“The Circle” 2007. Oil on masonite.
Documentations of hunts, spiritual beliefs and motifs adorn countless caves around the world. These figurative representations by primitive peoples evidence an inherent human need to record experience. Throughout art history popular establishments have set exclusive standards against which many now venerated movements at one point or another have or have not been considered art by fastidious cultural authorities – the fact that artists worldwide have continually pushed boundaries set by their respective cultural elites seems to say more about human curiosity that it does about insubordination, though like the need to record experience, both also appear to be inherent.
Not too long ago something happened in art which came to be known as expressionism. Typically thought of as painting produced in Germany around the turn of the last century it challenged the academic traditions by focusing on the conveyance of human emotion. It is arguable that all artists are expressive, but works that fall under the expressionist umbrella often place an especially profound emphasis on communication through emotion and are typically produced during times of social upheaval. In addition, although expressionist works may appear unimpressive aesthetically, they often have the capacity to move viewers to strong emotions with the drama and often horror of the scenes depicted.
“Cowboys & Indians” 2008. Oil on canvas.
Art produced by so called self-taught artists has accrued many pseudo-derogatory names – Folk Art, Outsider Art, Primitive Art even Ignorant Art – but today the lack of a conventional education or recognized qualifications seems insubstantial grounds for exclusion. It may be true that the value of art is its ability to comment upon culture, muscling in to push ‘the conversation’ forward, but other than what we have come to expect, there are no real standards or even a specific thing it has to be. The French created an academy to implement standards for the way that people were supposed to draw and it was the break down of that academy, the very ideas that artists had in the 19th century – the impressionists and so on – that meant that those standards were not enough; there were other ways of being expressive whilst being creative that opened people up to the art we now produce. It seems that the main problem self-taught artists encounter is that despite the redundancy of pre-modernist standards there remains exclusivity in art in the form of intellectualism. The minute art moved away from implemented, commonly accepted standards it moved towards other standards that were perhaps not as easily definable. When this happened it essentially created just another situation in which only people who declare themselves to be experts are allowed to decide whether something is art or not.
Ink on paper, 2009.
Despite the work of Holger Cahill, a novelist, socialist and curator at the Newark Museum and Museum of Modern Art who in the 1930′s sought to legitimize them, self-taught artists are still often dismissed today by many ‘experts’ who believe that if a work is not created with contextual reference within a specific art matrix then it has no value as a cultural document. However, contrary to this, the work of self-taught artists has a quality and maybe also a value that most officiated art forms do not. Rather than the concept that drives production of the object being the art, it is the circumstance, instance or context in which the object is made – i.e. the very fact that the artist is considered an outsider – that automatically generates a uniquely culturally lauded work. The Museum of Modern Art’s founding director, Alfred Barr – whom Cahill assisted after leaving the Newark Museum – in fact considered self-taught art one of modernism’s three principal strands (alongside Surrealism and Abstraction) and in 1938 mounted a survey of contemporary European and American self-taught artists at MoMA entitled “Masters of Popular Painting.”
“Modern Primitives [represent] the best introduction to a general survey of modern painting….They work in no tradition, either technical or esthetic…. Though each developed in personal isolation, [they] seem international in character even more than their professionally trained colleagues.” —Alfred Barr, 1941
“Mermaid” 2008. Oil on canvas.
Farley Aguilar is a Miami-based self-taught painter. Unlike those of other Floridian Folk artists who have suffered (and are still suffering) from zealous art patrons force feeding their benign hobbies until they grow bloated dark underbellies, Aguilar’s story has only just begun. Currently unrepresented – a courtesy rarely extended by Miami galleries to promising developing talent – Aguilar has participated in a number of group shows at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art with encouragingly distinctive work. With Jazzar, Aguilar also showed at the recent Fourth All-Media Juried Biennial at The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. Despite this exhibition’s incongruous mix of works (not to mention the fact that some weren’t even lit!), Aguilar characterized Jazzar’s roster of unconventional yet emotive artists well with “Mermaid” 2008, an unsettling oil on canvas piece which in depicting mermaids hung from trees by a lynch mob of zombies seems to comment on our societies morbid propensity to destroy values, innocence and fantasy.
“Man & Beast” 2008. Oil on Canvas.
“I can’t start talking about painting without mentioning how I became interested in anything artistic in the first place. My family background is basically a black hole of sensitivity so I had to teach and discover everything myself. I don’t know why I chose painting, maybe it was the most practical for me, but once I got started learning how to draw I’ve never stopped.” – Farley Aguilar.
“The Big Man” 2009. Ink on paper.
Typically, self-taught artists gravitate toward the safety of established mediums – such as figurative painting and sculpture – presumably because they are familiar and comfortable. It’s also possible that the popularity of ‘classic’ forms of artistic expression among self-taught artists is owed to the fact that these mediums suit a more narrative subject. Although Aguilar’s paintings could be said to evoke expressionism in so far as their subject matter and willful distortion of formal elements, the artist should feel proud to call himself self-taught; by doing so he stands to further galvanize the position of self-taught artists.
“When I was 18 I came across an anthology of world literature and read ‘Notes from Underground’ by Dostoevsky. It is not an understatement, even though it might sound silly, that this really changed my life. As far as what I’m interested in artistically, I really like painters like Daniel Richter and Till Gerhard. As for my art work, at this point, I guess I’m mostly interested in the struggle between interior and exterior forces. How these two shape and eventually destroy an individual. To capture instances of this process interests me.” Said Aguilar.
“The Behemoth” 2009. Ink on Mylar.
Aguilar’s being self-taught has no bearing on the impact of his work other than perhaps to improve it by preserving his ingenuity in a feral state. Quite apart from discrediting his practice, the unusual way in which he paints adds much to the images he creates. In addition to willfully bizarre subject matter he favors lurid clashing colors which somehow work to create situations and environments with strong atmospheres and readable depths.
“I really try hard not to over think the things I do as this has been a bad habit of mine all my life. For me thinking is stasis, a paralysis of action.”
“The Spell” 2008. Oil on canvas.
Apart from the Fourth All-Media Juried Biennial at The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Aguilar has been featured in “Boyz of Basel Presents He-Men Woman Haterz Club” at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art and “From Dark to Light”, also at Carol Jazzar Contemprary Art, for which “Mermaid” made its debut alongside “Man & Beast” and “Cowboys and Indians.” Currently he has three ink on paper works on exhibition in Jazzar’s THE DRAWING SHOW, the latest in the gallery’s present trend for thematic exhibitions that take as their point of departure prescient genres and mediums from art history. Although not as large or in depth as some of his works on canvas these drawings capture a vibrant and truly interesting essence that if he keeps producing could well become synonymous with the name Farley Aguilar[.]
For more information please visit: www.cjazzart.com
For a refreshing read about self-taught artists please visit: www.gseart.com
Note: This weekend is the last chance to see Aguilar’s work in THE DRAWING SHOW. Like a bazaar, this exhibition of inexpensive drawn works of all sizes and many mediums surveys a broad range of local and international talent. Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art is located at 158 NW 91st St, Miami FL 33150.