Domingo Guccione (1898 – 1966)
Guccione was born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He was a mystic and a musician with no training in the visual arts and very little knowledge of art history. The oeuvre that he left behind (produced between 1930 and 1955) is a compelling display of geometric abstraction.
The artist worked in private and claimed to be channeling a mysterious force that took a hold of him in bouts of creative energy—where his body and mind were not his own. Accordingly, he could (or would) not explain his finished works and in turn asked viewers what they saw in them. Guccione did not sketch his drawings, working quickly and with a minimal range of materials; thick sheets of paper, graphite, colored pencils, and a straight piece of wood, about 4” long, with no measurement markings.
His works present us with compact kaleidoscopic arrangements where geometric patterns intertwine with irregular linear shapes. They are both deeply abstract and reminiscent of futuristic architectural landscapes; of buildings and labyrinths that fluctuate between flatness and three-dimensionality, interweaving densely packed color with subtle shading.
William Hawkins (1895-1990)
Born in rural Kentucky, Hawkins moved north to Columbus Ohio in 1916, where he lived for the rest of his life. He held an assortment of unskilled jobs and only began painting in the style for which he is best known until the mid to late 1970s. He worked almost without letup thereafter, in spite of illness and advancing age.
To accompany the artist on his walks through the streets of Columbus was like following an experienced prospector in search of gold. Hawkins’s selective eye seized images from newspapers, magazines, and advertisements, which he habitually salvaged from dumpsters and kept in a suitcase for reference and use in his works. He combined these images with his own recollections and impressions to create a vivid picture gallery of animals, American icons (such as the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler building), and historic events. Although the artist could barely read and write, he transformed words themselves—usually his signature and birthplace and date—into powerful graphic elements.
Hawkins’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the American Folk Art Museum, the Newark Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others. In 2018, “William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography,” a comprehensive exhibition including 60 of the artist’s most important works and an accompanying catalog, opened at the Columbus Museum of Art—later traveling to the Mingei International Museum (San Diego, California), the Figge Art Museum (Davenport, Iowa), and the Columbus Museum in Georgia.
William Hawkins 1895 - 1990
Untitled (Black, Grey, and White Buildings), ca. 1983-85
Enamel on found wood panel
40 1/2 x 38 in / 102.9 x 96.5 cm
Frank Jones (ca. 1900 – 1969)
Frank Jones was an elusive figure with a poignant, rather obscure biography. Born circa 1900 in Clarksville, Texas—a city still painfully segregated after the Civil War’s Reconstruction Era decades—he was abandoned by his parents as an infant and raised by an aunt in a religious, profoundly superstitious household where the legacy of slavery still held sway. He never received formal education and remaining formally illiterate, and was incarcerated three times between 1941 and 1964, in each case for crimes (rape, theft, homicide) in which he contended full innocence.
The last time, he was sentenced to life in prison as a parole infringer and began drawing shortly after. Jones’s initial pictures were made with foraged materials: blue and red pencils used by prison staff and scrap paper. His palette stayed consistently narrow: scarlet or cardinal reds in combination with azure or navy blues—the colors of fire and smoke, as he described them. The artist’s sole subjects were his signature “devil houses,” tiered, thoroughly compartmentalized structures where he placed and trapped the spirits that spooked him.
Inez Nathaniel Walker (1911 - 1990)
Born into poverty in Sumter, South Carolina, Inez Nathaniel Walker had been orphaned as a young child. At sixteen she married and had four children. To escape the harsh world of farm labor, in the 1930s she joined the Great Migration and moved to Philadelphia and then in the 1940s to New York state, where she lived in a number of different towns over the years, working menial jobs.
In 1971 the artist began making art at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, where she was incarcerated for two years for killing a man who had abused her. When a remedial English teacher in the penitentiary who encouraged her to continue drawing and gave her paper and drawing supplies. By the time Walker was released from prison she had become enormously prolific and had caught the attention of a local folk art dealer, who organized her first exhibition.
Her early drawings were made on the back of prison newsletters, evaluation forms, and the like, using graphite, pens, and crayons; her later works are made with watercolor, ink, and felt-tip pens on high-quality paper. Her drawings are mostly portraits of women and self-portraits. Her subjects’ heads, with detailed hair and sometimes hats, are always the most detailed part of her work, along with distinctively large eyes framed with curly lashes, which always face the viewer, even in profile portraits. Even if creating a true likeness eluded her, Walker was gifted at conveying a person’s essence.
Martín Ramírez (1895 - 1963)
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Ramírez is widely known as one of the preeminent self-taught masters of the 20th century. Thrust by political and religious upheavals caused by the Mexican Revolution and seeking to support his family, Ramírez relocated to the United States in 1925. He worked as an impoverished immigrant in the California mines and railroads until he was picked up by police in 1931—reportedly in a disoriented state. He was committed first at Stockton State Hospital and then at the DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, where he spent the rest of his life. It was there where he discovered art and created the complex and compelling drawings for which he is known.
Over the course of his life, Ramírez produced around 500 works. The imagery is often reminiscent of his own life experiences: Mexican Madonnas, animals, cowboys, trains, and landscapes merge with scenes of American culture and create a profound documentation of a Mexican living and working in the United States. Compositionally, he renders space into multi-dimensional layouts, often using rhythmic repetition and gentle shading. Later in his life, he incorporated collage into his works, adding newspaper clippings and previous drawings for depth and texture.
In 2015, the United States Postal Service released a set of 5 commemorative “Martin Ramirez” Forever stamps, which marked the first time that an Outsider artist and a Mexican immigrant was featured on a USPS Stamp.
Nellie Mae Rowe (1900 – 1982)
Nellie Mae Row's greatest gift was her instinctive understanding of the relation between color and form. She used crayons and acrylics to create boldly chromatic backgrounds for images of animals and country scenes. All the elements of her paintings find their space in the same plane, and on that plane it is color that provides rhythm and depth.
Rowe began drawing at an early age. She learned to make voodoo-like dolls and sculpted and painted heads, as well as quilts, wood sculptures, and other decorative objects, from her mother, the wife of a farmer and blacksmith in rural Fayette County, Georgia. Here Rowe grew up with nine siblings.
By the time she reached 16, however, the rigors of farm life had become intolerable, and she ran away to marry her first husband. In 1930 she moved to Vinings, near Atlanta, where she worked as a domestic. In 1939 she and her second husband built a one-story cottage in Vinings where Rowe lived until her death. She called the home her playhouse, and in 1948 she began to festoon it and its small lot with dolls, sculptures, and found objects, a practice that for years brought her into conflict with some members of the community. In her early sixties Rowe began a creative outpouring of dolls, drawings, sculptures, and paintings. As she once remarked, "Drawing is the only thing I think is good for the Lord. When I wake up in glory, I want to hear: ‘Well done, Nellie, well done.’”
This year a feature documentary film was released about the life and work of Nellie Mae Rowe, titled “This World Is Not My Own.”
Bill Traylor (ca. 1854-1949)
Although emancipated as a boy, Traylor continued to labor until 1908 on a neighboring plantation in Benton, Alabama—near where he was born into slavery.
By 1910 he was a tenant farmer near Montgomery and it was only when he was in his eighties, and no longer able to do physical work, that he started making art with materials that lay to hand, learning to write his name so he could sign his work. From 1939 to 1942, Traylor produced more than 1,200 drawings that are of crucial significance in American art and social history and brought to life a world of chicken stealing, hunting, plowing, preaching, drinking, arguing and testifying, as well as many vivid representations of the animal world. His technique developed rapidly; from the use of simple geometric shapes to complex abstract constructions.
Traylor’s posthumous recognition has expanded steadily ever since his death in 1949, and today his work is in important private and museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta), and the Smithsonian Museum (Washington D.C.).
Alfredus Williams (1875 – 1967)
Williams was a self-taught Afro-Caribbean artist born on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. He worked primarily with oil on canvas and his subjects range from landscapes, still-lifes, portraits, and tableaux. He did not begin painting until his mid-sixties, but shortly after, in the 1950s, his work began to appear in exhibitions around New York City.
Brian Flon writes: “Williams composed a body of work laden with mystical and magical-realist elements, often highly detailed and with rich primary colors. The settings of his work included his native Dominica, as well as North Africa and the island of Bermuda. His Bermudian work from 1959 is considered the earliest Outsider Art relating to the island. For many years he lived and worked in the historic Harlem neighborhood of New York City.”