“I am growing flowers that are not grown anywhere else.”
Anna Zemánková from “The Dawn Drawings of Anna Zemánková” by Jo Farb Hernandez in Raw Vision, No. 14, Spring 1996. 40-45.
Anna Zemánková is a self-taught artist known for her beautifully abstract and imaginative botanical drawings. Anna (1908-1986) was born in Olomouc, Moravia (now the Czech Republic). She loved making art as a child but was told to focus on more practical pursuits. She became a dental technician, married an army officer, and devoted her time to raising her children.
From the outside, Anna’s life appeared full with the busy activities of family life, yet she often felt like she was missing something. She still carried sorrow from the loss of her first born son and began to feel more depressed about the state of her life.
In her early 50s, needing a positive outlet to manage her depression, she turned to art again. One of her three sons was a sculptor, and he happily encouraged her to channel her sadness into art. He helped her buy art supplies and from there her creativity took off. She worked on her drawings in the early morning hours while the house was quiet and still. In the 1970s, Anna expanded her exploration of art, adding collage and embroidery.
Over the years, Anna hosted art showings or “open house” exhibitions. Her work gained the recognition it deserved after being viewed by French painter and sculptor, Jean DuBuffet. (DuBuffet coined the term art brut.) He included several of her pieces in the Collection de l’Art Brut Lausanne, which is the world’s most notable collection of outsider and self-taught art. Zemánková was also included in a show at Hayward Gallery in London in 1979. Since then, her works have been widely exhibited and cherished by many collectors.
Recycleart Sculpture Garden is located in Waldoboro, Maine. It was created by the late self-taught artist and welder, Nathan Nicholls. Through his art, Nathan encouraged others to think twice before throwing an object away. There is not an object out there that Nathan could not recycle into a beautiful artwork. He welded nails, tires, bike parts, and broken farm equipment into sculptures of owls, flowers, frogs, and cats. Even the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance in his garden.
Nathan was originally from Massachusetts. He moved to Maine after his teenage years. He took on odd jobs, from harvesting blueberries to repairing lawn mowers and motorcycles. The latter job introduced him to the beauty of scraps and discarded objects. Inspired by these objects, Nathan started making sculptures in the 1990s. In 2003, after his mother passed away, he began devoting even more time to his art in order to comfort himself. After many years of creating art, his 5 acres of land is now covered with sculptures.
Nathan passed away in 2014, at the age of 52. His family is working to preserve his artistic legacy. They are in the process of figuring out how to ensure the safety and longevity of his art, especially during the Maine winters. Ideally, it is best to keep an art environment as the artist left it but this leaves the risk of the artwork being destroyed. We hope they come up with a solution that works for them because his sculptures are truly unique and inspiring.
For more information, please visit the Facebook page for the site.
We recently returned from a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, where we got to see the work of Kevin Sampson – an incredibly talented self-taught and community based artist living in Newark, New Jersey. His work is currently on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum as part of their artist residency program.
During the summer of 2018, Sampson stayed on a boat docked near the museum as he and the staff worked on preparing the exhibition. Community members and museum visitors were invited to learn about his work and process.
Here is a round-up of a few artists that we came across this past week. Of course, they all feature birds, which we know is an obsession that needs to be reined in a bit. But you must admit that they are beautiful.
The above painting is by a self-taught artist from New Zealand, Kathryn Furniss. Her colors are so pleasing to the eye. She works with acrylics and ink and gets her inspiration from the New Zealand landscape, flora, and birds. More of her work can be viewed on her website.
“I use birds to tell stories or portray feelings…birds connecting the past with the present, being a spirit, past loved one or guardian of the other.”
This lovely owl was made by Summer J. Hart, an artist from northern Maine. We love Summer’s art, and are happy to promote a young and emerging artist from Maine. Please check out more of this work on the artist’s website.
Jon Langford is a musician and artist who is originally from Wales. Jon has called Chicago his home since the 1990s. He is one of the founders of the punk rock band, The Mekons, among other notable groups. His original artwork and prints are available through Yard Dog Art – one of our favorite galleries located in Austin, Texas, specializing in folk, outsider, and contemporary art.
“Like the pottery archaeologists use to define human cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will signify our own throwaway society. What will these discarded fragments say about us?
– Jo Atherton
Artist Jo Atherton is the perfect example of an artist using non-traditional materials to create art. We also love that she is bringing awareness to environmental issues.
Atherton creates her art from discarded materials collected along the UK coastline. Using the energy of the sun, she makes gorgeous cyanotype prints (also known as sun prints) of the items. She also weaves tapestries from the items that she discovers.
Atherton believes that we can learn a lot about our past through these washed up objects. Some of the items she finds are 30 years old or more, like old plastic toys. It’s interesting and sad to see what happens to these items when they are no longer loved or needed. In the artist’s words:
“I weave strands of stories to engage the public with sensitive environmental issues in ways that distressing images of marine wildlife cannot. My creative practice has become a useful conduit to explore single-use plastics as most of the flotsam objects I work with are commonplace in our homes.”
Her images are stunning and beautiful, yet they also serve as reminders of the disturbing amount of trash, mainly plastic, that is accumulating in our oceans. The artist cannot solve the issue on her own, but she is doing a great job of bringing awareness to the problem. Through her process, she also recycles items that would otherwise be garbage into meaningful artworks.
“Painting for me is like traveling—openly going into the unknown not knowing what to expect.”
– Pamela Smith (From an interview with Vermont Art Guide)
We recently came across the work of Vermont self-taught painter and sculptor, Pamela Smith (1950 -). Her works of art are playful, bright compositions made with crayon, ink, and gouache. The whimsical influence of folk art is seen in her paintings.
Smith is best known for her life-size sculptures of the Madonna, which she created, often alongside her daughter, in order to honor and celebrate motherhood. She displayed her multicultural Madonna sculptures in the front window of Folkheart, a store in Bristol, Vermont, which she and her partner, Slim Pickens owned. (Yes, that’s the correct name!) Seven of her Madonna sculptures are part of the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum – one of our favorite art museums.
More of her work can be viewed at Northern Daughters, which is a contemporary art gallery in Vergennes, Vermont. There are several other talented artists to check out on their website.
It is Spring here in Maine, and believe it or not, the snow on the ground just melted a week ago. The rain season is taking over, and while the weather is warmer now, there is still a lot to be desired. In the meantime, we are dreaming of lazy days on the beach and sunny weather.
One positive aspect of Maine winters is that we are encouraged to explore warmer climates when possible. On a recent trip to Florida, we had the opportunity to meet Roy A. McLendon, Jr. We even returned home with one of his vibrant paintings. Check out his work!
During our visit, Roy welcomed us into his studio, and we spent some time chatting with him about his work and life. He learned how to paint from his father, Roy McClendon, Senior, who was one of the original Highwaymen artists. We were familiar with the Highwaymen from the documentary, The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road,and learned even more from Roy.
The History of the Florida Highwaymen
The Florida Highwaymen were a group of twenty-six self-taught Black artists who worked in Florida during the early 1950s through the 1980s. Collectively, their body of work consists of over 200,000 landscape paintings. The paintings depict unusually bright and colorful scenes of Florida beaches, trees, sunsets, and other natural settings. The beautiful poinciana tree is featured in many of these paintings, often appearing in a shocking red or purple color.
We recently tried out an art project inspired by the work of artists Tony Fitzpatrick and Robert Rauschenberg. We explored the multimedia collage works of Fitzpatrick and Rauschenberg with children ages 7 to 9. The children were encouraged to create collages based on their interpretation of the artwork and add their artistic flair.
About the Artists
Robert Rauschenberg was born in Texas in 1925 and died in Florida in 2008. He worked with several mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and performance. Rauschenberg is well-known for his “Combines,” which is a term he created to describe his art combining painting and sculpture, made during the 1950s. Rauschenberg incorporated non-traditional materials into his work, such as photographs, newspaper cuttings, and found items that he collected on the streets of New York City.
Tony Fitzpatrick is an artist from Chicago who is well-known for his mixed media drawings, collages, and prints. He uses discarded items and various ephemera in some of his artwork, usually telling a story about Chicago. Fitzpatrick is also a writer (who has created nine books, four plays, and hundreds of essays). He gathers inspiration for his artwork from religious icons of his childhood, comics, poetry, and the city streets. He is also a former tattoo artist, which shows up in the beautiful details of his compositions.
We discovered The Taconic Sculpture Park during a trip to the Hudson River Valley in New York. Driving along the Taconic State Parkway, we suddenly saw a gigantic sculpture head. It was completely unexpected after taking in the quaint green hills, trees, and idyllic barns along our route.
Located in Spencertown, New York, the park was created by Roy Kanwit, a self-taught sculptor and artist. Kanwit has been working on his park for approximately 40 years. The park consists of about 30 sculptures including the aforementioned giant head sculpture (which is 19 feet), statues of gods and goddesses, and other icons.
The artist lives on the premises and does not mind people coming by to enjoy his artwork, as long as they are respectful. We recommend that you call ahead to check the park’s hours. For the contact information and more details, please visit the park’s website.
The Watts Towers, located in California, were designed and constructed by Simon Rodia. The towers consist of seventeen sculptures, including three towers, with the tallest standing at nearly 100 feet. Other noteworthy sculptures include a gazebo and a ship. The most impressive thing about the towers is that Rodia built them entirely by himself from 1921 to 1954.
The towers were constructed using steel rebar armatures, mortar, and wire mesh. No scaffolding or machinery was used to build the towers, although Rodia occasionally used a window washer’s belt and buckle. He decorated the structures in mosaics of broken pottery, glass, shells, and other discarded objects.
Rodia was born as Sabato Rodia in 1879 in Ribottoli, Italy. It is possible that he visited the nearby village of Nola to attend the annual Gigli Festival where he would have encountered the Giglio structures (pictured below). These structures may have served as direct inspiration for his creation later on.
Rodia came to America in the mid-1890s. In 1921, after a couple of unsuccessful relationships and various jobs, Rodia decided to start his artistic journey at 1761-1765 107th Street in the Watts community of Los Angeles. He worked as a construction worker during the day and dedicated all of his spare time to making his art. He decided to create “something big,” and he did exactly that.
In 1955, at the age of 75, Rodia decided to leave his grand project behind to go live in Martinez, California with family. He handed the keys over to a neighbor. In 1959, the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts was formed to help preserve the site. After critics of the towers had questioned the safety of the structures, the site went through extensive safety testing and passed. This is a great accomplishment considering that Rodia was mainly self-taught. In 1990, the towers were listed as a National Historic Landmark, and presently the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department manages the park. Visitors can view Rodia’s amazing towers by attending a guided tour. Until then, here is a YouTube video (filmed by PC3DM) of a quadcopter flying over the Watts Towers.
The Uncommon Canvas raises visibilty and promotes artists who are using non-traditional materials, found objects, and other unusual materials to make their art, ranging from small scale artworks to large sculpture parks. We also feature the work of self-taught artists and artists working outside of the mainstream paradigm.