Material Culture is quickly becoming a leader in the field of self-taught or “outsider” art; the auction house considers the bold, individual visions of artists whose chief training comes from within to be equal to those that come from ‘inside’ the establishment. The May 26 “Folk Out Loud” sale features a wealth of opportunities for any art collector looking to expand or start a collection with pieces from this burgeoning field. Leading the sale are pieces by Purvis Young (1943-2010) and Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), whose paintings at auction are discussed in depth in the full “Folk Out Loud” press release. The self-taught art in this sale, along with the ethnographic and folk art that the auction contains, will be on exhibition from May 18 to May 25, with the auction beginning promptly at 11 AM, on Sunday, May 26. Liveauctioneers provides an online catalogue and live internet bidding at the time of the sale.
An early piece by Nigerian self-taught artist Prince Twins Seven-Seven (1944-2011) also leads the sale. Prince was an original member of the acclaimed Osogbo School, named for the Yoruba town Osogbo, which had its roots in the Mbari Mbayo Club created by Ulli and Georgina Beier to foster young artists. Intricate in both style and cosmology, his works are detailed at every layer, portraying spirits with double eyes, plants teeming with patterns, animals whose decoration are revealed to be smaller animals, all evocations of the forces, the impulses and narratives of his complex worlds. The universes of gods and men shown in Princeʼs paintings, and many of the elements of his own personal mythology, have their roots in the artistʼs profound connection to traditional Yoruba beliefs. “The Smelling Ghost” (1966), a work of ink, watercolor and oil on brown paper, is featured in Henry Glassieʼs book “Prince Twins Seven-Seven: His Art, HisLife in Nigeria, His Exile in America.” This painting depicts a spirit called Ologbonkian, a destroyer of the herbs and leaves that doctors use for healing. Prince describes the smell of the ghost as being similar to a variety of poisonous rat, and catching his scent will mean that the nearby herbs have been sapped of their medicinal powers. The painting bears a resemblance to a painting titled “Elephant Man,” which appears in Ulli Beierʼs “Contemporary Art in Africa,” although “The Smelling Ghost” is easily distinguished by the electric blue of its background. Measuring 31.5 inches by 39.5 inches, the painting is estimated to sell for $4,000-$6,000. One of Africaʼs most famous contemporary artists, Princeʼs international fame has garnered him exhibitions on every continent, and a place in the permanent collections of major museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2005, he was designated UNESCO Artist for Peace.
Other self-taught artists born outside of the United States include French painter Danielle Jacqui. Born in 1934 in Nice, Jacqui is considered to be ʻLʼArtiste Singuleur,ʼ a term that is meant to bridge the gap between more rigid definitions of outsider art and contemporary art. The large mixed media triptych at auction displays Jacquiʼs affinity for a wide variety of materials—her house in Rocquevaire is decorated using unbaked, terra cotta and multi-colored ceramics, beads, fabric and fiber—and her artʼs tendency to consume all the space it can find. A female figure emerges from the intricate decoration of the triptych, which measures 132 inches by 28 inches, and is expected to sell for $3,000-4,000. Her art appears in the permanent collections of many museums in France, including La Fabuloserie, Le Site de la Création Franche, and Le musée international d’art naïf. Domenico Zindato (born 1966) is an Italian self-taught artist, shown at auction in an untitled piece that displays his characteristic cheerful pastels and intermingling figural forms and finely decorated abstraction. Including the frame, the piece measures 17.5 inches by 14.5 inches by 1 inch, and is estimated to bring $1,000-$3,000. Although he lived much of his life in the United States, Felipe Jesus Consalvos (1891-1960) was born in Cuba, and his work draws on the Cuban vernacular tradition of cigar band collage. Working as a cigar roller for much of his life, Consalvos transformed the tradition that surrounded him into a complex, sophisticated blend of political satire and Dadaist absurdism. From his birth outside of Havana, Cuba, to his emigration to Miami in 1920, and later, to Brooklyn and then Philadelphia, he became highly skilled in the creation of playful collages on paper. His piece at auction, “Built – Not Stuffed” derives its title from a clipping of that phrase incorporated into the work. Consalvos frequently jests with social issues, and the phrase could refer to the womanʼs brassiere, outfitted in the collage with two round ones from a dollar bill, or the birdʼs head which has replaced her own. Political figures frequently appear in Consalvosʼ mixed media pieces, seen here in George Washingtonʼs head placed atop a foreign body which rides on the legs of a carousel horse. This mixed media collage, measuring 10 inches by 8 inches, is estimated to sell for $1,500-2,500. Consalvos was not known as an artist during his lifetime, but his work has been shown in larger exhibitions across the country, in Italy, and in Switzerland, and are in the permanent collections of museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum.
The auction also showcases works by self-taught artist Justin McCarthy (1892-1977), native of Pennsylvania, whose art has been included in major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Folk Art in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Both paintings display the expressionistic style and bright, non-naturalistic colors characteristic of McCarthyʼs work. One, titled “Six Ladies with Fancy Hats,” dates to 1968, shows the head and shoulders of six elegant women floating in a current of blue and lavender hues. This work of oil on Masonite measures 48 inches by 24 inches and is estimated to sell for $5,000-$7,000. Another McCarthy work, “Waterfall,” is a vibrant landscape measuring 23.5 inches by 15.5 inches. Painted in the 1960s-70s, this oil on Masonite piece is estimated to sell for $2,500-3,500. Another self-taught American painter with six works in the auction auction is Jim Bloom (b. 1968). Using collage, drawing and painting, Bloom conjures an immediacy of action, story and relationship. A carton of milk is tipped midair while figures wrestle beneath it in his piece “Spilled Milk,” a mixed media collage on wood. Measuring 31 inches by 24 inches, it is estimated to bring $750-1250. Bloomʼs other piece, dated 2007, is titled “Baby Sitters Boyfriend,” in which we guess that the nude figures may be the baby sitter and boyfriend named, surprised by the furious mother at right. Made with acrylic and mixed media on stretched canvas, this 61 inch by 73 inch piece is estimated to sell for $1000-2000.
Self-taught artist Howard Finster (1916-2001) is shown at auction in painting on cut wood titled “Coca Cola.” Born in Alabama, Finster was a Baptist minister, and his relationship with God inspired him to create a museum which he titled the Plant Farm Museum, but has come to be referred to as Paradise Garden. Finsterʼs art, brightly-colored and finely-detailed, is frequently decorated with religious or Biblical text, and it gained much attention after appearing on the album covers of bands such as R.E.M and the Talking Heads, amongst others. In the shape of a glass Coca-Cola bottle, the painting at auction dates to 1990; Finster made a series of Coca-Cola related artworks, many of them in this period, as part of a gesture incorporating pop culture into his well of imagery. The piece, measuring 34 inches by 10.5 inches, is densely populated with faces, figures and text, and is estimated to sell for $1000-2000. Also from Alabama, well-known self-taught artist Myrtice West (1923-2010) shares some thematic and stylistic similarities to Finster. A series of night visions compelled West to paint scenes from the Book of Revelations, the same source of divine inspiration for Sister Gertrude Morgan. After eight years, West had completed two series of her Revelations paintings, which became much sought-after by collectors, and she began painting other series from the Bible. In the 1990s, she created sets of paintings depicting the entire books of Daniel and Ezekiel, and this painting belongs to the latter series. The words “Ezekiel / Ch 17_18” float in the sky amidst Westʼs signature angels, while the landscape below illustrates the parable of the two eagles and the vine in Chapter 17 of Ezekiel, a warning against depending upon foreign nations. This 50 inch by 50 inch oil on canvas artwork has its own painted frame, and is estimated to bring $3000-4000. West is the subject of the book “Wonders to Behold: The Visionary Art of Myrtice West.”
Thornton Dial (b. 1928), another self-taught artist from Alabama, is represented at auction by five works, including an untitled painting of a woman, measuring 16 inches by 20 inches. The yellow-peach color of the womanʼs skin is streaked with black, predominantly on her cheeks and breasts, and her eyes appear bloodshot. A blue and red bird curves above the crest of her black hair. The piece uses pencil, charcoal and watercolor, and is expected to sell for $2,000-4,000. Dialʼs work frequently explores the political and historical issues of the United States, such as war, racism, and homelessness, sometimes in very large canvases and utilizing found objects. Of his drawings, however, the majority depict women, whether they are real-life portraits or imagined figures. His work appears in the permanent collections of numerous museums around the country, including the Whitney Museum and the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, Intuit in Chicago, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Another featured self-taught artist is William Hawkins (1895-1990), whose ink and pencil drawing “Son of Heaven” depicts a beast resembling a Chinese dragon. Measuring 14 inches by 11 inches, the piece is expected to sell for $1,500-$1,800. Two paintings by self-taught artists are variations on the American flag: “Canʼt Burn Me” by R.A. Miller (1912-2006), and “First Flag of USA” by Paul Darmafall (1925-2003), a self-taught artist known as the “Baltimore Glassman.” Several illustrate scenes or moments in African American history, including “Cotton Pickers,” by Jimmie Lee Suddeth (1910-2007), valued at $800-1,200, and Arbon Laneʼs (died 2005) “Readin in the Back of the Bus,” estimated to sell for $600-800. Additional self-taught artists shown in the sale include Richard Burnside, Sibyl Gibson, Lonnie Holley, Mose Tolliver, Willie White, Essie Treat Ward, often referred to as the “Grandma Moses of the Ozarks,” and Gregory Warmack, known as “Mr. Imagination,” amongst others.
Return to the “Folk Out Loud” press release for more information on pieces by Purvis Young, Sister Gertrude Morgan, as well as ethnographic art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and world and American folk art.