Sip the Kool-Aid: ARTnews

October 1, 2009

“This was a tightly focused survey of works by five of the most emblematic artists of the self-taught or outsider-art field: James Castle, Thornton Dial, Martín Ramírez, Bill Traylor and George Widener.

Through technical and thematic innovations, these visionary autodidacts helped define the scope and character of a genre. All of the works here were on paper. Those of the Idaho-born Castle, all untitled, were made of what looked like folded, brightly painted brown-paper bags. Shaped like boxy jackets, these drawings-as-objects boasted sewn-on paper buttons with dangling strands of white thread.

Dial’s charcoal, pencil,and pastel drawings of female nudes in fluid poses, such as Untitled (1995), captured the strength and spontaneity that typify his masterly line, while five Traylor drawings on found scraps of cardboard, like Owl (1939-42), signature electric blue and sooty black and depicted animals and buildings as plain flat geometric shapes. All of the woks here suggested affinities with such modernist touchstones as Matisse’s knowing line and experiments in geometric abstraction.

Similarly, the ink-on-paper 2045 (2009), by the autistic savant Widener, recorded the computationally gifted artist’s complex calculations of calendar dates many years into the future while evoking certain kinds of conceptual art. Mexican-born Ramírez’s drawings of rectangular arches and simple, rustic buildings recalled minimalism’s penchant for basic, unclaborated forms.

‘Sip the Kool-Aid’ offered both a high-quality overview of and a basic primer on the work of some of outsiderdom’s most celebrated masters. It was memorable, rewarding, and sweet.”