Pin It

Forging Ahead 

Most artists these days are highly educated, the polished products of graduate degree programs. For them, art is a serious profession no less than law or science. But, unlike those fields, the art world also welcomes self-taught "vernacular" artists who are usually working folk who take to art as a calling in much the way self-taught preachers find themselves on a mission from God. A few find themselves on a mission from art and God, but for Alabama folk artists Lonnie Holley, Thornton Dial, Joe Minter, Ronald Lockett and Charlie Lucas, making art is enough.

Actually, a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, looks down on the city of Birmingham, where former steelworkers are plentiful, so it should come as no surprise that much of this work is scrap metal that has been recycled into something from the artist's psyche. Ronald Lockett's Daniel depicts the biblical patriarch in the lion's den, in this case scrap steel cut and brightly painted so as to resemble an old-time theater, giving the Old Testament tale an almost Vaudevillian or circuslike aura. Thornton Dial is one of those perennial outsider artists who helped define the look of American folk art, and works such as his large scrap metal sculpture, Old Time Mule, epitomize those qualities while hinting at abstract expressionism and the assemblage art of Allan Kaprow, among other modern masters. It's this expressionistic edge, seen also in Dial's paintings such as The Refugees, that gives the best folk art its ability to transcend mere quaintness. The same might be said of the work of Charlie Lucas, whose whimsical cut steel sculpture is always thought provoking.

That expressionistic edge is certainly evident in Joe Minter's wonderful Slave Ship sculpture, a concoction of wooden beams and found objects like a Whitman's Sampler of the cultural symbols of oppression. Equally expressive are the assemblage sculptures of Lonnie Holley, but one difference is that works such as Eight Fences were assembled locally from Katrina debris. Holley is currently an artist in residence at the Ogden and works with school children. Such pieces were chosen to open the Ogden's Patrick Taylor Library building to the public because its still raw interior is a natural setting for artists who employ found objects and rough materials. When completed, the building, a masterpiece designed by the great 19th century architect Henry Hobson Richardson, will house the museum's 18th and 19th century collections.

While the current roughness of the building's interior complements the folk art, it's hard not to be captivated by the soaring vaulted ceiling of the main chamber, with its carved, extruded support beams like the dragon prows of antique Viking sailing ships. A New Orleans native who defined much of 19th century Boston, Richardson was a master of the Romanesque style, and his baronial stone buildings melded medieval romanticism with modern spaciousness. While Katrina has been a setback across the board, it's great to see museums such as the Ogden, among others, moving forward with expansion plans.

Although the picture is more mixed for area art galleries, expansionist tendencies set the tone even as some tactical retreats and rearrangements are currently underway. For instance, Moxy Studio Galleries announced in early March that they were going virtual (www.moxystudios.com) rather than fight high rents on Magazine Street. More recently, Penelope Jenkins of Jenkins-Connelly Gallery announced that her space on Julia Street was closing and would reopen next autumn in her own building on Camp Street. And next week, on the evening of April 7, the former Hanson-King Gallery will formally reopen in its newly renovated quarters at 241 Royal Street as the Angela King Gallery.

Actually, I think we can dispense with formalities and simply say that Angela's outdone herself with this renovation of a former antiques emporium into what is now one of the most sleekly elegant galleries in a city known for sleekly elegant galleries. It's a huge improvement that sets a new standard for the display of art in the French Quarter if not the city as a whole. Congratulations to her for a job well done --Êand to us for living in a place where so many people care so passionately about art as a way of life.

click to enlarge The ruggedness of folk sculptures such as Thornton Dial's - Old Time Mule  complements the unfinished - interior of the Ogden Museum's Patrick Taylor Library - building
  • The ruggedness of folk sculptures such as Thornton Dial's Old Time Mule complements the unfinished interior of the Ogden Museum's Patrick Taylor Library building
Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Submit an event Jump to date

Latest in Art Review

More by D. Eric Bookhardt

Spotlight Events

© 2014 Gambit
Powered by Foundation