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Obituaries

Gerhard Dammann (1963–2020)

Gerhard Dammann, a Swiss psychiatrist who, with his wife Karin, became known for his deep interest in art brut and for the comprehensive collection they assembled in this field, died on June 20, 2020, in Münsterlingen, Switzerland. He was 56 years old.

Born in Oran, Algeria, Dammann studied medicine, psychology, and sociology at universities in Tübingen and Frankfurt, Germany; Basel, Switzerland; and Paris. He earned degrees in psychology and sociology. Later, he served as an assistant and as a senior physician at university-affiliated hospitals in Basel; Freiburg im Bresgau, Germany; and Strasbourg, France. He worked at the Klinikum rechts der Isar, a hospital in Munich, too. Dammann also earned degrees in psychiatry, psychotherapy, and business administration. He became a psychoanalyst and was associated with the Freud Institute in Zürich. A specialist in diagnosing personality disorders, he was an expert in borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.

As an intern at the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg, Germany, Dammann became familiar with the artistic creations of psychiatric patients and their relationship to the history of art brut. Later, with his wife, he began amassing what would become one of the most substantive collections in this specialised field in Europe. A first showing of their collection took place at the Prinzhorn Collection in 2006. In 2013, its holdings were published in Wahnsinn Sammeln (Collecting Madness) (Heidelberg: Sammlung Prinzhorn), a two-volume catalogue accompanying an exhibition that opened that year at the Museum in Lagerhaus in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Recalling Gerhard Dammann, that museum’s director, Monika Jagfeld, said, “With experience and knowledge, he moved among a wide network of collectors, art dealers, scientists, and museums. He combined his profession and his passion in an exciting way — basic human conflicts were his topic [of interest] in science and art. He saw himself in the tradition of the psychiatrist-collector.”

Jagfeld noted that, today, the Dammann Collection includes more than 600 works of art, including pieces by such emblematic art brut and outsider art creators as Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez, Guo Fengyi, and Ann Zemánková. The Dammanns often focused on the works of art brut makers associated with the psychiatric history of the genre, such as Aloïse Corbaz and Adolf Wölfli.

In recent years, Dammann, who was awarded an honourary doctorate by Kahrkiv National Medical University in Ukraine in 2018, served as medical director of the Psychiatric Clinic in Münsterlingen and as hospital director of psychiatric services for the canton of Thurgau, in northeastern Switzerland. In 2014, when the Dammanns’ collection was shown in Ulm, Germany, Gerhard jokingly told a local reporter, “There are some collectors who collect more than they can really afford or hang. My wife and I may be counted among them.” Jagfeld remembers that Dammann once observed, “Art and religion are the portals that allow us to transcend.”

Gerhard Damman’s immediate survivors include his wife, Karin, and their four daughters.

Edward M. Gómez
Senior Editor
Raw Vision

Photo courtesy of Museum im Lagerhaus

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

Photo courtesy of Morteza Zaheedi, Tehran, Iran

 

Félix Arranz Pinto, self-taught artist and creator of the Parque Mudéjar in Olmedo, Spain, died on April 2, 2020 from the Coronavirus, only three days after laying down his tools and entering the hospital. He was 86 years old.

Spain’s region of Castilla y León, the heart of the kingdom of Old Castile, retains numerous examples of Mudéjar architecture, a unique style characterized by a fusion of Romanesque and Gothic elements with Islamic designs, which flourished during the 780-year period of Arab control over the Iberian Peninsula. When Spain was “reconquered” in 1492, the victorious Christian armies preserved many of these significant Muslim palaces, religious sites, and noble homes, and repossessed them for their own uses. In recent decades, several have been honored with UNESCO World Heritage status.

In 1999, Arranz, long an admirer of this style, decided to create a park that would replicate miniature examples of Castilla y León’s Mudéjar architecture. Over the next decade, after traveling to each site and taking careful measurements, he experimented until he successfully developed ways to copy the Middle Age designs and building techniques, and he ultimately completed nineteen castles, houses, portals, and places of worship at scales of 1:6, 1:8, and 1:22. His intention was to recall the memory of a more tolerant age, when various cultures lived and worked together in relative harmony. The Parque Mudéjar is now supported by the City of Olmedo.

Text courtesy of Jo Farb Hernandez

Photos © Jo Farb Hernández, August 15, 2018

 

Raw Vision is very sad to announce that great visiobnary writer and art hisorian Roger Cardinal passed away on November 1 at the age of 79. His revolutionary book Outsider Art, published in 1972 was the very first work in English on the subject and gave the world the name 'Outsider Art,' originally as an English equivalent to Dubuffet's art brut defnition.

In 1979 he co-curated "Outsiders" at London's Hayward Gallery with Victor Musgrave, presenting the great masters of outsider art, an exhibition that had a profound and lasting impact.

Roger Cardinal's influence in the establishment of an entire new field of contemporary art is immeasurable. The whole incredible rise of outsider art around the world in the last 30 years, especially in the anglosphere, stems from his book and writings. It has seen thousands of books and publications, hundreds of specialist libraries and collections, regular huge museum exhibitions in many cities and thousands of art gallery shows all around the world. He was the one who sparked the magic of outsider art.

 

Valton Tyler, a prodigious, visionary, self-taught maker of prints, drawings, and otherworldly paintings, died in Dallas, Texas, on September 25. He was 73 years old and had suffered from respiratory and other ailments. Born in Texas City, on the Gulf of Mexico coast, Tyler was a child when a chemical explosion in the town’s port set off massive fires there and at nearby oil refineries in what became known as the largest industrial disaster in US history. Later, Tyler spoke about that terrifying event and his family’s escape from the burning town, sometimes hinting that his strange landscapes’ fiery skies reflected his memories of the Texas City Disaster. Paradoxically, at times he also denied any such allusion in his art’s unusual imagery.

As a teenager, with his mother and sister, Tyler moved to Dallas, where his older brother, Robert, worked as a draughtsman in an architectural firm. A prolific maker of drawings whose semi-abstract forms suggested plant-like, organic forms, Valton often gave them away. Advising him that he would never be taken seriously if he did so, Robert showed his brother's India ink drawings to Donald Vogel, a painter who, in the 1950s, had founded Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden, Dallas’s first high-quality, modern-art venue. Vogel became Valton’s dealer and champion, acquiring much of the young artist’s output and arranging for him to use the printmaking workshop at Southern Methodist University. There, in the 1970s, in just two years, Tyler produced a series of 50 sophisticated etchings featuring complex compositions.

He also created oil paintings whose futuristic, partly architectonic, partly mechanical-looking, techno-baroque structures loom against richly coloured backgrounds. Tyler called them “my shapes” and suggested that they had “feelings”. He said, “I try to make them communicate with each other.” After ending his relationship with Valley House Gallery in the 1990s, he made many large-scale paintings for private collectors, while refining his drawing technique in images of his bizarre “shapes” rendered in plain pencil or red coloured pencil on paper. A friendly eccentric who once spent nine years eating only baby food to avoid choking, Tyler was admired by other artists who knew his work.

Tyler lived to see a superb exhibition of his etchings of the 1970s presented at the Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth, Texas, earlier this year, and the new film Valton Tyler: Flesh is Fiction, by myself and cinematographer Chris Shields, before its recent première at the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth. Recalling his art-making as a child, Tyler once recalled, “I became aware that what I was doing was something special, something I would never want to stop doing.”
Edward M. Gómez

Caption: photo: Edward M. Gómez

 

On August 17, 2017, Kansas artist M.T. Liggett died at the age of 86.

Widely known for creating politically charged metal totems, M.T. Liggett was an outspoken curmudgeon who didn’t shy away from confrontation. Whirling and spinning along miles of pasture fence line along US Highways 400 and 54 in southwest Kansas, his work was a bright spot of belligerence in an increasingly bucolic world.

Born Myron Thomas Liggett on December 28, 1933, he joined the Navy in 1948, and then served in the United States Air Force from 1957 through 1971. In 1987, he settled in Mullinville, his hometown, where he would create his ever-expanding art installation. His formal education focused on political science, an influence reverberating throughout his work.

His 20-acre roadside property became home to over 300 metal totems lampooning politicians, officials and anyone else who caught his critical eye. The subjects of his work ranged from local councilmen to international figures, changing with election cycles and societal tides. Often mistaken for a conservative, M.T. was an equal opportunity offender, pointing out hypocrisy and indiscretion regardless of party affiliation. His figures reflected his personality – smart, witty, sometimes biting, but always with a genuine heart at the core.

Continually questioning and provoking, Liggett’s work expands beyond politics. The pieces reference Greek mythology, personal biographies (including numerous portraits of his romantic interests) and bold statements designed to make visitors question their place in the world. He had a deep desire to provoke not just thought but action. In a 2013 interview, he explained the power of the creative: “See, where you’re an artist, you can just do any damn thing you wanna do. And you’re a damned fool if you don’t.”

Liggett was happy to guide people through his roadside commentary, revealing an approachable engaging man. His health had been on the decline in recent years, slowing his creative output but not the desire to share his work. Before his death, M.T. set up a board of trustees to make sure his work would be preserved in situ, continuing their whirling, clanking, glorious cultural critique on the sweeping Kansas prairie.
Erika Nelson

Caption: photo: Ted Degener

 

Ossie Lee Samuels grew up in south Georgia and north Florida, with all the disadvantages of being black in a time and place where money was scarce and racism deeply entrenched. His heritage was Geechee, aka Gullah, the creole culture developed by slave descendants on the southern Atlantic coast. Kept out of school as a child, he was put to work performing menial jobs. As a young man who had tried washing cars, driving a truck, and working in gas stations and pulpwood mills, he moved to New York in search of better opportunities. There he became a prizefighter, until he sacrificed his career by refusing a mobster’s demand that he intentionally lose a match. Returning to Georgia, he settled in Moultrie, a small town where he established himself as a tree surgeon. The job sustained him until 1982, when a tree-topping accident left him seriously injured, temporarily disabled, wheelchair-bound, and deeply depressed. During this period of inactivity he recalled his grandmother’s recommendation of woodcarving as an effective means to calm a troubled mind, inspiring him to start what soon developed into a prolific output of distinctive wood sculptures.

Samuels carved natural subjects, especially animals, as well as human subjects extraterrestrial characters, cars, and aircraft. His work’s distinguishing characteristics include its imaginative hybridity - its frequent conjoining of physical features from two or more different animals in a single sculpture - and its idiosyncratic surface details. The sculptures are painted and/or finished with glossy layers of varnish or clear lacquer, sometimes in combination with lurid shades of glitter paint. (Samuels was colorblind, according to his longtime dealer Jeanne Kronsnoble, owner of Main Street Gallery.) They’re often embellished with faux jewels, marbles, metal foil, animal teeth, bones, and other ephemera chosen to add flash and personality. Coinciding with his late-life art pursuits Samuels built a lectern and moved several pews into his house to set up a church where he preached sermons on Sundays and whenever the spirit moved him. The small sanctuary doubled as an exhibition space for new works and special pieces that weren’t for sale. Years after regaining his strength and mobility, he continued to make art and preach. When he moved to Tallahassee, Florida, in the 1990s, he brought his sculpture practice with him, along with his church and its trappings

Samuels’ health took a turn for the worse in recent years, primarily due to heart and blood-pressure problems. Visitors to his home in 2016 found him physically diminished and seemingly not long for this world. Kronsnoble visited him in May and found him “in very bad shape” and under hospice care. He died on July 6, 2017.                   

Tom Patterson
photo credit: Ted Degener

 

David Boxer, a well-known art historian and former, long-serving director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, died there in late May after a long bout with cancer. He was 71 years old. Although he had retired from the museum in 2013, as recently as late last year, Boxer enthusiastically composed a detailed essay for the catalogue of the exhibition of the work of the Jamaican self-taught artist John Dunkley (1891–1947) that opened at the Perez Art Museum in Miami on May 26.

It was the last text that would flow from the pen and the mind of this pioneering researcher, thinker, teacher and working artist (Boxer made paintings, collages and mixed-media installations, often on history-related themes, including slavery), who was widely held as one of the most original and influential recent cultural figures in the Caribbean.

Born in southeastern Jamaica, Boxer earned degrees in art history in the United States, at Cornell University in New York and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. His doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins examined the early work of the British modernist painter Francis Bacon. In his own art, Boxer was deeply influenced by Bacon’s psychologically intense, semi-abstract figurative imagery.

A wunderkind whose talents were recognised by Edna Manley, a sculptor and wife of the Jamaican, pre-independence political leader Norman Manley, Boxer went on to write extensively about his mentor’s art. Boxer became the director and chief curator of the still-young National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) in the mid 1970s.

In his work at the NGJ, Boxer made the case that the history of Jamaican artistic expression and, in effect, of his homeland’s national cultural identity, could be traced back to the Taino, an ancient, indigenous people. He championed the works of unschooled, self-taught artists who mostly lived and made their paintings, sculptures and carvings in Jamaica’s rural towns and villages. He proposed that the works of such “Intuitives”, as he called them, could and should be appreciated as contributing to the shaping of a sense of Jamaica’s national cultural identity. Of the Jamaican Intuitives, Boxer observed: “Theirs is not ‘art for art’s sake’, but rather, as someone once described African art, ‘art for life’s sake’.” Boxer’s more expansive approach to local art history did not always sit well with certain art-school-trained, Jamaican modern artists.

“Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica” (1975), “The Formative Years: Art in Jamaica 1922–1940” (1978), “The Intuitive Eye” (1979), and “Barrington Watson: A Retrospective” (2012) were among the many exhibitions Boxer organised for the NGJ. His numerous books include the 1990 monograph Edna Manley: Sculptor; Modern Jamaican Art (1998) and Jamaica in Black and White (2013), a survey of early Jamaican photography co-authored with Edward Lucie-Smith. Last year, Boxer was made a member of the Order of Jamaica, an award that is considered the equivalent of a knighthood in the British honours system.

Edward M. Gómez
photo credit: Edward M. Gómez

 

Francisco González Gragera, creator of the spectacular Capricho de Cotrina in western Spain, died suddenly on September 19, 2016. He was 90 years old.

González’s development into one of Spain’s most inventive and driven art environment builders could never have been predicted. Born on Christmas Day, 1925 to a poor family of subsistence farmers, Francisco left school at age thirteen to work full-time in the fields, and then, by age seventeen, to work in construction. After 11 years in the Basque city of Bilbao, he moved back to Extremadura, near the village of his birth, where he and his brother opened a stonework business, cutting marbles and limestone for walls, floors, counters, and tombstones.

While actively involved in this business, González dreamt about constructing a country home on adjacent land to explore his increasing interest in sculpting natural forms. Beginning in 1988, basing his work only on a few simple pencil or pen outlines drawn in single perspective, he framed and assembled a two-story structure characterized by sinuous lines and organic contours. Despite some obvious congruencies, González staunchly resisted any comparison between his work and the trencadís-ornamented fluid forms of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí: “I didn’t ever visit Barcelona [before I started building],” he noted, “and I couldn’t copy any plans from television,” where he first saw images of Gaudí’s works. Besides, he said, “that man made Pharaonic works and this is just a simple house that I thought up in order to leave to my children” (Poves, Hoy July 18, 2010).

González’s Capricho is linked to aesthetic fantasy and personal dreams but also to the natural and man-made worlds. His architectural whimsy is also tinged with painful memories, marked by images representing the postwar years of starvation across Spain and the deprivations of the wars. His personal campaign to prove to others that he was worthy, that he was special, also underlay his impetus for construction.

Yet over the course of his years of construction he was obstructed again and again: on a personal level, as he periodically ran out of discretionary funds to spend on building materials, but also due to municipal mandates to stop work, given his lack of certification as an engineer or architect, and to his disregard of the inflexible urban codes that allowed no variant for this kind of unusual construction. He lost some 8 – 10 years as he waited, chafing; finally, in 2011 the administration changed, and he joyously returned to work, completing a master bedroom area connected by an undulating hallway to the main house, and undertaking separate projects to enhance other areas of the site, such as an elaborate outdoor cooking area. Although he did not realize his dream, his son Roberto has pledged to bring the Capricho to completion.

Powerful and compelling with its sinuous forms, otherworldly plants, and imaginary animals, Francisco González Gragera did, indeed, evolve from poor unknown farmer into renowned artist, as he created one of the most spectacular art environments in all of Spain.

Jo Farb Hernández

 

Laurent Danchin – freelance writer and exhibition curator, polemical critic and French correspondent to Raw Vision has died in Paris after a long illness. He had been a loyal supporter of this magazine since its inception, contributing enthusiastic and well-informed articles and reports that embraced a range across the lively overlapping territories of Art Brut, Outsider Art, art singulier and Naïve Art.

He was a tireless researcher and curator who loved to befriend individual creators, and the hundred-odd feature articles he issued over three decades established a distinctive circle of French creators active working in our busy and multiform field: Pierre Avezard, Raymond Isidore, Miguel Amate, Raphaël Lonné, Anselme Boix-Vives.

A prolific writer, Danchin bore witness to the successes and the excesses that have marked the marginal art world over the past half-century, praising fulsomely where praise was due, while waging a war against laziness and inaccuracy in the claims and appraisals manifested at international museum blockbuster exhibitions, as well as at ambitious solo shows in makeshift galleries. His publishing record is formidable and includes prefaces and introductions composed for art catalogues, along with theoretical musings regarding the themes, techniques and strategies of self-projection that characterise the Outsider world. His illustrated handbook Art brut, L’instinct créateur (1989) represents a mine of information and a shrewd deployment of impressions garnered over time, while his short essays reveal a tireless concern to assess new developments or to document the quarrels and agitations of a long list of philosophers, aesthetes and pioneering collectors. His
discerning gaze saw through any sham or shameful manipulation, and installed a constant standard of fairness and imaginative response that shed an even light upon the dozens of marginal artists he loved and defended. His personal favourites were many and
ranged from bona fide Outsiders like the painters Marcel Storr and Germain Tessier or his hero, the environmentalist Chomo (Roger Chomeaux), to awkward borderline cases such as the disturbed surrealist Antonin Artaud or the founding father of Art Brut himself, Jean Dubuffet himself, to whom he devoted an erudite monograph: Jean Dubuffet, peintre-philosophe (1988).

Ever alert to artistic invention, Danchin organized a section on contemporary Fabric Art (The Inspired Needle) at the international trienniale ‘INSITA’ in Bratislava in 2000, with pieces by Rosa Zarkhikh and Marie-Rose Lortet; he once coaxed a secretive mediumistic artist called Marie-Jeanne Gil into showing her work. He was a leading activist in the campaign to rescue Pierre Avezzevard’s playful merrygo- round when it was threatened with destruction in the late 1990s, rolling up his sleeves and helping reconstruct the work at the Fabuloserie museum.

Danchin played a part in the wider effort to preserve those unwitting masterworks that hover at the frontier of ‘high culture’ and challenge the very foundations of creativity by dispensing with authorised themes and imposed standards. In recent years, he and an artist friend, Jean-Luc Giraud, have worked in tandem on a website literary project called Mycélium, a flexible networksource of ideas and images, now sadly curtailed after an experimental exhibition, Génie savant, génie brut (2014), that juxtaposed artists of genius in both academic and selftaught spheres.

Laurent Danchin was a social animal and loved busy meetings and encounters with newcomers lost in the dark corners of the Lausanne museum. For many years a teacher in a lycée at Nanterre, he was a great humourist and loved to bring anecdotes to a group conversation, often standing his ground before retreating a few shuffling steps, prior to moving quickly forward again to deliver a punchline that released a burst of general laughter. He cultivated many friendships, and while devoted to home life with his wife Francine and his talented violinist daughter, Clara, actually managed to travel widely as a kind of Outsider Art ambassador. He will be remembered for his loyalty to his friends, his sharp intellect and his ceaseless curiosity.

The last time I met Laurent was at the Outsider Art Fair held in Paris in 2015, after his first operation. He was cock-a-hoop about his discovery of a new path of expression – he had just started his autobiography and the project seemed to fill him with utter joy. He will be sorely missed.

—Roger Cardinal, 2017