Outliers: Rick Bartow, Mad River Wiyot

Deer Spirit by Rick Bartow (1946-2016)

Today, Martine and I visited the Autry National Center, which was putting on a show of the late American Indian painter and sculptor, Rick Bartow, entitled “Things You Know But Cannot Explain.” I was enthralled by Bartow’s vision of people and the wild animals whose spirits have invaded them. A member of the Mad River Band of Wiyot Indians, Bartow  lived much of his life around Newport, Oregon.

The deer spirit illustrated above is typical of Bartow’s depiction of human verging on totemic animal. Another is the drawing that gave its name to the show:

“Things You Know But Cannot Explain”

Note the face seeming to emerge from the upper right behind the foreground figure, who appears to be paralyzed with fright. Much more traditional is the drawing of three hawks below.

“Three Hawks”

I may not have a drop of Native American blood in me, but I am always delighted to see creative depictions of animals I consider to be my own personal totems, among whom I include the coyote, the raven, and the bear. Because I live at the edge of the desert and Bartow lived in the wet forests of the north, he did not depict my other totems, the frog and the turtle, both of whom I associate with life-giving rain.

Some of Bartow’s most impressive works are his sculptures. Perhaps I will do another posting on those later on. They are usually formed of wood, nails, and various found objects.

At a time when much of the art work is ruled by abstract expressionist garbage, I find Rick Bartow to be rooted in an ancient tradition that manages to speak to me today.

 

Outliers: Henry Darger

Henry Darger, “Untitled”

Much of 20th century art, particularly abstract expressionism, has taken painting down a rathole. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman—that whole crew has eschewed images of reality in favor of splotches of color and assorted shapes referring only to themselves.

Yesterday, I read an article in The New York Review of Books by Sanford Schwartz entitled “In Their Own Worlds” (June 7, 2018) which described two art exhibitions featuring folk art and other “outsider” art:

In recent decades, a tale unfolding within the larger story of contemporary art has been our gradually learning more about, and our trying to place, outsider artists. Problems begin at once, with the label. It is a description that many remain ambivalent about, and often believe should be put in quotation marks, to indicate its tentativeness. The situation somewhat echoes the moment, beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, when folk art was being taken out of attics and looked at anew, and commentators were not sure whether that term—or the labels “self-taught,” “naive,” or “primitive,” among others—was the appropriate one or would merely suffice. “Self-taught,” though imprevcise in its way—it has been said, for example, that most of the significant painters of the nineteenth century were essentially self-trained—has remained interchangeable with “folk art” for many commentators.

I have decided to focus on one of the artists mentioned in the article, Henry Joseph Darger Jr (1892-1973).

He Seems to Like Painting Pictures of Little Girls

Darger’s paintings are frequently of little girls, clothed and unclothed, sometimes with penises. In the picture above, the girls, blonde, beribboned, and, for the most part, wearing identical dresses and red socks, are running from the path of an advancing steam locomotive.

More Little Girls, This Time Including Blondes and Brunettes

Many of the Chicago artists are in horizontal scroll format. I guess what I like about Darger’s paintings is that they are so cryptic and surrealistic. One is repeatedly drawn to the images and finding something new in them. Slightly to the left of center of the above painting, for instance, is a witch riding a broom confronting a little blonde girl riding a tricycle.

I hope to find a few more outlier painters whom I like and present their work to you in future posts.

 

The Architectural Muse

Visitor at a Homage to Roberto Aizenberg’s Paintings

He started out as a student of architecture and ended up being a surrealist painter whose work has an architectural quality. Roberto Aizenberg (1928-1996) is the subject of this post, part of a desultory series on Argentinian painters. In general, I dislike abstract expressionists and love realists and surrealists. A student of Antonio Berni, about whom I have written before, Aizenberg’s work is reminiscent of Xul Solar, another surrealist from the Rio de la Plata.

“Biography of the Author” by Aizenberg

The above painting ties the artist’s love of architecture to the soil of Argentina, with the buildings appearing to be a range of buttes and mesas built atop red earth riddles with caves. This one particularly reminds me of Xul Solar’s surrealist humor.

“Harlequin” by Aizenberg

Harlequins typically wear costumes broken into a design of alternating black and white diamonds. Here, Aizenberg suggests the costume and brackets it with architectural elements. Instead of a human figure, the painter’s harlequin is topped with a doughnut-shaped ring and supported by three spheres of descending size—almost as if it were a decorative finial for a staff or scepter of sorts.

I have not seen many original canvasses by Argentinian painters, with the exception of Xul Solar, whose dedicated museum I have visited in Buenos Aires. The next time I go to South America—and I hope there is a next time—I will have to visit MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires.

 

The New Realism

Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda

This is a continuation of my occasional series on Argentinian painters. Today, I am presenting three paintings by Delesio Antonio Berni (1905-1981), who is known for his Nuevo Realismo, or new realism. This is usually taken to mean a Latin American form of social realism.

Below are two paintings dealing with poverty and the effects of industrialization in Argentina. Juan Perón came into power in the 1940s largely because of his appeal to workers. He was greatly aided in this by his then wife Evita Perón.

Public Demonstration

Manifestacion (Public Demonstration) (1934)

Note the sign at the upper right of this haunting image that reads “Pan y Trabajo,” which translates as “Bread and Work.” The faces in the foreground are particularly interesting.

There was a time when Argentina and Uruguay were two of the richest countries in the world. Much of this had to do with the invention of canned meat, followed soon after by the First World War, when there was a huge demand for meat to provision the troops of both sides. Sadly, boom times do not always last.

Desocupados

Desocupados (The Unemployed) (1934)

The above painting shows unemployed workers either asleep or staring into the middle distance.

When I go to Buenos Aires next month, I hope to find some of his original paintings, perhaps at MALBA (Museo d’Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires).

Looking East

Károly Ferenczy’s “The Gardeners”

Károly Ferenczy’s “The Gardeners”

I know next to nothing about academic Hungarian art, but I would like to know more. Today I searched the website of the Hungarian National Gallery looking for paintings that caught my eye. The one above looks like a typical folk subject, a gardener and his son. The gardener works at potting what looks like a yellow rose while his son holds an empty pot and a watering can while blankly staring into the distance.

From my childhood, I know a bit about popular art, which consists of all sorts of peasant scenes, with picturesque cottages, rustic wells, and galloping Magyar cowboys (we called them csikosok). We had one such reproduction in our living room which actually scared me. If one stared at the shadows of branches and leaves against the wall of the cottage, it looked like a sinister face with a hand raised threateningly.

Here is another work that caught my eye:

Jenö Gyárfás’s “Youth and Age”

Jenö Gyárfás’s “Youth and Age”

From time to time I will return to this subject, hopefully becoming a little more learned in the process.