Featuring Trudy Inkamala, Paddy Ngale, Hepzibah Swinford, Dulcie Sharpe, Andrea Jangala Robert, Wally Wilfred, LoU Zeldis
(1899 - 1977)
You don’t have to be an expert on James Castle to recognize one obvious truth about this deeply enigmatic artist. His challenges and limitations notwithstanding, he was a supremely visual person. Those of us in the arts call ourselves “visual” people because we were never very good at math. James Castle, deaf since birth, had only his eyes and his fingertips with which to experience the world. As such, his powers of observation were second to none. He didn’t search far and wide for his subjects. He had everything he needed literally in the back yard, the parlor, the one-room shed, the lot beyond the fence. Through his art Castle did more than teach us how to look—he showed us how to see. And in his humble corner of the world, he saw multitudes.
Mary P. Corbett
A recently discovered self-taught artist, Mary Paulina Corbett created a novel and highly personal body of work that reflects the thoughts, interests, and preoccupations of a young woman coming of age in small-town America during the 1940s. Replete with a cast of characters ranging from fictionalized female protagonists and family pets to heroic male figures drawn from popular culture, Corbett’s idiosyncratic and hyper-feminine drawings were created between 1942 and 1951––formative years during which she transitioned from a teenager to an adult. While creating her brief but very private narrative, Corbett also developed as an artist, moving from a lyrical and loosely rendered comic-book style to a more refined and equally dynamic handling of the figure.
A “social expressionist” whose art has been described as both spiritual and visionary, Purvis Young was a self-taught African-American artist who drew inspiration from the urban subculture––specifically, the decaying neighborhood of Overtown, Miami, where he lived and worked. An astute observer of street life in this once prosperous community (formerly known as the “Harlem of the South”), Young created idiosyncratic works of art on found materials––ranging from discarded pieces of wood, carpet scraps, and pieces of fabric to table tops and castoff books––which he painted and then nailed or glued together to produce images that reflected his response to the human condition as he experienced it in the South. Replete with squiggling lines, distorted figures, and vibrant colors, his assemblages exude a raw, emotional quality that reflects Young’s desire, as he put it, to paint “what’s on my mind” (Purvis Young, as quoted in William Arnett, “On Purvis Young’s Mind,” in William Arnett and Peter Arnett, Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South: Volume Two: Once That River Starts to Flow [Atlanta, Georgia: Tinwood Books, 2001], p. ).
A key figure in the tradition of twentieth-century African American folk art, Bill Traylor is considered by many to be the truest embodiment of the “outsider” or “self-taught” artist. A visual storyteller whose drawings have been likened to such evocative interpreters of the South as William Faulkner and Robert Johnson, Traylor’s iconic images of people and animals reflect his powers of imagination as well as his close observation of the world around him. Lauded for his ability to combine geometric stylization with his keen sense of design and narrative detail, Traylor created a unique body of work. Since 1982, when his drawings were reintroduced to modern audiences through the exhibition Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980, held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., critics have speculated about the social, cultural, and political implications of his art, as well as its parallels with blues music. What is always agreed upon, however, is its universal appeal stemming from the artist’s sincerity, humor, and remarkably sophisticated formalism. (For a discussion of the artist and his work, see Phil Patton, Bill Traylor: High Singing Blue, exhib. cat. [New York: Hirschl & Adler Modern, 1997] and Bill Traylor 1854–1949: Deep Blues [New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1998].) One of the most unlikely chronologies of the life of an American artist, Traylor’s career did not begin until the age of 85. Born into slavery on George Hartwell Traylor’s cotton plantation in Benton, Alabama, he lived there through emancipation and ultimately worked there for the better art of his life. However, with crops failing in the late 1920s, and with the onset of the Depression, Traylor and other black sharecroppers were forced to find employment in the city. Around 1935 he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he worked in a shoe factory and did other odd jobs before rheumatism forced him into retirement. In 1939––inspired by his early experiences on the farm and in response to the bustling world outside his doorstep––Traylor set up base on a covered stoop outside the entrance to a local pool hall on Lawrence Street and began making drawings on scraps of cardboard and on the backs of advertising posters. Populated by drunken revelers, stray dogs, runaway carts, forlorn mules, and countless farm animals, his compositions possessed an extraordinary sense of design and abstraction that caught the eye of Charles Shannon (1914–1996), a white teacher and artist whose own paintings dealt with the daily life of African Americans in Alabama. Intrigued by Traylor’s work, Shannon supplied him with art supplies and bought his drawings. In 1940, he organized Traylor’s first exhibition at New South, a cooperative gallery in Montgomery. Shannon eventually acquired between 1,200 and 1,500 drawings by Traylor, all of them produced between 1939 and 1942. In the early summer of 1942, Charles Shannon was drafted into military service and would not return until January 1946. Traylor subsequently lived with relatives in Washington, D.C., Detroit, New York, and elsewhere in the north, but produced no drawings during the war years. In 1946, he returned to Montgomery, where he lived with his daughter, Sarah (Sally) Traylor Howard, until his death in 1949.
Shape-shifting humans, grotesque beasts, benevolent creatures, majestic birds – these are just some of the players in a visual drama that springs from the uncommon depths of a defiant artist named Jeanne Brousseau. The drama is both tragedy and comedy, whimsy and horror, rendered with childlike imagination but with the precision and intensity of a “grown-up” who has something important to say. These strikingly beautiful combinations of line, color, and form are in fact a survivor’s attempt to confront deeply suppressed memories of child abuse by her father.
Hirschl & Adler Modern is proud to introduce the work of self-taught artist Jeanne Brousseau (b. 1952). This represents the artist’s debut solo-exhibition in New York, the first time many of these highly personal, intimate drawings have been seen outside her hometown of Penobscot, Maine, where Brousseau is known locally as a maker of offbeat crafts, a dog breeder, gardener, and a skilled knitter. It wasn’t until recently that the sheer breadth of her creativity became known when she decided to tell her story and share her private drawings with the public.