Summery Appeal: A Group Show Curated by Doug Harvey
There are a handful of unforgettable breakout stars among the 50+ artists included in this, the most epic of summer salons. But the true strength of the showing is the sheer breadth of eclectic styles represented, definitively pushing back against the idea of any kind of monolithic Outsider Art aesthetic. A dialogue is increasingly ongoing as to whether it’s better to consider Outsider Art as a stylistic denomination, or as a demographic focusing on the background of the practitioners? In any case, with this kind of diversity and clarity of vision representing the genre, the real question might be, outside of what?...
If it were not for categorization within the genre, the proliferation of raw, urgent, naive sophistication, intuitive narration, emotional color, gestural line, folksy contour, personalized pop culture, intimate symbolism, intense patterning, and celebrity homage would still be its own reward. However, that is not to say the application of the category is null or negative, because the issue of the artist’s influences and intentions are always a factor in a deeper understanding. That a genre of contemporary art exists which specifically embraces the gifts and cultural perspectives of those with emotional, physical, or developmental challenges, mental illness, and/or just an absolute lack of any kind of art training or sustained exposure to fine art — that most certainly does matter, especially to the intertwined realms of wonderment and meaning. A show like this is tougher to critique, but its magic is readily apparent.
Ceramics in particular lend themselves to the bridge between Outsider artists and, what, “insider”? That’s an important conversation, for another time. But given the current art world’s penchant for de-skilled, untrained-looking ceramics in general, the quirky, jaunty, fetish-free ceramic creatures by artists like Armando Saucedo and Jackie Marsh combine humor and tactility in a way that fits right in and begs to be touched. Saucedo makes paintings too, and Marsh also makes works on paper; a free-ranging use of materials and modes of making work is something the Outsider genre can rightly be said to favor. However, one of the marvels of the show is the deft, agile use of humble, ordinary materials like marker and pencil to achieve some of the most operatic and skillfully executed works on display.
Lupe Carbajal and Jonathan Jackson offer examples of extreme patterning, loose pointillism, dedicated crosshatching, and spatial blocking invoking both textile and architecture. Dru McKenzie brings a ritualistic, tribal flair to a pre-Colombian, Paul Klee-inflected mode of figure drawing. Hugo Rocha’s proto-Modernist color-blocking enlivens his channeling of classical art historical compositions from the fin-de-siecle era of cafe society. Evan Hynes is a Stan Lee of the dark avant-garde, with shades of Basquiat and a dedication to annotated fantasy. The poignant, witty, portraits of Black families by Mark Williams have a real Noah Davis thing going on, not so much in their vibrant, solid-shape, flatly schematic but richly textured style, but rather in the quiet act of showing Black culture as an extremely ordinary, deeply American way of life. Perhaps the power of that analogy can expand to include the entire Outsider Art enterprise — a whole universe which, it could be argued, isn’t really on the outside at all.