As I wrote in a blogpost earlier this month, I am a massive fan of what some might call 'primitive art' or Art Brut. This includes Outsider Art and Folk Art. There's something very fresh and exciting about art that comes direct from the imagination and isn't influenced by the tastes and mores and trends of the art world.
So, for this last post of April I thought I'd share a few video links to artists I'm particularly fond of. We'll start with Shinichi Sawada, a self-taught Outsider Artist who produces extraordinary ceramic pieces. As a child, he attended a school for children with special educational needs where he was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. From the age of 18, he began to attend a local social welfare facility – an institution for people with learning disabilities called Nakayoshi Fukushikai, in Shiga Prefecture, western Japan. This is what he produces.
Sawada has a set routine. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays he works with others at a bakery, making bread and then selling and delivering the produce locally. Sometimes, he also helps out packing small electrical items. In the afternoons, he is driven over to a pottery studio in the mountains with Akio Kontani, another sculptor, and Iketani, the retired facilitator who has worked with Sawada since he first started going to the institution. Sawada works quickly and in silence and takes four or five days to complete one of his ceramic creatures. Each is built around a cylindrical base that is hollow in the centre. Most have faces on more than one side, and some have several faces stacked on top of one another giving the creations a totem pole look. All the pieces are covered in little spikes. These attachments have evolved over time, becoming denser and more rounded. Sawada often applies them in straight, orderly lines across the surface of the clay.
His work - and the work of other outsider artists - is represented in the UK by the Jennifer Lauren Gallery in Manchester. Sawada also features in an episode of Alan Yentob's excellent Imagine series called 'Turning the Art World Inside Out', which you can watch on Vimeo here. It's a fascinating 60 minute look at the world of Outsider Art, worth watching and very uplifting.
Now we'll look at the work of the late Sulton Rogers (1922–2003).
'Folk Art' covers all forms of visual art made in the context of folk culture and using traditional skills. It's where you find intricately carved wooden bowls and love spoons, embroidered samplers, corn dollies, carved figurines, and much pottery and ceramics. Some items have a practical utility rather than being exclusively decorative. Folk arts are rooted in and reflective of the life, folklore and cultural heritage of a community.
Sulton (often mispelled as 'Sultan') Rogers was a Mississippi folk artist who spent most of his life in Syracuse, New York working at a chemical plant. He took up woodcarving as a way of staying awake during long night shifts. Rogers claimed that his art was a reflection of his dreams, or what he called 'futures'. He moved back to Oxford, Mississippi in 1995 and lived there until he died.
He is known for what he called his haints - curious carved and painted wooden figurines. Rogers' haints are primarily carved humans with oversized or multiple features. He would also carve animals but, more commonly, humans that have animal heads or body parts. He would also carve multiple related carvings known as haint houses. These pieces sometimes included dollhouses that would be filled with his figures.
He also made a lot of figures in coffins, which friends found slightly disturbing. 'I got a couple of friends that come to the house, they don’t go to the cellar ‘cuz I usually have coffins sitting around there,' he told the Artists' Alliance in 1991. 'You know the fellow I rent from, he don’t go down there. He says if anything would break, you fix it because I ain’t going down there. Then if he does come, he says if you gonna make things then cover them up so I can’t see ‘em, put a sheet or something on ‘em. One night he come to the door and I was trying to put a wig on those dead people in the coffin. He told me I was an idiot for doing stuff like that.'
His haints are now part of permanent collections at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art, the African American Museum, and the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum. His carvings have also appeared in the Dallas Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and the American Visionary Art Museum.
It's wonderful stuff isn't it? And all made from recycled materials.