These artworks from Project Onward do a great job of lifting my spirits. I hope that you feel the same. We all need a break from the doom and gloom.
Project Onward is a studio and gallery located in Chicago that supports the work of artists with disabilities. Project Onward started in 2004 and currently has over 60 artists participating in the program.
I had the opportunity to volunteer there when I lived in Chicago. It will always be one of my favorite arts organizations. The artists are truly amazing people who have overcome many challenges, and their art is a way of healing and building their self-esteem while gaining well-deserved recognition for their talents. Their creativity is endless.
The artwork made by Project Onward artists ranges from spectacular glitter masterpieces to intricately detailed drawings. Some of the artists specialize in portraits, including amazing pet portraits. (I admit that I have a growing collection of pet portraits that I will cherish forever.) Artwork can be purchased through the online shop. Half of the proceeds go directly to the artists.
We exist to give artists with disabilities a “visual voice” to tell their stories and change the perceptions of the world. Project Onward is a studio and gallery dedicated to the creative growth of adult artists whose lives are impacted by mental illness and developmental disabilities. Our non-profit studio is inclusive and we embrace artists with a wide range of life experiences. Some are self-taught artists who have Autism, while some are formally-trained artists who have bipolar disorder. There are other artists with challenges that are equally complex. However, all of them willingly explore the innermost recesses of their minds to create powerful works of art.
I instantly fell in love with these paintings! The patterns are so intricate and the female subjects have so much to say to us their bold stares. Sofia Bonati (1982 – ) is a self-taught artist and illustrator from Argentina. She was raised by two artists and learned a lot from observing them. She arrived at her own artistic career in 2013, shortly after moving to England. Her work quickly gained recognition from galleries and collectors. Working with gouache or watercolor, she creates these striking portraits of female subjects.
“At first, I drew men and women alike. I’m not sure why I ended up creating mostly female portraits. My style used to be caricature-like and surreal; discovering other artists, their techniques and style helped me develop my own.”
“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.
JJ Cromer (1967 -) is a self-taught artist originally from West Virginia. JJ and his family currently live on a farm in Pound, Virginia with a flock of geese, chickens, and other animal friends.
Although not formally trained in art, JJ obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in writing and library science. He went on to work as a librarian for several years until he discovered his passion for art.
In 1998, shortly after he was married, JJ decided to make art to cover the blank walls of his new home. At the same time, he had reached a point of frustration with his librarian job and was eager to try something new. Devoting as much time as possible to art and through trial and error, he developed his unique and obsessively detailed artistic style. He has been making art ever since and is now represented by galleries, including two of our favorites: Henry Boxer and Grey Carter.
JJ’s work is also featured in private and public collections, including the High Museum of Art, The American Visionary Art Museum, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and The Taubman Museum of 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.
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.