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John Kane

Touching Up (Small Version). Circa 1927. Oil on board. Private collection.

EXHIBITIONS (*INDICATES SOLO EXHIBITION)

Winter Antiques Show 2016

January 22, 2016 - January 31, 2016


Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 21, 2015 - October 16, 2015


Recent Acquisitions

July 21, 2015 - October 16, 2015


Outsider Art Fair 2015

January 29, 2015 - February 1, 2015


Alternate Histories

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

January 15, 2015 - April 11, 2015


Alternate Histories

January 15, 2015 - April 11, 2015


Recent Acquisitions

July 9, 2013 - September 27, 2013


Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

July 9, 2013 - September 27, 2013


Story Lines

Tracing the Narrative of "Outsider" Art

January 15, 2013 - March 30, 2013


Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 17, 2012 - October 13, 2012


The Ins and Outs of Self-Taught Art

Reflections on a Shifting Field

January 10, 2012 - April 7, 2012


Self-Taught Painters in American 1800-1950

Revisiting the Tradition

January 11, 2011 - April 2, 2011


They Taught Themselves

American Self-Taught Painters Between the World Wars

January 9, 2009 - March 14, 2009


65th Anniversary Exhibition, Part II

Self-Taught Artists

January 18, 2005 - March 26, 2005


Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 20, 2000 - September 8, 2000


Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts About Looted Art)

June 9, 1998 - September 11, 1998


Breaking All The Rules

Art in Transition

June 11, 1996 - September 6, 1996


Recent Acquisitions

June 20, 1995 - September 8, 1995


55th Anniversary Exhibition in Memory of Otto Kallir

June 7, 1994 - September 2, 1994


The Forgotten Folk Art of the 1940's

January 18, 1994 - March 19, 1994


Recent Acquisitions

June 8, 1993 - September 3, 1993


The "Outsider" Question

Non-Academic Art from 1900 to the Present

March 23, 1993 - May 28, 1993


Naive Visions/Art Nouveau and Expressionism/Sue Coe: The Road to the White House

May 19, 1992 - September 4, 1992


Recent Acquisitions

Themes and Variations

May 14, 1991 - August 16, 1991


Folk Artists at Work

Morris Hirshfield, John Kane and Grandma Moses

November 15, 1988 - January 14, 1989


Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

June 14, 1988 - September 16, 1988


Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

April 7, 1987 - October 31, 1987


Folk Art of This Century

February 10, 1987 - March 28, 1987


American Folk Art

People, Places and Things

June 12, 1984 - September 14, 1984


* John Kane

Modern America's First Folk Painter

April 17, 1984 - May 25, 1984


The Folk Art Tradition

Naïve Painting in Europe and the United States

November 17, 1981 - January 9, 1982


American Primitives

June 3, 1948


FOLK ARTISTS AT WORK

Morris Hirshfield, John Kane and Grandma Moses

November 15, 1988 - January 14, 1989

ARTISTS

Hirshfield, Morris

Kane, John

Moses, Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma")

 

ESSAY

For years, folk artists' working methods were among the best kept secrets of the art world. The first dealer to represent the estate of John Kane actually wanted to destroy all his drawings; Grandma Moses's studies and source materials were protectively hidden away by her family; and the drawings of Morris Hirshfield have never, until now, been exhibited. Public display of such items was, for a long time, taboo, because critics preferred to believe that folk artists came to their tasks fully developed, somehow bypassing the agonies of protracted study and struggle to which ordinary artists are subjected. The aura of effortlessness surrounding folk painting was bolstered by the popular terminology, "naive" and "primitive," which not only implied that the artists in question were somehow mentally defective, but, more to the point, that they lived in a never-never land far from the reach of conventional artistic influence. By perpetuating such myths, the critical establishment placed folk art on a pedestal of dubious honor, exempting it from the ordinary flow of art-historical discourse. This attitude probably spared the more inept folk painters criticism for their failings in rendering and composition, but it also denied the truly great folk painters full recognition for the breadth and complexity of their achievements. So long as they were regarded as little better than talented children, folk artists would never be accorded serious study or esteem.

 

The fallacy of the myth of naiveté that still clings to folk art should, if one thinks about it, be readily apparent. Even before the invention of television, America was permeated by mass-produced imagery of various sorts, and it stands to reason that anyone with an artistic bent would have been keenly sensitive to such stimuli. Indeed, for a Kane, a Moses or a Hirshfield, commercially produced prints and illustrations were the only art available, and far from shunning such materials, they embraced them. Lacking access to formal art schools, these artists had to teach themselves, a process that was hardly easy or instantaneous. John Kane learned to mix colors by painting railroad cars and houses, while Moses, a housewife, first experimented with color when sewing, and only gradually advanced from embroidering pictures to painting. She and Hirshfield had to learn to paint the hard way: by trial and error. All three artists began by copying. Hirshfield sought assistance from such models as the toy-store print that became the basis for Lion. John Kane haunted museums and libraries in his home town, Pittsburgh--these were the only source of higher education open to him. Here he copied religious paintings and illustrations from "how-to" books. Moses, who lived in upstate New York, was extremely fond of Currier and Ives snowscapes, which inspired some of her earliest paintings. Quickly, however, she and the others progressed from rote copying, developing unique compositional methods of their own. For Moses, printed source material was to remain important, though she now concentrated chiefly on clippings that depicted isolated details--such as people, houses and animals--which were arranged into original composite compositions. By tracing the outlines of these clippings, she achieved a concision of form far more evocative than the sources. The contrast between abstract figural vignettes and a realistically observed landscape setting formed the essence of the famous "Grandma Moses style." Kane also developed his landscapes in piecemeal fashion, combining thumbnail sketches of a given scene to create a vista unlike anything visible to the naked eye. In his effort to capture his mental vision of the subject, he sometimes assembled views taken from vantage points miles apart, so that the result was more complete, more "real" than the reality. Whereas Kane's drawings are, as a result, fairly fragmentary, Hirshfield's are awesomely comprehensive. In fact, they are literal templates for the paintings, since this artist--a garment worker by profession--planned his pictures much as one would a dress, and his drawings were little different from dressmakers' patterns. Sometimes the entire composition was plotted out in the studies, and sometimes the artist made separate sketches for each of the principal components. In all cases, the dimensions of the drawing and the final image were virtually identical, for the pattern was transferred directly, through pricking or tracing, to the canvas.

 

Hirshfield's reliance on dressmakers' methods, like Kane's experiences with housepaint and Moses' with embroidery, demonstrates the manner in which the self-taught artist takes advantage of his or her particular background, turning skills not generally considered artistic to aesthetic use. The preliminary studies and working materials further reveal that the paintings of all three artists were as carefully thought out and constructed as academic works. Nor should the fact that these artists worked in a non-academic style lead one to think that they existed totally beyond the pale of outside influence. No artist lives in complete isolation, but folk artists, rather than becoming slaves to the academic tradition (as is almost inevitable in a formal school), remain free to pick and choose only the elements that appeal to them and to fashion, therefrom, an original style. Far from being in some sense defective or inferior, folk painters are, if anything, extraordinary, for they work without the aid and support which the academically trained artist receives as a matter of course. The great folk artist is the equal of the great academic artist, and our appreciation of his or her work can only be increased by coming to understand the manner in which it was produced.