Oreste Nannetti est né à Rome en 1927; son père reste inconnu. Pendant son enfance il habite dans une institution de charité et il est envoyé à une institution psychiatrique pour les jeunes. Plus tard, il souffre d’une maladie spinale pour laquelle il reçoit un traitement médical, et enfin, pour une certaine période, il vit seul. Mais en 1956, à l’âge de vingt-neuf ans, après avoir été diagnostiqué schizophrène et après avoir eu des hallucinations et connu des délires de persécution, il est arrêté pour outrage à agent de la fonction publique et il est interné a l’hôpital psychiatrique Santa Maria della Pietà à Rome. En 1958, il est transféré a l’hôpital psychiatrique de Volterra en Toscane.

C’ést là, Peiry nous explique, où Nannetti, « taciturne » et « solitaire » , se retire du chaos autour de lui, d’un « climat étouffant de bagarres, de brouhahas, de délires et de
hurlements » . Provoqué par les autres patients de l’institution, et en utilisant uniquement la double pointe métallique de son gilet attribué par l’hôpital, il commence à inciser des lignes de texte mystérieuses en lettres stylisées et angulaires sur les murs de la cour du bâtiment dans laquelle les résidents de l’institution prennent leur pause quotidienne.

Peiry observe que ces surfaces transformées « avec ingéniosité » par Nannetti « se couvrent de déclarations biographiques, auto-fictives, télépathiques voire pseudo-scientifiques ou cosmogoniques » . Elle note que les murs extérieurs de l’hôpital deviennent « l’écran sensible des projections poétiques de l’auteur » et que, dans la main de Nannetti, un simple ardillon se transforme « en un instrument de liberté et devient sa clé des
champs » .

Le texte de ce nouveau livre est accompagné par les photos prises par Pier Nello Manoni en 1979 des dessins que Nannetti avait faits sur les murs avant leur disparition au fil du temps. L’hôpital psychiatrique à Volterra a été fermé depuis longtemps. Le Livre de Pierre reproduit aussi, pour la première fois, des photos d’une sélection des dessins abstraits que Nannetti a réalisés en encre de stylo à bille sur papier. Dans leurs compositions denses on trouve des affinités avec celles d’autres créateurs bruts et avec les oeuvres de certains artistes modernes caracterisées par des vocabulaires formels (de lignes et de motifs) limités.

Le Livre de Pierre nous offre plus qu’une introduction à la vie et à l’oeuvre d’un créateur exceptionnel de l’art brut. Il capture aussi, d’une manière saisissante, son esprit créatif.

Edward M. Gómez
photos: © Pier Nello Manoni