Currently, there is much discussion about many forms of Outsider art and what makes the designation appropriate given the genre is becoming ‘in’ for many tastemakers’ walls. These artists’ works are raw – emotions found right at the surface – something often lost through years of rigorous academic training and sculpting aesthetics acceptable to commercial audiences. Self-taught artists in particular tend towards a strong humility streak because they are aware presenting their creations in a world where credentials are everything can lead to vast disappointments.
For these artists, the license to share is their authenticity, for many are very good spinners of other people’s stories and training, but the ‘idiosyncratic-overcomer’ carries real star power. Florida Outsider Art has at least two examples of enduring self-taught African-American Artists of great popularity, Purvis Young and members of The Highwaymen, a group of Landscape Painters, all rising to prominence beginning in the 1950’s– 60’s despite the pressures of racism and segregation.
Self-taught artists became core exhibitors at Grace Café and Galleries, which opened in 2005 selling antiques, art, and food – although not the initial goal of the organization. As the story goes, Purvis Young walked into the historical building with a slight limp, tattered and paint-splattered clothes, southern drawl and broad smile and said he wanted to sell his work. Within a year, the gallery co-sponsored the 2007 Art Miami Director’s Choice exhibit for Young. Original generation Highwaymen visited the gallery too, joining Young and participating in outdoor art and antique festivals supporting off-site public school elementary arts classes. Artists painted in the café and the multitude of activities created a very steady income and creation of charitable arts programming.
After Young’s death in 2010, the non-profit, Grace Arts Center was formalized to further carry out the mission of Grace Café and began to receive grants to expand art programs, including several that Young contributed to through the gallery. Some of these contributions went towards expanding opportunities created by the Highwaymen. The Highwaymen demonstrated the quick painting style that made their work famous for young student artists to grasp the relevance of those skills for a successful career, hoping to create yet another generation of landscape painters.
The 2016-2017 ‘Reinterpreting the Pioneer’ Exhibition is inspired by the connection of Outsider Art to the community and history of Florida, while commemorating milestone events such as the aforementioned exhibit in 2007. This latest exhibition features presentations by noted advocates, such as Gary Monroe, published writer and archivist for Florida self-taught artists. Monroe visited the ‘Reinterpreting the Pioneer’ sponsor gallery with Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art – now NSU Art Museum – Executive Director, Irv Lippman in 2007. Monroe shared that thirty years earlier in 1987 “A Separate Reality: Florida’s Eccentrics” was presented by Executive Director, George Bolge, and curator, Karen Valdez. Both Bolge and Lippman saw Florida Outsider Art, and specifically that of Young and The Highwaymen as aesthetics that are part of Florida’s art history.
In preparation for the show, Lisa Stone Arts (a Collector and Dealer located in north Florida) collaborated with the Grace Café and Galleries to select art from all over the state including works from enigmatic photographer Fred Ressler; visionary painter, Robert Roberg ; sculptors, Florian Ludwig and Fort Lauderdale-based, Glen Mayo. Other noted self-taught artists featured during scheduled receptions are Mary Ann Carroll, the only female Highwaymen artist, second generation Highwaymen painter, Kelvin Hair (son of Alfred Hair); and an extensive posthumous tribute to Reva Freedman, whose striking abstract images were created during her second career as a painter at the age of 50 in the 1980’s in South Florida.
Reinterpreting the Pioneer opened in December 2016, the series of events around Florida Outsider Art continue through March 2017.