2013-07-03 / News

Exhibit opens alongside annual soiree

Event at Jamestown Arts Center takes place Friday
By Margo Sullivan

The third annual Summer Soiree will take place Friday at the Jamestown Arts Center. Tickets will be available at the door. Above, board member Dianne Grippi at last year’s fundraiser. 
Photo courtesy of Jessica George The third annual Summer Soiree will take place Friday at the Jamestown Arts Center. Tickets will be available at the door. Above, board member Dianne Grippi at last year’s fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Jessica George The Jamestown Arts Center is quickly gaining a reputation for bringing significant artists and art works to the Rhode Island audience, and the latest example is the new exhibit, “Outside In.”

The show’s name is a reference to outsider art, a term used to describe original works by untrained or self-taught artists, according to curator George Jacobs. Some of the paintings and drawings could be considered folk art, he said, but all are highly original.

Examples include the annotated collage drawings on the back of 10 cereal boxes created by Rhode Islander Jerry Wagner, 72, and Woodie Long’s carefree paintings inspired by memories of his childhood. Long was a sharecropper’s son raised in the South.

“Nobody’s ever seen anything like it before,” he said.

Jacobs said the reason the work is so original is because some of the artists worked in isolation with no real knowledge of what art is.

“They were just making things,” he said.

The preview is set for Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. during the third annual Summer Soiree, the arts center’s largest fundraiser of the year. Tickets are $100 for members, $125 for nonmembers.

“This is going to be an incredible party,” said Kate Petrie, president of the JAC board of directors. “The Summer Soiree offers the whole package, with beautiful artwork, delicious food and drink, great music and atmosphere, and of course a very fun crowd.”

Tricky Britches, a band from Portland, Maine, will provide the musical entertainment. Organizers say the band is a fusion of classic bluegrass, country and folk, and Petrie thinks its sound will complement the vibrant art. Stoneacre Pantry, a new restaurant coming to Newport this summer, will cater the party.

According to Petrie, proceeds go toward bringing “top-notch” performers and artists to the island. She said the mission of the arts center is to bring the best in visual and performance art to the community. People who buy a ticket to the soiree or art from the exhibit are supporting collaborations with Trinity Rep, Brown University and the Heifetz Institute, among others.

“We’re hoping a lot of people will come and buy the art,” Petrie said.

The Heifetz Institute, which encourages the development of musical prodigies, will perform in the Jamestown schools. The institute plans to do workshops around the country, but Jamestown will be the first.

According to Jacobs, 20 percent of the sales will go to benefit the arts center.

The new show, which will run through Aug. 30, presents the work of nine internationally acclaimed artists. All have been exhibited in major U.S. museums, such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Their work is attracting a growing audience nationwide – hence “Outside In,” meaning their art is moving from the outside to the “in”side of galleries and museums.

But their names remain largely unknown north of New York City, Jacobs said.

Jacobs, who started a gallery in North Carolina after college at the University of Rhode Island, personally knows all the artists in the exhibit.

“The paintings and drawings chosen for this exhibition come from artists whom I have known in the course of my 26 years of involvement with outsider art,” he said. “All have created highly original bodies of work without the intention to market it.”

In fact, he added, many of these artists have shunned the limelight.

“The art exhibits a directness of expression and spontaneity in the creative process, which often leads to powerful compositions,” he said.

The youngest artist whose work is represented in the show is about 50, he said. Many of the most highly regarded outsider artists are elderly, and some, like Long, are deceased. He speculated that outsider art may not exist much longer because of the Internet and societal efforts tend not to leave anyone behind.

If youngsters show an interest in art today, he said, chances are good they will get some formal training.

Jacobs grew up in Portsmouth and now lives in Middletown. He studied biology in college but later turned to art. He thinks he may have developed an eye for original art work in childhood because his mother collected Americana, with a focus on the work of primitive artist, Grandma Moses.

According to British art history professor Roger Cardinal, outsider art is translation of the French term, “art brut” – literally “raw art.” Artist Jean Dubuffet coined the term to describe art by children, the insane and others outside the mainstream culture.

According to Jacobs, outsider art has evolved to mean art that is created outside schools and institutions. “It’s other, but not lesser works,” he said.

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