Artists

Anderson, Stephen Warde

Stephen Warde Anderson has spent by all of a few of his years in Rockord, yet he had exhibitions nation wide including Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York. Prominent museums that hold his work include the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Folk Art in New York, the Roger Brown Study Collections of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum and Rockford Art Museum.

Anderson didn’t begin his career as a professional artist until his thirties and has no professional training as an artist. He is entirely self-taught working in the mediums of tempera and gouache. In 1988, he had a show at a Rockford café where he was picked up by Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago.

 A love of classic cinema of the 40’s to the 70’s inspires most of his work. He owns over 2300 films on DVD. In the past he was chosen to portray Hollywood actresses in portraits of their on screen roles in such as B-move star, Mara Cordey or “the Technicolor queen,” Maria Montenez. More recently, he seems to be delving into a broader range of subjects including from diverse walks of life including the poet Emily Bronte, the author Jane Austen, the Greek goddess Cybil, the singer Enya, and the contemporary French film sensation Audrey Tautau.

 Normally done with the subject looking the viewer straight on or at a three-quarter view, these portraits evoke a sense of longing and romanticism for these famous figures. The touch of his brush in describing the flesh tone is very subtle and enigmatic. He contrasts this with a bold colorful background that is sometimes monochromatic, sometimes a landscape, or sometimes fantasy scene of his own device.

Angel, Clyde

In May 2009, Vernon “Skip” Willits, Jr., wrote an open letter to the world revealing the true identity of the infamous Clyde Angel: his late father, Vernon Clyde Willits, Sr. For years, reporters and gallerists around the country were left unsatisfied as they tried to make sense of the origins and location of the anonymous artist. In Intuit’s Winter 1995 publication of The Outsider, then known as the In’tuit, reporter Edward Husar wrote on the mysterious homeless highway wanderer who spent most of his time in the woods of Iowa and created his sculptures in an unknown welder’s shop in an unknown town. Clyde Angel allegedly suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia and was at one time institutionalized in total confinement, which explained his great adoration of the outdoors. Such was the story countless admirers and collectors accepted, unable to find out more precise information on the artist. As his work grew increasingly popular, however, so did interest in his true identity. Soon it was discovered that the welder—and only person in communication with Angel—was Skip Willits, Jr. Though he agreed to speak with gallerists and certain journalists, he refused to confirm his relation with Angel or to offer direct contact with the artist. In early 2009, Skip Willits called Aarne Anton of the American Primitive Gallery, which exhibited many of Clyde Angel’s works, and revealed that Clyde Angel was his father, Vernon Clyde Willits, Sr.

Vernon Willits a.k.a. Clyde Angel was a welder in a small factory named Climax Englines in Clinton, Iowa, for 40 years. He was a family man and World War II veteran who began to use his welding skills for sculpting after his retirement in the 1990s. Despite his reluctance to show off his artwork, he agreed to let his son Skip display it on the condition his identity remain a secret, giving birth to the reclusive, untraceable “Clyde Angel”. During his father’s lifetime, Willits resisted the investigative questions of curious journalists, desiring to honor his father’s wishes. In his letter from 2009, he writes of Clyde Angel once saying: “If you want to know me, know me by my art.” Now that his identity has been revealed, Willits hopes the search for Clyde Angel will no longer overshadow the unique and touching sculptures.

Amezcua, Consuelo (Chelo) Gonzalez

Born in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Chelo Amezcua was 10 when her family immigrated to Del Rio, Texas, where she spent the rest of her life. Despite living in modest conditions, her parents paid great attention to the education of their children. In 1930, the Mexican government gave her a scholarship to attend San Carlos Academy in Mexico City, but the death of her father prevented her from going. She began working as a department store clerk, drawing and writing poems in her free time. She never married and continued to live in the family home after her mother’s death. Gradually she became respected in the local community for her ballpoint pen and ink drawings, which she called “mental drawings” and compared to the filigree of jewelry common in Mexico. Ornamental, multifaceted and featuring repetitive fine lines, individual works could take her up to a month to complete. She often depicted classical historical figures, Mexican myths, pre-Columbian culture, and birds, flowers, maze-like architecture, starry skies, beautiful women and, often, the theme of hands.

Augustus, Ben

Ben Augustus is an artist with the Galerie Atelier Herenplaats in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. When he started working in the studio in 1994, he struggled to find topics of inspiration. Born with Down’s Syndrome, he is hard of hearing and has never learned to speak well. Then, one evening in 1995, when others were hanging out watching TV, he thumbed through an old Playboy Magazine, then grabbed his sketchbook and started drawing women, the theme that has fascinated him since that time. He works by bringing pen to paper and slowly filling the sheet with women. He starts at one corner and stops at the other. Among these figures he puts seemingly random texts and 06 numbers. In recent years, Augustus has begun painting with primary colors straight from the paint pot.

Castle, James

Charles James Castle, two months premature, was born deaf on September 24, 1900, in central Idaho’s isolated Garden Valley. In contrast to his older sister Nellie, who became deaf after a childhood illness, James never learned to read or write, although the Castle family developed a simple system of hand gestures. Fascinated with shapes and forms throughout his life, James copied alphabets, numbers and symbols, and created his own brand to mark copyright or authorship in his books. But whether he distinguished between abstract marks and sketches of objects is not known.

The Castle residence served not only as family home but also as the Garden Valley community’s post office and general store. To keep young James out of trouble, his parents would confine him in the area where mail was received on the first floor or upstairs in a large room accessible only by way of exterior stairs at the rear of the house. From these vantage points, James gained considerable access to a variety of graphic art and found or fashioned art supplies, including postcards and newspapers containing cartoons and comic strips.

Castle created dozens of books with pages of facsimile postcards, replete with colored stamps and cancellation marks. Cartoon and comic strip images also appear in his books, along with advertisements taken from periodicals and catalogs.

Chand Saini, Nek

Chandigarh is considered India's first planned city, designed to be a modern utopia by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier. While working as a road inspector during Chandigarh's redevelopment, Nek Chand began to build his own private utopia in a section of forest designated as a land conservancy on which nothing could be built. Using discarded pieces of concrete and other found materials, Chand secretly constructed a sculpture garden filled with his pottery-covered creations: dancers, musicians and animals living amongst nature in carefully constructed courtyards and palaces, work that went unnoticed for almost 15 years. By that time, Chand had amassed so many pieces they occupied more than 12 acres. After city inspectors discovered this fantasy kingdom, government officials wanted Chand's work, standing in stark contrast to the modernist planned city, destroyed. Word spread quickly, however, and locals began to flock to "The Rock Garden." With so much interest and outpouring of support for Chand's work, the government officially sanctioned the site on January 24, 1976. Since then, with the help of assistants and local and international volunteers, the garden has continued to grow and thousands visit the site daily, making it the second most popular destination in India after the Taj Mahal.

Eveland, Mary

Mary Eveland, a farmer’s wife from Pekin, Illinois, did not start quilting and painting until her 80s. Since she began quilting late in her life, the stitching is often lopsided and uneven, which adds to the charm of her work. Her declining eyesight also limited her ability to infuse details into her work, and, consequently, she is known for her linear, simplified style. Her quilts were created around several themes: the changing landscape of Illinois, American history and religious iconography, which are depicted with a mix of stitched images and phrases. Within these broad subjects she often interjected important moments and people from her own life, such as a panel on Father’s Day in the “Great Opportunities—United States History” quilt, which features more commonly “great” people like Benjamin Franklin. Her success with quilting caught the attention of collector Merle Glick, who encouraged her to take up painting and paid for her art supplies. Eveland used only primary colors on her more than 30 paintings and stuck with her preferred themes of landscapes, history and religious iconography.

Finster, Howard (Reverend) 

Howard Finster was born at Valley Head, Alabama, and lived on the family farm as one of 13 children. He attended school from age six into the sixth grade. He said he had his first vision at three years old, when he saw his recently deceased sister, Abbie Rose, walking down out of the sky wearing a white gown. She told him, “Howard, you’re gonna be a man of visions.”

Finster started building his first garden park museum in Trion, Georgia, in the late 1940s. It featured an exhibit on the “inventions of mankind” in which Finster planned to display one of everything that had ever been invented, models of houses and churches, a pigeon flock, and a duck pond. When he ran out of room on his land in Trion in 1961, he moved to Pennville, Georgia, and bought four acres of land to build what he called his Plant Farm Museum “to show all the wonderful things of God’s Creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden.” It included every kind of edible plant that would grow in his local climate and featured such individual attractions as the “Bible House,” “the Mirror House,” “the Hubcap Tower,” “the Bicycle Tower,” “the Machine Gun Nest,” and the largest structure in the garden, a polygonal five-story “Folk Art Chapel.” Throughout the garden he put up signs with Bible verses on them because “he felt that they stuck in people’s heads better that way.”

Finster retired from preaching in 1965 to focus all of his time on improving the Plant Farm Museum. In 1976 he had another vision to paint sacred art. “[O]ne day I was working on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbing some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip of my finger, and there was a human face on it . . . then a warm feeling come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Paint sacred art.’” After initially setting out to do 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel, his works eventually numbered in the tens of thousands, as the entire family got involved in their production, making him one of the most prolific artists in history.

Hunter, Clementine

The granddaughter of a slave, Clementine (pronounced Clementeen) Hunter was born as the eldest of seven into a Louisiana Creole family at Hidden Hill, now known as Little Eva’s Plantation and reputedly the inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She worked as a farm laborer when young, never learning to read or write, moving to Melrose Plantation south of Natchitoches at the age of 15. Melrose Plantation became known as a mecca for the arts in the ‘30s, attracting visiting artists and writers. Now in her 50s, Hunter began painting—with brushes and tubes of paint left behind by a New Orleans artist—onto discarded items such as window shades, jugs, gourds and cardboard boxes.Although she sold her first paintings for as little as 25 cents, her work was being exhibited in museums and sold for thousands of dollars by the end of her life. She is credited as an important social and cultural historian for her documentation of plantation life in the early 20th century.

Hawkins, William

As proudly inscribed on most of his paintings, William Hawkins was born in Kentucky on July 27, 1895, though he spent much of his adult life in and around Columbus, Ohio, where he moved in 1916 to avoid a shotgun wedding. Hawkins worked tirelessly at numerous jobs—often simultaneously—ranging from breaking horses and running numbers to industrial steel casting and truck driving. He served in the Army during World War I, mostly digging graves in French military cemeteries for fallen American soldiers. Hawkins began painting in the 1930s, though he only began dedicating himself exclusively to art making around 1979.

Typically painting with a single brush and using semi-gloss house paint enamels on large plywood and Masonite surfaces, he often worked from his own black-and-white photographs of buildings and animals, boldly articulating his unique, expressionistic interpretations of architectural forms, religious subjects and nature studies in bright colors and broad, patterned brushstrokes. Collage and the incorporation of found objects often characterize Hawkins’s work, as does his ubiquitous, bold signature and painted frames.

By the time of his death in 1990, Hawkins had completed some 500 paintings and pencil drawings (not counting his lost early pieces), revealing a gradual turn toward human figuration in his later years.

Kox, Norbert

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Norbert Kox has created art since childhood. As a young man, while a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, he began working on custom bikes and cars, salvaging materials that were incorporated into artworks.

After suffering a drug overdose on this 30th birthday, Kox saw the ostensible freedom and excitement of motorcycle gangs as a dead end. He found his way out through a spiritual awakening, which led to joining a conservative Pentecostal group. As he read the scriptures, his perception of Christianity changed dramatically. Kox soon found he didn’t believe the conventional teachings of Christianity, preferring his own interpretations, and decided he could no longer belong to any organized religious group. He lives today as a semi-hermit, who does not shy away from confronting viewers with apocalyptic warnings and revelations.

Maldonado, Alexander

Born in Mazatlan, Mexico, Alexander Aramburo Maldonado drew his first picture when he was 60 years old. Maldonado told his own story: “I had school in Mexico for about two years, so when I came [to California] in 1911, I had to learn English. My father died in 1914, so I had to help and sold newspapers—early in the morning and afternoon for 2 cents a paper!—around the time of [San Francisco's 1915 Panama-Pacific International] Exposition. I also helped the milkman take care of his horse and stuff like that.”

Maldonado was a shipyard worker from the age of 16, a professional boxer who claimed to have never lost a fight, and later a production worker for Western Can Company.  He never married, and, from 1950 until her death in 1985, he shared a little house in Bernal Heights, a working class neighborhood in San Francisco, with his sister Carmen.

McNellis, Laura Craig

Laura Craig McNellis was born in Nashville, Tenn., the youngest of four girls, and lived with her family for 41 years. A developmental disability prevented her from going to school with her sisters, so, instead, she watched her mother refurbish a neglected boarding house into a single-family home. After spontaneously making a painting following a shopping outing, she began depicting her expanding environment, including subjects such as buildings, cars and planes. By the time she was an adolescent, McNellis was a relentless painter.

McNellis paints late at night, frequently after others are asleep. When a painting is complete, McNellis draws large letters across the bottom. Occasionally, cut out sections are part of the finished image. She generally trims corners of a painting but is careful to preserve a fragment of yellow sun that often appears in the upper right corner.

Miller, Dan

Born in Castro Valley, California, Dan Miller is a long-time veteran of the studio art program at Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center, an organization for adults with disabilities that has nurtured such talents as Judith Scott and Dwight Macintosh. Miller became the first artist with autism to have his work at significant museums such as MoMA. With few verbal communication skills, he has developed a body of work that uses language as the basis for his drawings, which consist of densely layered words, phrases, letters and numbers that are repeatedly overdrawn, often creating ink masses hovering on the page and built up to the point of obliteration or destruction of the ground. Works contain the written recording of the artist’s obsession with objects like light bulbs, electrical sockets, food, or names of cities and people.

Monza, Louis

Self-taught painter, sculptor and printmaker Louis Monza was born in Turate, Italy, in 1897. At the age of seven, he was apprenticed to a master furniture maker. In 1913 he immigrated to the United States, where he held a variety of odd jobs, including restaurant dishwasher and water boy for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although a lifelong pacifist, Monza joined the army in 1917 and served in Panama during World War I to speed up his citizenship process.

Following the war, he worked as a house painter until 1937, when he was injured in a fall. During his lengthy convalescence, he began making art and continued to do so for the rest of his life. In 1946 Monza moved to California, where he created prints and sculpture as well as drawings and paintings, all of which carried on a monologue of social and political commentary on topics ranging from technology and the aerospace industry to the effects of environmental pollution.

Morgan, Gertrude (Sister)

Sister Gertrude Morgan was a preacher, missionary, self-taught artist, musician and poet. She was born Gertrude Williams and hailed from Lafayette, Ala. When she was 37 and living in Georgia with her husband, she experienced a divine calling to preach and paint God’s word. Two years later she moved to New Orleans, establishing an orphanage with other missionaries and, later, the Everlasting Gospel Mission in her home.

Her evangelical activities intensified in 1957 when, as she described, God asked her to become “the bride of Christ.” She began wearing white nurse-uniform habits and walking the streets with a tambourine and megaphone, spreading the word of God. Her paintings were visual aids to her preaching and teaching. Music was a significant feature of her ministry; in the early 1970s, the recording Let’s Make a Record captured her singing and tambourine playing.

Sister Gertrude was said to have had a life-long interest in art, beginning with dirt drawings she made in the fields with her farming family. Claiming that Jesus gave her the talent and inspiration to paint, she used everyday objects to create her works:  window shades, hand-held fans, Styrofoam trays, notebook paper and sections of canvas. She illustrated scriptures from the Old and New Testaments with acrylics, poster paint, watercolors, crayons and ballpoint pens. Sister Gertrude rarely dated her work, because she did not consider it to be “art” but rather the tools of her mission. She often included text from the Bible in her paintings.

Then, in 1974, upon receiving a revelation from God, Sister Gertrude stopped painting to focus on her preaching and poetry. However, she was widely recognized for her artwork before she passed away in 1980.

Nedjar, Michel

Michel Nedjar was born in Soisy-sous-Montmorency, France, to a Jewish family combining both Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. Both parents emigrated to France in the early 1920s, his father, a tailor, from Algiers, and his mother’s family from Poland, fleeing Jewish persecution. But during the German occupation of France in World War II, nearly all his mother’s family were deported and died in concentration camps. His mother and grandmother survived by hiding on a farm in Brittany.

As his father was a successful tailor, Nedjar grew up around garments and sewing machines, making his first dolls out of cast-off fabric. At the age of 14 he was placed in a couture fashion house as an apprentice. Later he travelled to the Middle East, Asia, Mexico and Central America, where he came into contact with dolls used in magic and witchcraft. On returning to Paris, he made his first doll fetishes. These were made using fabrics, rags and plastic bags, which he adorned with feathers, bits of wood, straw, string and shells dipped in baths of dye, earth and blood. Since 1980 he has created drawings with wax crayons and paint on salvaged support materials as well as statuettes and bas-reliefs in plaster or papier-mâché.

Ramirez, Martin

Born near Guadalajara, Martin Ramirez left his family in Mexico for the United States in 1925. Like other migrant workers during this period, he worked in mines and on the railroad but was hit hard by the Great Depression. Emotionally upset and in poor physical condition, he was detained by police in 1931 and, unable or unwilling to communicate, was soon committed to a psychiatric hospital. He remained institutionalized for the rest of his life.

After several attempts to escape from the psychiatric hospital, Ramirez began to draw obsessively. Over the next 32 years, he created a series of large-scale drawings—from two feet to more than 20 feet long—that blend the emotional and physical landscapes of his life in Mexico with the modern popular culture of the United States. He worked primarily with found materials, like discarded paper such as brown paper bags and examining-table paper, matchsticks, and tongue depressors, and glue and paint he made himself. Some of his drawings were exhibited anonymously during his lifetime, but it wasn’t until a decade after his death that his work began to receive widespread attention. 

His more than 450 dynamic drawings and collages seem imbued with hypnotic power. Through the use of repeating lines and favorite motifs, Ramirez transcended his situation to create a world free from the constraints of borders. 

Simons, Barry

Barry Simons lived in Southern California and was an outsider artist and poet. He began his creative journey as a poet and wrote about his experiences boxing, being in the Army, and traveling the world, including parts of Europe, the Middle East and Mexico. His poems and short stories were published in several small press books. He was not satisfied with this creative outlet and turned to painting in the 1970s. His artwork is a combination of paint, ink, text and collage, with Simons often incorporating found everyday objects into the work. He is best known for taking accidents such as coffee stains or cigarette ash and not just including but basing a work around the marks. Simons’ art is viscerally emotional and regularly deals with his personal struggles, including the fact that he heard voices and had a contentious relationship with his parents. While figures are regularly present in his pieces, the overriding emotions of joy, fear, anger, depression and frenzy are the focal points he wants viewers to experience. Simons’ work has been described as similar to a jazz riff or stream of consciousness.

Sparrow, Simon

When he was a young boy, Simon Sparrow’s mother called him her “mystery child,” and, as he grew older, the moniker continually re-asserted itself. His father, a West African, met and married his mother in the United States, then returned with her to Africa, where Sparrow was born in 1925. Two years later, the family traveled on a banana boat back to the States and settled on North Carolina’s Cherokee Indian Reservation, where his grandfather lived and, according to Sparrow, was a tribal chief. Surrounded by Native American families in a region heavily populated by the descendants of slaves, Sparrow developed an ecumenical faith. When he was 12, Sparrow left home on a train bound for Philadelphia. He knew no one in the city but was soon adopted by a Jewish family. He earned money as a dishwasher at a restaurant and drew portraits of the customers in his spare time. In 1942, at the age of 16, he married Johnnie Roper, with whom he would eventually have six children before their divorce in 1946. Also that year, he lied about his age and joined the Army. He was assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey, but never saw combat. After his discharge, he moved with his family to New York, where he held down a series of jobs as a house painter, singer, pizza chef and, briefly, a professional wrestler heroically dubbed the Green Lantern. For a time, he even worked as a sparring partner for 1950s middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson.

In 1968 Sparrow married Jocelyn Reed, and a year later, they moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to be near her family. There, he continued making art, and he took his ministry to the streets, donning a home-made pastoral robe and toting a tattered Bible. He became an endearing character in the local fabric, holding impromptu art sales in the parking lot at Henry’s Restaurant and setting up a table in the student union on the university campus, where he’d draw with pastels and talk theology with passing students.

Sudduth, Jimmy (Jimmie) Lee

Jimmy Lee Sudduth nee Wilson was born in Cains Ridge, Fayette County, Alabama, and adopted by the Sudduth family at an early age. He had minimal formal education, since his parents moved frequently, and could not read or write but learned to “draw” his name in order to sign his work—sometimes on official documents his first name is spelled Jimmie. There is a mythical quality to the story of Sudduth’s artistic beginnings. As a young boy, he went with his mother, a medicine woman, into the woods to gather materials for her work, and he drew a picture on a tree stump using mud. When the two returned several days later, the image was still there, and his mother believed this was a sign her son should carry on painting. Sudduth mostly painted scenes of life in Alabama and continued to use his hands and natural materials to create his works, including mixtures of dirt, sugar, honey, coffee, coal, flower petals, berries, sap, egg yolks, grass and even Coca-Cola to give the image staying power, as plain mud often flaked away. Unfortunately, these natural supplies were appealing to bugs and animals that chewed and burrowed into the art. Sudduth had to support himself and his family (he was twice a widower) by taking odd jobs, but he remained a prolific painter often creating and completing several works per day.

Von Bruenchenhein, Eugene

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born in Marinette, Wisc., and lost his mother when he was seven. His widower father, a sign painter and shopkeeper, later remarried a woman who had published treatises on evolution, believed in reincarnation and painted floral still lifes. Although he did not finish high school, Von Bruenchenhein became fascinated with botany and science, and wrote extensively on his own metaphysical theories of biological and cosmological origins, along with reams of poetry on nature, love, war, politics, and imaginary travels through time and space.

In 1939 he met Eveline Kalke (whom he called “Marie”) at the Wisconsin State Fair. They married in 1943. Marie became his constant muse, collaborating with him in staging hundreds of passionate and provocative, yet playful, pinup-like photographs.

In 1954 Von Bruenchenhein began making intricate, brightly colored “finger paintings” of atomic mushroom clouds, mythical sea creatures, fantastic landscapes, shooting comets and futuristic metropolises, manipulating the paint with his fingers, sticks, straw and brushes made from Marie’s hair, to achieve amazing spatial effects. Later, using dried chicken bones, he made miniature chairs and thrones as well as delicate architectural spires or towers of up to five feet high. During his own lifetime, Von Bruenchenhein never achieved significant recognition for his art, and, by the time of his death, thousands of works crammed the tiny house he had shared with Marie.

Walker, Inez Nathaniel

Born into poverty as Inez Stedman in Sumter, South Carolina, in 1911, Inez Walker was orphaned at an early age, married at 16 and quickly had four children. During the Great Migration of the 1930s, she moved to Philadelphia to get away from grueling farm work, eventually moving on to New York, going back to migrant farm work.

In the late ‘60s, Walker was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and served a two-year jail sentence for killing a man who had likely been abusive. While at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, she began drawing as a way to keep herself busy and away from the “bad girls”, who made up a majority of her portraits. Her style incorporated patterns on her subjects’ clothes and depicted intricate hairstyles, with heads drawn larger and more expressively than the rest of the figures and dominating the composition.

She impressed Elizabeth Bayley, a teacher of remedial English at the prison, who brought her drawings to the attention of a local art dealer. Drawing obsessively and prolifically, she filled dozens of sketch books prior to her release in 1972 and soon had her first show. Inez Nathaniel remarried in 1975 and took her new husband’s name, Walker. She lived quietly in New York’s Fingerlakes region until her death, continuing to draw. 

White, Willie

Willie White was born to a farming couple in Natchez, Mississippi. He attended school through the third grade and, in 1929, left Natchez to work repairing and securing Mississippi River levees, while living aboard crew quarter boats. White later moved to New Orleans and worked as a waiter for nearly 20 years before being employed as a nightclub janitor and sign painter in the 1950s and ‘60s.

After observing artists in the French Quarter, he decided to try art making for himself. Using house paint, at first he imitated others’ work but quickly adopted his own ideas and techniques, often depicting neighborhood churches and crosses. As his skills developed, he gleaned images from television and dreams, creating a visual vocabulary of dinosaurs, horses, fantastic birds, watermelons, skyscrapers, rocket ships and planets. In the ‘60s, he began working almost exclusively with felt markers and white poster board, using canvas and paints only when someone provided him with these more costly materials.

Yoakum, Joseph

Joseph Elmer Yoakum was a self-taught artist who lived an adventurous life of world travel, show business and art. He was born in Green County, Missouri, to a father of Cherokee and African-American descent and a French-American mother. Yoakum claimed to have been born in Arizona as a Navajo Indian.

Yoakum began his travels at age 9 when he left home to join the Great Wallace Circus. He took a variety of jobs as he toured the world: a horse wrangler for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, a billboard poster in traveling circuses, a soldier in World War I and a merchant seaman. He started a family in Missouri in 1909 but did not return after the war. Instead, he traveled around the United States working at odd jobs. He settled in Chicago in the 1940s and was drawing regularly by the 1950s.

Most of the 2,000 drawings Yoakum created after 1962—the works for which he’s known today—represent the places he claims to have visited during his early years of wandering. Each is labeled with its location and the date he was there. Yoakum’s work reveals that he was a proud world traveler and a deeply spiritual man whose beliefs embraced both Christianity and Navajo animism.  Because Yoakum’s landscapes do not always resemble the actual named locations, it is difficult to determine the truth of the stories he told about his travels. Someone who knew him well believed that his stories were more invention than reality. Perhaps it was the life that Yoakum wished he have lived

Yoakum used a variety of tools to create his works. He drew his landscape outlines with ballpoint pen on ordinary paper, always using two lines to designate land masses. He then filled them in with colored pencils and watercolors, buffing them to a shine with toilet paper. Near the end of his life he turned toward pure abstraction. Yoakum was discovered by the mainstream art world in 1967 and was granted a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum shortly before his death. 

Young, Purvis

Purvis Young was from Miami, Florida, and is known for his artistic style that combines urban struggle and black culture with traditionally “high art” subjects and themes. Young never attended high school and, as a young man, was arrested and spent time in prison. While there, he studied art books in the library and, once released, continued learning and looking at established artworks in the public libraries.  Young painted and drew scenes of his crumbling neighborhood and the psychological impact of living in that type of environment on found materials ranging from cardboard to wood and scrap paper. He included horses and angels to symbolize freedom and goodness along with cars and trains that not only allowed for escape but linked urban places and what he viewed as the rest of the world. His first work was a public mural/collage of his work inspired by the “Wall of Respect” mural in Chicago created by the Black Arts Movement. Renowned Miami art enthusiast and Miami Museum of Modern Art owner Bernard Davis saw the piece and became Young’s patron. This association catapulted Young into the zeitgeist, and he was became sought after, particularly at culturally important events such as Art Basel in Miami Beach.