Sunday, June 24, 2012

Richard Lee, Magical Painter of West Tisbury

For 24 years a visit to Martha's Vineyard was not complete without both a visit to the West Tisbury home, and a pilgrimage to the Vineyard Haven gallery of my friend, reverse glass painter Richard Lee. In a magical house tucked into Indian territory, filled with totems and feathers, Buddha's and bracelets, stuffed wolves and wall to wall art, Richard and his family resided.  He was a brilliant, thoughtful and irreverent man who was generous in spirit, adored his family, tended his gardens, and obsessivly worked on his art.

A visiting reporter, Heather Curtis wrote in the Martha's Vineyard Times:

"The studio's door opens wide to reveal his reverse paintings on glass displayed in antique frames on the room's pastel walls.  They are vividly colored neon fantasies conveying a satiric humor. Vibrant green frogs wearing neon-colored boots in 'Java Jive' dance around merrily while balancing oversized cups of coffee above their heads. In 'Fashion Runway' models with human bodies and animal heads strut around in front a crowd of neon blue spectators. Richard Lee paints the details first, then adds background.Richard said that "the mixture of animal and human forms come from his observing the animal characteristics that many people have." 
Ms. Curtis added, "He says the images he paints are zoomorphic, portraying "'the realizations of the inner connectedness of all of life.'" As for the meanings of the paintings, he says that's up to the viewer to figure out. '"People don't know how they're supposed to react, as if they're supposed to,'" Mr. Lee says, taking a long sip from his iced coffee.
"An Islander since the 1970s, he discovered the art form by chance, he explains. It was a friend's birthday, and he didn't have any paper to make a card. So he made do with what he had, painting a card on a piece of glass. The accident became an instant addiction."
Richard discovered antique mirrors with hand carved frames at tag sales and scrapped off the silver backing. He then did a sketch on translucent paper and proceeded to the final painting on the back of the glass. His works were highlighted with gold and silver leaf and once, for an entire year, he painted exclusively in 23 shades of blue. One of the paintings from this period, "Miss Owl Pulls the Cord", is in my personal collection. Richard also undertook massive tasks of painting entire case pieces along with gilding their wood, and an important case piece was recently accepted into the permanent collection of  the Baltimore Museum of Art. The formal title is Sinking and Burning, but the piece is widely referred to as The 13th Cabinet.
He was a very magical man.....a man whose spirit will remain in the hearts of all who were privileged to know him. He made us open our eyes and view the world in an entirely different way. The lesson and the man will not be lost, but they will be dearly missed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sculpture in the Garden Show

Although I usually busy myself as a private dealer in self-taught art, one weekend a year I completely step out of the box. This weekend will be the 17th annual Sculpture in the Garden Show and tag sale on the grounds of the gallery in Woodbridge. Artists who morph recycled materials, junk yard finds, old tools, stone and wood, into objects of delight and desire, have started to pull up in their ancient trucks. Some neighbors shudder, but most are as excited as I am, and certainly the kids on the street are already buzzing. They love to see the life sized horses, six foot tall sunflowers, robots, crazy birds, and kinetic sculptures which show up. This year four new artists have been discovered and the show is always a fun visit for the entire family. As I'm part of CT Open House Day on June 9th, the first day of the show,  I will be giving away art and auction catalogues, food magazines and novels to the first 75 visitors. Prepared to be amazed!
The show opens at 9 am on Saturday morning and runs until 4 pm through the weekend.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Waits for Thunder

Today's house shaking thunder reminds me of a small piece I had published in 1993 when my mom was still alive. It was entitled "Waits for Thunder" in a book by the same name.

For some long forgotten and deeply buried reason, my mother's entire family lived in fear of thunder. As the last of her generation move into their 90's, minds clouded with age, I accept the face that the reason for this behavior will never be revealed. My mother was determined that I would not be victim to this  debilitating fear that drove her into closets, armed with a book and a chair, to wait out the storm.
When I was a child, as dark clouds approached, we set up camp in our small screened -in porch. Mother placed me on her lap, and together we would wait for thunder. She bravely spoke of cold fronts and loud noises and the beautiful lightening  that would follow. And then it came, and the force of her jump raised us both out of the chair. My mother still waits in fear for thunder.  I wait with open arms and a trembling heart.

image from 10 days of science website

Saturday, May 5, 2012

In Memorium: Paul Pitt. May 5th, 2012

One of the dearest, sweetest artists I've ever represented died today in his prime. Paul Pitt was a gentle giant of a man. Quiet and soft spoken with deep family ties and an enormous talent. He was also a tender caretaker for his mother and his brother Charlie, who passed away in recent years.

His luscious, folk art paintings brought us back to a simpler time, filled with a strong sense of community and extended family. Even if we had never personally experienced his subject matter, it rang a responsive chord. A county wedding, nuns skating with their charges, a Shaker horse sale, concerts, night trains, snow scenes, a night at the opera. His talent for story telling was as charming as the man himself.

His work teemed with activity, and was populated with up to two hundred and fifty children, adults and animals from Paul's imagination. He meticulously and compulsively repainted each scene up to six times before he was willing to pronounce them completed. Within each painting, many small stories unfolded, each with their own considerable charm and humor. And always, you would find his surprise signature-- two small boys running--one black, one white, taking turns wearing the ever present red scarf.

Folk art enthusiasts loved Paul's work, and a large body of his paintings have been included in several important private and museum collections. Paul Newman used one of Pitt's "Barn Raising" paintings to illustrate an article about his communitarian projects. When folk art collectors, Baron and Ellin Gordon opened their museum in Norfolk, VA, they displayed Paul's  "Country Wedding", one of at least nine works they had purchased over time.

Everyone who knew Paul adored him and I am beyond sadden by this unexpected loss.
In Memorium: Paul Pitt
folk art, non-mainstream art, self-taught art, outsider art, artbrut art

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Gift of a Century: Petullo Collection to Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee collector Anthony Petullo has made a gift to the Milwaukee Art Museum of over 200 pieces of self-taught art, making this institution the holder of the largest collection of this type of art in the United States. These wondrous works are in a show entitled "Accidental Genius" and they will be punctuated with lectures, films, and parties through May 6th.
As a guest in Mr. Petullo's home, I can attest to the magnificence of his vision and his collection. He has included in his gift, masters, such as Bill Traylor, Anna Zemanokova and Adolf Wolfli, as well as works, lesser known, but equally worthy of contemplation.
On Thursday, March 22, the Museum will host a discussion concerning what the meaning of and the problems are with the terms Self-taught, Naive and Outsider. Lisa Stone (curator at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago), Jane Kallir (co-director of Galerie St. Etienne, NYC) and Margaret Andrea ( curator of the exhibition) will be the panelists.

image by Carlo Zinelli