Sunday, November 16, 2014

Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art from the Gasperi Collection at the Ogden Museum

The Throne of God by Sister Gertrude Morgan
Once folk art was just folk art. Somewhere, up in the hills, resourceful matrons would gather to make quilts and gossip, or retired small town cops would carve duck decoys or other, less identifiable things, but it was all "normal," good, clean fun. But in the 1970s, another kind of folk art became fashionable. It was variously dubbed "visionary" or "outsider" art, terms that were a kind of code for art by people who sometimes heard or saw things, often very strange things. Some were just oddballs while others were on a mission from God to save souls with their religious paintings. Local collector Richard Gasperi assembled over 500 such works, much of it is on view at the Ogden, where it makes for a great prelude to the expo of Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings inspired by the South, upstairs, with which it shares much in common.

Noah's Ark by David Butler
Birds and Crosses by Willie White
An entire gallery chamber is occupied by the works of David Butler, who in his retirement became a visionary conjurer of strange, benignly demonic avian and reptilian creatures painted in the rich colors and staccato patterns often associated with African art, but here mostly rendered in shaped corrugated tin panels. In real life he stayed close to his rustic home but his vision soared across time and space to  encompasses local swamps and African jungles as well religious scenes like Noah's Ark, above. Another retired gent with a similarly mesozoic visio, Willie White, sold felt marker landscapes like Birds and Crosses, from his Central City front porch, but although Mose Tolliver, an elderly Alabama, also painted odd animals, his women were odder, at times resembling those obscene "Sheela-na-gig" female gargoyles that can be seen exposing themselves above strategic portals on ancient Irish cathedrals. But Sister Gertrude Morgan was all about piety, hers and ours, and here she reveals to us The Throne of God, top, which clearly illustrates how she came to be considered something akin to a  William Blake of the Lower 9th Ward. It's quite a contrast to Jack Zwirz's inexplicably beguiling portrait of an Eleven Fingered Seamstress in an evening dress, below, or Rev. Howard Finster's colorfully inscribed painting illustrating how "millions of church folk drink Coca Cola and drive home safely."  ~Bookhardt

Eleven Fingered Seamstress by Jack Zwirz

Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art from the Collection of Richard Gasperi, Through Feb. 22, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600