Monthly Archives: May 2016

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Jan 1987

KCAC Forum Magazine January 1987

by Willem Vokersz

American folk art is defined variously by different groups, both academic and non-academic, who are interested in the subject. They include, among others, artists, art historians, art critics, museum curators, collectors, folklorists, and cultural anthropologists. As a result, we are confronted by a litany of terms and definitions when we review the past 50 years’ literature in the field of fold-art study. We are, in the process, confronted by terms such as folk, self-taught, primitive, early American, nonacademic, naive, visionary, grass roots, outsider, art brut, idiosyncratic, and isolate, in addition to amateur and Sunday painter.

The history of defining American folk art began in the 1920s when a group of painters, in an attempt to break away from the 19th-century academic painting, began to study, collect and emulate the simple, strong forms they found in non-academic art.

Among the most important of the early folk exhibitions were “American Folk Sculpture,” held at the Newark Museum in the 1930, and the broader survey “American Folk Art – the Art of the Common Man -in America, 1750-1900,” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932; both were organized by Holger Cahill, then on the staff of the Newark Museum and one of the early exponents of American folk art. Cahill used the term “folk art” in the catalog accompanying the 1932 exhibition, while his subject was limited to the “craftsmen and amateurs of the 18th and 19th centuries.” In 1938, however he found it necessary to introduce the term “popular” in an exhibition of “Master of Popular Painting” (which included contemporary untrained European and American artists) and, in the exhibition subtitle, added the tern “modern primitives.”

In his important book They Taught Themselves (published in 1942), Sidney Janis uses the term “self-taught” to describe a group of “native primitives” which included Mother Moses (later promoted to ‘Grandma’ Moses) and Morris Hirschfield. Since both Janis and Cahill introduced the notion that something akin to folk art could be produced by living artists, they are forced to distinguish between a more tradition- based folk art and a popular or self-taught art that is of the people and not necessarily tied to cultural or ethnic traditions. The distinction is important because it still fuels the fire of disagreement in the academic community concerning what exactly constitutes ‘folk art.’

In his germinal 1968 article on fold art environments in Art in America, Gregg Blasdel introduces the term “grass-roots artist,” as the best number of inadequate classifications such as ‘primitive,’ ‘folk,’ and ‘naïve.’ A major distinction between the grass-roots artist and the folk or primitive artists, according to this author, is the reclusive nature of these artists who, in apparent isolation, create large structures and environments built from found materials.

The chief distinctions between the various definitions appear to center around the following issues: 1) whether it can be demonstrated that a folk artist works within a specific community, ethnic, or geographic or other ‘folk group’ with as specific cultural tradition; 2) whether the traditions within which the folk artist works have been affected by modern or other influences outside of its ethnic or regional isolation; and 3) whether the folk artisan (who is thought to produce utilitarian “folk craft” objects), working in a specific tradition, is distinct from the folk artist who, while producing more non-functional drawings, paintings or sculptured objects, operates more independently (i.e. outside tradition.) While the debate continues, both traditional and non-traditional folk artists are grouped together in museum and regional exhibitions, each defining folk art according to his own needs.

While America and the world riveted its attention on the emergence of a truly American ‘high art’ during the 1950s and early 1960s with the celebration of artists such as Pollock, de Kooning, Kline, Rauschenberg, dine, Warhol, and Johns, little attention paid to its folk arts (with the exception of the Blasdell article and the 1974 “Naives and Visionaries” (Walker Art Center) Exhibition, both focusing on environments). Beginning with the Bicentennial in 1976, this country began to show a renewed interest in its folk art, especially through numerous regional and state surveys.

From the discussion of the literature accompanying these exhibitions, it is clear that academic training is a major determinant in how folk art is defined and what is included in the exhibitions. As has been pointed out, the divisions between groups attempting to define folk art center around the role tradition plays in the work of the artist. Most of us recognize the importance of the transmission of skills, techniques and other cultural patterns from one generation to the other in such endeavors as furniture construction, vernacular architecture, quilting, etc. There is now even considerable evidence of the survival of such communal/cultural patterns from Africa to the southern United States through the slave trade. Evidence that these skills, techniques and patterns are clearly culturally transmitted and that the artists’ and craftsmen’s products conform to community standards and values are at the base of the folklorist’s needs to see a community’s folk arts as traditional. The theory of cultural transmission and conformation cannot embrace the individual who appears to be deviant from this traditional pattern.

The idea that folk artists make “a leap beyond the tradition or source that inspired them” is not an infrequently found observation. In discussing a variation on traditional grave offerings found in Afro-American cemeteries, Vlach observes that “novelty does not always override tradition – rather novelty provides a new format for the expression of idea,s” and suggests that an important aspect of the process of African art is to “constantly reshape the old and the familiar into something modern and quiet, to simultaneously express one’s self and reinforce the image of the community.”

Recent studies and articles have disclosed exciting new information that reveals links between what initially appeared to be a private iconography produced by “idiosyncratic” artists, and hitherto unknown cultural and traditional sources for their work. For many years, for example, it was generally believed that Simon Rodioa, the builder of the “Watts Towers” in Los Angeles, worked in isolation not only from the community in which he lived but also from the cultural traditions of the country of his birth, Italy. In their recent article in the Library of Congress’ Folklife Annual 198, the authors (a folklorist and a student of popular culture) examine the relationships between Rodia’s towers and the “giglio” portable towers constructed annually for a religious festival in both the town of Nola, Italy (near where the artist was born) and in Brooklyn, New York.

In order to establish a connection between the folk artist and his culture, it is necessary to know something of the artist’s life. When he or she is alive, this can be accomplished through interviewing the artist and possibly his relatives and neighbors. We can enter his environment and examine the way he lives and inspect what he has chosen to surround himself with. Both my instinct and my research tell me that much of the work usually considered idiosyncratic was produced in a cultural tradition that may be hidden because of the difficulty in tracing the work’s iconography, construction, or even function. Research, coupled with a real appreciation of the folk artists’ creative output, will help to demystify some of the work now considered to be idiosyncratic.

felicia koloc

KC Artist Lifestyle is back this week with Kansas City artist and entrepreneur , Felicia Koloc (@makergoods)! We first ran across Felicia and her beautiful one of a kind hand bags and clutches at last year’s Westport Art Fair, and we were instantly hooked. Felicia is one part of the duo running Maker Goods, a wonderful one stop shop for all things excellent, located in what they have termed “Eastport” or East of Westport. Once the connection was made to Maker Goods, their Instagram and Felicia’s artwork, the trifecta was complete and we just had to see if they would share a peek into their world with us.

Here are a few words from Felicia about her work and why she creates…

“A naturally curious personality has pushed my creative practices to be primarily focused on materials and processes. My projects are never started to solve a specific problem but rather to see what I can do within the boundaries of a certain material or new process. I apply the same concepts to the studio and shop I operate, focusing on achieving new solutions with tested ideas.”

We are looking forward to seeing what a week in the life of Felicia (@makergoods) is all about, but since we just can’t wait, here are a few images of Felicia’s work and past Instagram images…

Koloc_Felicia_Image-4_WEB_AL_5_16     Koloc_Felicia_Image-1_WEB_AL_5_16     Koloc_Felicia_Image-5_WEB_AL_5_16

Be sure to follow Felicia on her KCAC Instagram journey Thursday, May 26th – Tuesday, May 31st!

If you missed any of our previous Artist Lifestyle Artists you can always catch up on the KCAC Instagram (@kcartistscoalition) to see what has been happening or search social media with the hashtags: #kcartistlifestyle #kcacartistlifestyle

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum May 1986

KCAC Forum Magazine May 1986

by Betsy O’Hara

The year has gone quickly, leaving a tapestry of memories richly woven with golden friendships and with images of dedicated individuals.

I will always remember and be grateful to three individuals whose donations typify the commitment that keeps the Coalition alive.

Jackie Charno, a member since the Coalition’s early days, is ever generous with her time, energy and money. Thanks to Jackie, we have a headquarters and gallery, which was first at 616 Central and is now at our present location. Early in 1986 she gave us another substantial gift.

But Jackie has given much more than monetary gifts to the Coalition. She has always responded happily to our requests for her time or for her art work. She donated two works to this year’s auction, and she served enthusiasm has prompted others to follow her example. Single handedly she is one of our most productive fund raisers and one of our most effective advocates.

Elizabeth Layton, another member, has also given freely to the Coalition. This past year she made four special works for the Coalition. One commemorated the Modern Yardist’s Party. Three drawings were made especially for and donated to the KCAC Valentine Art Auction.

But Elizabeth Layton gives us something in addition to her art; she gives us all hope. As we line up our youthful hears and/or our creeping crow’s feet and march them to our studios each day, it is with her victories in mind. “Grandma” Layton is alive and productive in Wellsville, Kansas, and is being applauded around the world. Who ever heard of Wellsville before its local artist made People magazine and Saturday Review?

Another member and advocate, who prefers to remain anonymous, has found a creative way to donate to the KCAC. This member has named the Coalition as beneficiary of a $25,000 life insurance policy. In addition, our benefactor acquires works by local artists and encourages others to do the same. This donation and support weaves a pattern that I hope others will follow.

Also woven into this year’s memories will be the proud products of the steering board, the office staff and the committee heads. Our membership nears the 500 mark. We achieved our goal of $15,000 for the Valentine Art Auction. Members’ works have been shown throughout the city and in other cities. We have had strong programs, exhibitions and educational workshops. Our promotion of and advocacy for local artists grew stronger this year. Forum looks good and is good.

I have enjoyed working with all these people. They have been conscientious, optimistic and professional. The year is over, but the tapestry, the memories have no flaws. Thank you to everyone for your inspiration and support.

alejandro thornton

The KCAC Artist Lifestyle project on Instagram is back TODAY and we are heading to New York City this time around! Former KCAC artists-in-residence Alejandro Thornton (Argentina) returns to the KCAC Instagram account, but this time we will see the world through his camera lens. You may remember Alejandro from his last appearance with German artist Nina Staehli when she did her International Monkey Business take over several months ago.

We met Alejandro back in 2014 here at the Kansas City International Residency at the Artists Coalition during a month long residency. During his time in Kansas City and in residence, he was also able to create a entire body of new work that was exhibited in the KCAC Charno Gallery. Alejandro’s works often revolve around language, writing and looking at the ways in which we communicate. Through word play and line work, Alejandro grabs codes of everyday life, in all cultures, and makes them work differently to convey new social statements.

During his take over, Alejandro (@alethornton) will be giving us a look into his newest work and exhibition TRAVERSE that opens tomorrow night in NYC at the Artemisa Gallery. We are very excited to get a behind the scenes look at his show, artwork and travels along the way. Here are a few images of Alejandro’s work and his own Instagram photos…

Thornton_Ale_Image-2_AL_5_16     Thornton_Ale_Image-1_AL_5_16      Thornton_Ale_Image-3_AL_5_16

Be sure to follow Alejandro on his KCAC Instagram journey Wednesday, May 18th – Tuesday, May 24th!

If you missed any of our previous Artist Lifestyle Artists you can always catch up on the KCAC Instagram (@kcartistscoalition) to see what has been happening or search all social media with the hashtags: #kcartistlifestyle #kcacartistlifestyle