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.
“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.
The first time I laid eyes on Simon Sparrow’s art, I was amazed. The details and the range of objects involved in the making of these is incredible!
Simon was a self-taught artist known for his intricately detailed mixed media assemblages. He was born in West Africa in 1925. At the age of two his family moved to North Carolina where he was raised on a Cherokee reservation. After living in Philadelphia and New York and serving in the army (among other jobs), he eventually settled in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s. Sparrow became a well-known street preacher and artist in Madison.
His spiritual beliefs crossed over into his artwork. With inspiration from what he called “spirit”, Sparrow used discarded materials to create his mosaic-like art, including jewelry, plastic figurines and toys, beads, pine cones, glitter, and other unconventional art materials. He even decorated his entire car in glitter and found objects.
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.
For a full FREE art project plan, please click here. Enjoy! Please let us know how your projects turn out.
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.
Séraphine Louis (1864 – 1942), also known as Séraphine de Senlis, was a French self-taught artist. She was from the town of Senlis, north of Paris, and worked as a house cleaner. She struggled with mental illness most of her life and seemed to find solace in her paintings.
She worked in solitude by candlelight, creating colorful and whimsical paintings of flowers and plants based mostly on her imagination. In order to afford paint, she made her own pigments using household and plant items, such as red wine, flowers, and candle wax.
Séraphine was discovered by German art collector Wilhelm Uhde in 1912. He was a collector of Henri Rousseau and Pablo Picasso’s work, among other notable artists of the time. Uhde came across a painting by Seraphine at his neighbor’s home where she worked as a cleaner. Uhde did his best to support her work as an artist and included her an exhibition held in Paris in 1928, called “Painters of the Sacred Heart,” The other artists included: Henri Rousseau, André Bauchant, and Camille Bombois.
In 2008, a film by Martin Provost was released about Seraphine’s life. You can view the trailer here.
Holly Farrell was born in 1961 in North Bay, Ontario. Farrell is self-taught and has been a full-time painter since 1995. She turned to art making as a hobby to de-stress from her work at a group home for teenagers experiencing developmental and psychological obstacles.
Farrell mainly works with oils and acrylics. Her use of color creates a calming effect. Her subjects, which are familiar everyday objects (including many vintage items), seem to be elevated to a higher level, conjuring up a peaceful feeling amongst the chaos of daily living. They are almost portrait-like, asking you to see their personalities.
Personally, I was drawn in by her work due to my photography interests. I often photograph objects that have been discarded or lost in hopes that their former beauty or meaningfulness in someone’s home can reveal itself again. I see some of that in Farrell’s work, too.
“When the objects started to take on a character of their own, I realized I was really painting portraits without any people in them.”
Harry Underwood is one of my favorite painters. I first saw his work at the Outsider Art Fair about ten years ago and immediately purchased a piece (which was a rare occurrence back then). It’s hanging above me as I write this.
Harry was born in Florida in 1969 and currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a self-taught artist who began painting in 2001 while working as a flooring installer. Harry dedicated his spare time to working on his art, and his persistence eventually paid off. His work is represented by several notable galleries and has been in shows in the United States, France, and England.
Harry’s paintings evoke a sense of nostalgia and are slightly surrealistic. They conjure up feelings of simplicity, summertime vacations, childhood memories, and a longing for another time or an imagined place. The nostalgia is enhanced by his use of beautifully subdued and expressive colors.
His process involves outlining his painting on plywood using a mechanical pencil and then filling it in with latex house paint. The pencil marks become part of the picture – adding an extra element to them. He also layers poems and words onto his paintings, and has referred to his work as “illustrated poetry.”
“And there’s no truer sound than a sound never found from the shy, the innocent, and the unknown.”
Emma Kunz (1892-1963) was a Swiss artist, healer, and researcher. Kunz’s intricate large-scale drawings were made with colored pencils on graph paper. She created each drawing using a pendulum and a form of divination, called radiesthesia. Her artwork was part of her research on vibrational energy, and it also served as a healing tool for her patients. Kunz would often have her patients sit or lie near the drawings in order to help them with the healing process.
Kunz was also interested in finding alternative remedies to help her patients. In 1941, after working with a seriously ill patient, Kunz discovered the healing properties of a rock found in the Roman Quarry of Würenlos, Switzerland. She named the rock AION A. The powder form of the rock was used to treat her patients with inflammatory issues and other illnesses. AION A is still sold as an alternative medicine in Switzerland.
Kunz’s first exhibition, The Case of Emma Kunz, was held after her death. Today, there is a museum dedicated to her work and life in Würenlos, Switzerland.
The Uncommon Canvas is an arts blog that focuses on increasing visibility for artists. We also hope to bring awareness to mental health in the arts. This blog includes interviews, artist spotlights, and art history beyond mainstream narrative.