Learning the numerous techniques that artists use is difficult, but what is more difficult is not having someone there to tell you what you are doing wrong and what you are doing right. For the five amateur artists that have their work displayed at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in the Inside the Outside exhibit, have had to deal with just that.
None of the five artists have formal training, yet they have cultivated unique styles in their work and stories. This exhibit, which started in late May and is now coming to a close on September 4, tells the stories of five disadvantaged individuals that have picked up a pencil, or marker, or simply have made their own drawing device to make art without following artistic principles or conventions.
The first artist, Bill Traylor, was born into slavery, with only a few short years before the Civil War. Oddly, he was 84 years old when he started to show an interest in art. Traylor also suffered from poverty, as he could only afford to use old cardboard, colored pencils, and poster paint. Traylor knew just how to lasso your attention by having one main focus in the middle of the page, which was usually of dogs or a powerful profile of a person. Movement was key for Traylor; he thought that animals shouldn’t always be in a stationary position because most of their life is movement. Traylor’s work was not completely serious; he made great attempts to show funny untrue dimensional differences between men and women. In particular, he made women straight with no curves, while the men had larger rear ends.
William Young, another featured artist, had only taken a few years of art lessons when he was a child at the Dallas Museum of Art. However, most of his later days were spent working in a barbershop and practicing his art on the side. Young only used pencils for his medium, which sounds dull, but is the exact opposite. His line work was simple and delicate even. One thing that is evident from Young’s work is his obsession with shapes. His art depicts variations of tentacles and objects that look like cells. Young also explores geometric boxes that show similarities with buildings, as well diagramming bone structures.
Thornton Dial loved to create things from everyday objects around his family’s farm. Dial’s work consisted of combinations of charcoal, paint and other forms of mixed media. An example of this is how morphs cardboard and paper to make pop-ups. These create folds in the texture of his art. Dial also pairs this with large flowing brushstrokes to form people with animalistic bodies. The bright colors and wave-like brush strokes are comparable to graffiti. Most importantly, Dial’s work was influenced by cultural events that he knew of or had witnessed himself; including terrorism, racism, and poverty.
The next artist, James Castle, was born deaf, yet he never learned proper sign language or alternative ways of communication. Castle was also economically disadvantaged, so he took sticks and shaved them down into a point. He even made ink from his stove’s soot mixed with his own saliva. He lived an isolated life in Idaho, which is featured in each of his pictures, focusing on landscapes and the interior of what we could presume to be Castle’s house. Even though he lacked professional mediums, he fostered pictures with fine details, soft shading, and exceptional perspective. The Weatherspoon also showcases Castle’s handmade doodle books, with multiple quick drawings.
Lastly, Nellie Mae Rowe, was a child of fantasy, who was always forming doll heads and drawing. Yet, she took a break from her art until age 48, when she fully devoted herself to her craft following the death of her second husband. Rowe’s artwork is poppy with crayon and marker drawings that had no scale or perspective, but were colorful and fun. She never left empty space on her pictures, all were filled in with small versions of humans, trees, plants, and dogs. Rowe’s artwork with its dogs larger than houses, makes her seem to be an adult living in a child’s playhouse of make-believe.
The Weatherspoon Art Museum took a chance when they decided to make a whole exhibit featuring amateur artists. Most art connoisseurs prefer perfect line work, contemporary geniuses, and exquisite shading and perspective all known through years of training. Yet, this artwork was more than about getting the “right” picture, but about passion, struggles, and definitely the fun of making it. Since life can be awkward, beautiful, and comical, so should the art we share. Most importantly, they are trying to remind us that hard work does pay off.