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Outsider Artist: "Sky" Creates a Modern Madonna - Mother of the Son of God

Outsider Art is art by self-taught or naive art makers.  In the case of "Sky" she is outside the mainstream of the professional art field and she uses her art to calm her soul, which is in keeping with Outsider Art.  Her Madonna portrait is reflective of the biblical text coming from Matthew 1:18, Mary is touched by the Holy Spirit, pregnant, yet still not a mother.

Sky's art works start with a traditional canvas stretched over a frame.  Yet frames are made out of materials that are easily available from the trash or leftovers from a building site.  In other words, the frames could be 2 X 4 wall construction studs.  Her canvases are divided into sections where she paints the flat sections with different areas of color.  There is no shadowing, or gradation, just flat sections of color that delineate this Modern Madonna's hair, face, neck, shoulders, and breasts.  The breasts are highlighted with candy gum drop nipples.

Sky uses something like "3D Scribbles" …

Celine Tabary - French/American Artist

Celine Marie Tabary (1908-1993) was a French artist that became active in the Washington, DC area in the mid-20th century.  Tabary's work has been recognized for skill and artistic temperament.  While her artwork alone should have brought her national notoriety, it was her relationship with Lois Mailou Jones that has brought her into the world of artistic folklore.

Tabary was studying at the Academie Julian in Paris when Jones an African American arrived to study there also.  Jones needed assistance, so Tabary served as her interpreter and brought her home to stay.  In Paris the both of them studied under Emil Bernard, a post-impressionist painter that had known Vincent van Gogh.  In 1938, Tabary arrived here in the U.S. to visit to Jones.  Tabary could not return France due to the rising tensions that became World War II.

During these turbulent times, Tabary and Jones taught children art classes.  As time progressed, Tabary ended up on the faculty of Howard University in 1945, te…

Henry Olson - Washington DC Artist/Instructor

D.C. art society has lost track of Henry William Olson (1902-83).  There was a day and age when Olson was smack dab in the middle of Washington Art Society.  He belonged to the Society of Washington Artists, Washington Watercolor Club, Washington Art Club, and the American Association of University Professors.  During his tenure he was an active member and served as the President of the Washington Watercolor Club for two different terms, first in the 50s and later in the 70s.

Olson was born in Canton, Ohio, studied at Columbus School of Art, Otterbein College at Westerville, Ohio, Ohio State University and in DC at the Corcoran School of Art.  He served as an instructor at the Wilson Teachers College, which in 1955 was transitioned into the District of Columbia Teachers College.  Some claim he taught scientific illustration. 

The watercolor below:  Chinatown, NYC, was included in the 1943 Society of Washington Artists exhibit at the Corcoran Museum of Art.  The Washington Post review…

Nan (Mrs. Forbes) Watson, Scottish/American Artist, 1876-1966

Nan Watson, aka, Agnes Paterson Watson, Mrs. Forbes Watson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Mrs. Watson came to the to the U.S. in her infancy.  She received her early education in Buffalo, NY. She started painting early in her life and when she was 18 she arrived in Paris and studied at Academie Colarossi, later returning to New York where she studied further at the Art Students League with William Merritt Chase.  She was married to the nationally known author and art critic Forbes Watson, who was an administrator in the Works Progress Administration's Art Section during the Roosevelt administration.   

For many years she had her own studio in New York before moving to Washington, DC.  Her first exhibit was at the old Whitney Studio Club, now the forerunner of the present Whitney Museum.  In New York she had several one-man shows at such galleries as Kraushaar, Rehn and Wildenstein.  

Watson was always interested in painting portraits, fresh fruit and flowers.  In 1939, Watson had …

Jean Leppien (1910-1991) German/French Geometric Artist

Jean Leppien is relativity unknown in the United States, yet in France and Germany he is known and admired for his artistic achievements.  The Musee d'Art et d'Histoire in Cholet, France, is just wrapping up a major show of his work (11/2017).  

If Leppien's life was made into a movie, it would be a thriller, with a remarkable ending.  He was born in 1910 with a given name so long only a German family could come up with it:  Kurt Gottfried Johannes Leppien.  He was conceived and raised in Luneberg, Germany, where his father was a manufacturer and his mother a weaver.  Before his death in 1991, his home town named a street in his honor.  

He took to art early, and his father set up a studio on the main floor of their home to let Leppien practice his artwork.  The Bauhaus movement was beginning in Europe around 1919.  In 1929, Leppien road his bike quite a distance to register for school at the Bauhaus - Dessau.  He did not stay at the Bauhaus for long, but got to study under …

Victor Vasarely (1908-97) Grandfather/Leader of the Op Movement

Victor Vasarely created eye-popping art.  He is known for his optical illusionism, where he approached his artworks in a scientific manner - blocking out new patterns using geometry and physics.  He mapped out his major works by using colored paper squares, circles and triangles, building compositions before creating paintings and serigraphs.
Vasarely created kinetic vibrations to the eye by juxtaposing contrasting shapes and colors.  His grid arrangements provide a depth of field by using patterning gradation.  The colors float on the surface, highlighting and shadowing areas that accentuate optical involvement.  These colors are primary and secondary.  As in the untitled piece below:

Halloween Horror! Rangda, The Demon Queen

Our Halloween painting celebrates Rangda.  Rangda is the demon queen of the leyaks in Bali, according to traditional Balinese mythology.  Terrifying to behold, the child-eating Rangda leads an army of evil witches against the forces of good.  She is depicted as a mostly nude old woman, with long and unkempt hair, pendulous breasts, and claws. Her face is traditionally a horrifying fanged and goggle-eyed mask, with a long, protruding tongue. As illustrated in the painting below:



This painting comes from deep within the country of Indonesia, and from the great island of Bali, which still to this day remains predominantly Hindu.  The art craft capital of Bali is Ubud.  The painting of Rangda is accomplished by bamboo brush in the classical style directly on the canvas fabric. Signed with: W. CAMENG. 5. Ubud, Bali, which appears to be more of an address than an artist's signature.  The painting was accomplished in the1960s and framed by the high-end house of Mickelson’s Gallery, Washi…

LeRoy E. Greene (1893-1974) Montana Artist

Fame is fickle, many Montana artists have risen to national status, but few remain in the limelight. Greene established a following in his day, and is still collected by sophisticated collectors who like paintings that reflect the Montana landscape.  Owners like to point to their paintings and explain the location and the significance of Greene’s work.

Greene was born in Dover, NJ, his father was an artist, who died when he was about eight years old. Like many children in that day with a deceased father, he quit school to go to work and got his first job as an errand boy for a jewelry firm in Newark.  Newark was a hotbed for the jewelry arts at that time.  In his twenties, he worked his way west arriving in Billings, MT in 1916, where he used his childhood job skills to land another job with a jewelry store.

World War I came along and Greene was drafted.  Hoping to be sent overseas, instead the military used his jewelry skills to repair optical instruments, ending up in Frankfort, KY.  …

Jack Rosenhaft, (1925-2015) New York Realist

Rosenhaft (1925-2015) a contemporary realist that was most closely associated with Salmagundi Club in New York City.  An art club where he would meet with other artists, exchanged ideas and exhibit his paintings.  He explored a variety of themes ranging from portraits, landscapes, seascapes, interiors and figures.

Rosenhaft was born in Brooklyn, NY, and attended the Art Students League, Tyler School of Fine Art, and the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. He was the pupil of the famous European master, Max Beckman, as well as the American maestro Jon Corbino. He was clearly influenced by Beckman in the case of this painting. Like Beckman, he used dark outlines that contour around his subjects, and created shadows that are inky, sooty.
"Tugboats" was a scene that Rosenhaft would have seen in his native Manhattan, Brooklyn neighborhoods. Tugboats maneuver barges and ships up and down the East River guiding the large vessels around the Queensboro and Brooklyn Bridges. Perhap…

Nancy Reinke, Master Draughtsman and Etcher

Nancy McDonald Reinke displayed the finest draughtsmanship in the world of etching.  The self-evident excellence and skill was demonstrated by being able to draw on a metal plate, and better yet, draw in the reverse, so that when the print was printed everything looked in order.  This also could be described as outstanding graphic design.  She exploits a sense of humor, almost a tongue in cheek in her work, as in the example provided for this blog:  "Lap Cat."  

In the case of "Lap Cat" she renders a story that takes place in a Victorian interior.  The rug on the floor has a Greek meander, the table cloth is a crazy quilt covered with an oversize lace doily, there is an old oil lamp on the table, and the wallpaper is striped.  Far in the background is a Renoir brochure with a cat, and portrait of grandma hangs on the wall.  We are not sure if it is a child or a Victorian doll sitting on the cat's lap, as the cat becomes a chair within the interior scene.  

Hundre…

MARCEL (Marcella Anderson) Torpedo Factory Artist

Marcella Anderson and/or Marcy Anderson (1946 - 2015) was better known as "MARCEL", a popular serigraph/silkscreen artist, at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in historic Old Town Alexandria, VA. She maintained a gallery and work space at the Torpedo Factory from 1976 to 2015. At the top of the stairs on the 3rd floor was this large light filled studio with a charming blonde woman surrounded by her silkscreens.

In the early 80s, her work consisted mostly of water reptiles, fish, birds and environmental scenes. She kept with nature themes during most of her time at the studio. Her obituary stated: "Marcel was known for her bold, yet sensitive, use of color and design. Her images in all media reflected her love of nature. Her glowing color, both intense and delicate, was achieved through the use of transparent layers of color."

Marcel was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and studied at the Cornish School of Allied Arts. Before arriving in the DC area, she h…

Tom S. Fricano, California Op/Kinetic Modernist

Tom Salvatore Fricano arrived as a young college instructor at California State University, Northridge in 1963.  His prior work from the late 1950s was mostly abstract.  We are not completely sure, but it appears that with his arrival to California he started to take on a style that is a cross between optical (aka op/kinetic art) and modern mandala art.  Optical art was about using mathematical designs and mandala art is about creating geometric patterns that represent the cosmos symbolically.  In many respects this is so Southern California, his artwork during this period is about radical balance, that perhaps is influenced by traces of Buddhism/Hinduism mandalas establishing the sacred within his art.     

Some might consider Fricano a second or third generation hard-edge abstractionist because of his California artistic influences, and we are not sure if his art prints from this period take on any religious meaning or if this was a later attribution.  Yet there were numerous op …

Alice Baber (1928 - 1982) Blip Artist

As we unpack the art history books, Alice Baber is frequently described as an abstract artist, her New York Times' obituary described her work as lyrically abstract.  Yes, she is an abstract artist, however instead, she should be noted as an abstract artist that invented blip art, where she worked with multiple ovoid shapes.  

Her work is like looking through a kaleidoscope where the angled mirrored walls reflect the colored glass elements into patterns of light and color.  As in the example below, she deploys blips of colors on the canvas; lemon yellow, cherry red, Tiffany aqua and spots of taupe, all laying on a bed of white.  Some of the overlapping colors built up into intense hues.  The sizes of the blips vary and the transparency of the colors builds into swirls around empty areas.      










Phyllis Cohen - Virginia Master Printmaker

Phyllis Cohen, illustrating her “jigsaw puzzle” printing process at the press, 2012
Photo from Printmakers, Inc.

I arrived in northern Virginia in the early 1980s, at that time the Torpedo Factory Art Center at the end of King Street, Old Town Alexandria was filled with 80 studios and the Art League School, as it still is today.  I had a professional design degree and worked as a designer for the Federal Government.  During my free weekends I would venture down to the Torpedo Factory to see what these artists were creating.  I remember that there were numerous printmakers and I loved looking at their work.

One such artist was the master printmaker, Phyllis Cohen.  As she tells the story from many interviews, Marian Van Landingham, an artist and politician was the ringleader that started the concepts of getting the Torpedo Factory established.  She roped in other artists to clean up this 1918 Navy building that was used for making torpedo shell casings and other weapons.  Once the art f…