The inconspicuously named building at 1 NE 3rd St., with its red brick elegance and clean architecture, is the kind of building no viewer would be surprised to discover is sanctuary for art and artists. And, it’s the perfect place for the exhibition launched by Artspace at Untitled, Unfiltered Views, a collection of three different “outsider artists” offering visitors an opportunity to view art through an untaught perspective.
Marcia Ermey’s work is the first to face visitors as they enter. Remarkably colorful and vivid, each of her pieces is powerfully bright, with darkness only present in the outlines of her subjects.
Her imagination seemingly lives in a land of perpetual light and music, and her hand renders that vision in a splendid array of color. Visitors will notice special attention paid to garments in Ermey’s work – the mark of a “brand girl,” Ermey laughingly admits. Each piece of clothing demonstrates a finely tuned eye for detail. The feathers on the boa are neatly and startlingly outlined, and each “L” and “V” on a Louis Vuitton jacket is drawn to precision.
Most of her pieces on display are dominated by a specific subject in portrait, but a few stand out for the group of subjects portrayed together, often dressed in trendy outfits. In these pieces, the fashion-forward work of Ermey will summon the nostalgia of anticipation and excitement that comes with a night on the town, and the glamor of dressing up for it.
Displayed intermittently amongst Ermey’s work are the marvelous landscapes of William G. Grubbs. Fantastically beautiful paintings of the Oklahoma terrain, Grubbs’ work will leave viewers floored by his original view of the world. His work stands out from the ever-introspective modernity, much like the building that houses it.
The imagination of his landscapes looks like it could illustrate a Dr. Seuss storybook; in fact, the wonder of Grubb’s work lies in a style that seems to belong in an animation studio, as each landscape conveys a sort of story in motion. From sunsets to tornadoes, the innocence and integrity of Grubb’s work speaks to a talent that is sorely missed since his death in 1970.
The final artist in this three-part exhibition is Jerry Collins, whose wood carvings speak most strictly to the definition of “outsider art,” recalling the sculptures of driftwood decorating the famous art brut collection of Jean Dubuffet in Lausanne.
Collins’ method is highly dispersed. His wood is all reclaimed lumber, collected from various mundane sources and transformed by hours of work into any animal under the sky. He spends as much as 5-6 hours on a single carving, up to 12 on the particularly complex ones, and paints each piece of the carving individually before putting them together like a puzzle.
In particular, his inspiration comes from without; he happily takes suggestions for different pieces, and indeed most of the works on display are those animals requested by others. His spontaneity is perhaps the legacy of years as a travelling tradesman, and it serves his work well – the end result is a finely carved and intricately assembled piece of woodwork.
The exhibition’s subject, “outsider art,” is a difficult term to nail down.
Some theorists believe it refers only to art created by the untrained eye. Others believe it must reflect something of the avant-garde in its content. Still more argue that the artists themselves must come from outside the mainstream, referring perhaps to the insane or the underclass. In contemporary art, these distinctions are increasingly useless, as high art comes to be found in almost every nook and corner.
Nonetheless, a visitor to Unfiltered Views would be forgiven for some confusion; in placing these three artists together, Artspace seems to imply a continuity in content matter. This implication in enhanced by the alternating display of Ermey and Grubbs’ work. The reality, of course, is that each artist retains a highly unique and distinguishable style, subject matter, and methodology.
In a much more democratized art world, where media is easily accessible, terms like “outsider art” become increasingly redundant, and it is worth questioning whether grouping artists under the umbrella of that term serves the artists, the audience, or the Artspace as well as it could.
Regardless, if the curators at Untitled intended to prompt some thought on the subject of “outsider art,” they have certainly succeeded by bringing together a unique set of rare talents in Unfiltered Views.
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