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.
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.
Simon Sparrow (1925-2000) was a self-taught artist who was born in West Africa and raised in North Carolina. Sparrow moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s where he was known as a street preacher. Sparrow’s spiritual beliefs crossed over into his artwork. He believed he was guided by “spirit” to create.
Sparrow used unusual materials to create his mosaic-like art, including: jewelry, plastic figurines (like Star Wars figures), beads, pine cones, glitter, and other found object materials. He even covered his car in glitter and found objects.
Sparrow passed away in 2000. In 2012, he was the recipient of a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award. His work has been included in several exhibitions and was featured on a 2009 episode of Antiques Roadshow.
We recently worked on a project for kids based on the art of Simon Sparrow. As you can imagine, the kids were excited about using the recycled materials to create their work. We did this project with 6 to 8 year old children, but it can be taught to a range of ages, and the materials can be varied based on skill level. For example, older kids can use hot glue guns. With the younger kids, we used a non-toxic glue, Aleene’s Clear School Tacky Glue. Also, in order to prevent a disastrous glitter mess but still pay tribute to Sparrow’s love of glitter, we used washable glitter pens.
Ashley Pierce is a self-taught artist living in Columbus, Ohio. Born in 1982, Ashley began creating art at a young age. She uses her art as a form of self-expression to help work through complicated feelings about her own life and the world around her. Ashley’s work appears to be fun and uplifting, but behind that there is a deeper and more complex feeling that drove its process. Some of her work are portraits of herself and her family. We are huge fans of letting artists speak for themselves, so below are Ashley’s words:
“I pull inspiration for my work from my life. Most of my subjects tend to be self portraits but some are visitors representing an emotion, feeling, vice or real people. I use my art to navigate my life and often find putting the pen to the wood is like talking to an old friend to work out a problem. I start with an idea and create a very loose sketch on wood. It’s not until I start inking the drawing in until I know if it will work out or not. I find it very soothing to create pattern and repetition as it allows me time to work out the feelings in my head. I use watercolor to stain the wood and colored pencil to bring out the drawing. I finish with a Dremel tool, carving into the wood to create more pattern and texture.”
She is represented by Duff Lindsay Gallery. More of her work can be viewed on their website or on Facebook.