There’s an auction unlike any other happening next weekend. Kimball Sterling, known for its cane auctions, some from celebrity owners, is hosting “Outsider, Folk Art and Pottery- A one owner Collection.” Outsider and folk art, often overlooked by mainstream art circles, offers a fascinating glimpse into the uncharted territories of creativity. This genre, characterized by its untrained and often unconventional practitioners, captures the raw, unfiltered expressions of individuals who exist outside the traditional art world. The auction catalog features 93 works of art including paintings, sculpture, and ceramics. There’s a range of works from Mose Tolliver, Buddy Snipes, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Ned Berry, and James H. Jennings.
Mose Tolliver, affectionately known as "Mose T," emerged from Montgomery, Alabama, with an artistic vision entirely his own. Self-taught and driven by an innate need to create, Tolliver's vibrant, folkloric creations often featured animals, plants, and everyday life in the American South. His use of bold colors and energetic brushstrokes breathed life into his subjects, inviting viewers into a world both familiar and fantastical. Through his art, Mose T celebrated the beauty of simplicity and the magic of the ordinary. Some favorites from the auction include “Rocking Chair” (Lot 15) which is a 8.5” tall carved wood rocking chair painted electric teal, covered in violet and crimson spots. The seat is smeared with a purple brushstroke, almost like one of a shadowy figure, or serpent with arms.
Mose T’s “Self Portrait” (Lot 73) also features spots similar to those found on the rocking chair, indicating that these are perhaps a signature detail included to bring visual texture. On this 24” square painting on wood board, the spots appear more as stamps, or upon closer inspection, dry brush technique made with a square tip. That’s not the focal image, which is a closeup head and neck in exaggerated proportions of Mose T himself. With coca brown skin, slanted glowing red slits for eyes, and a protruding jaw bearing thin red teeth, this portrait evokes more of a monster than man. The hair is a stamped brush technique crawling up the nape of the neck to forehead in a warm neutral gray that looks almost violet compared to the contrasting brown and pale blue beside it. The use of imagination in Mose T’s work makes him a maestro of the whimsical.
Where Mose T may use brushes, Jimmy Lee Sudduth creates marks in a very different manner.
A profile of the artist on Souls Grown Deep quotes Sudduth about his painting method, in which he explains “My hands is my brushes. The brushes die when I die.” Hailing from Fayette, Alabama, Jimmy Lee Sudduth was a maestro of earthy hues and natural pigments. His unconventional medium of choice? Mud. Sudduth's hands-on approach to art transformed soil, clay, and natural dyes into intricate, tactile compositions. His works, often portraits of animals, historical figures, and everyday scenes, radiate a profound connection to nature and the land. Two portraits in the auction, “Yellow Woman”(Lot 70) and “Guitar Picker”(Lot 69) share matte gray backgrounds, with “Yellow Woman” darker at the top. The figures have their arms bent, into almost an oval shape with legs and feet angled to the side, indicating movement, perhaps walking.
“Yellow Woman” shows a woman in a yellow hat, earrings, top and yellow heeled shoes, wearing a brown skirt spotted in yellow. The line thickness and form looks almost like crayon or oil pastel, leading one to wonder how Sudduth caked up his fingers with ochre-rich mud to create the fine line at the hem of the woman’s skirt. Sudduth's mastery of the earth's palette transcended the boundaries of conventional art, leaving an indelible mark on the world of folk creativity.
Honorable mentions are the works of James H. Jennings, whose works in this collection are more risque. “Fornicating Couples”(Lot 10) and “Bill and Monica”(Lot 17) feature crude, overtly sexual exaggerated postures with male genitalia exposed. Now these are more sculptural stick figures than anatomical models, so the length of the figures' limbs brings a cartoonish quality to the compositions. “Bill and Monica” is an overt reference to the political scandal of Bill Clinton’s presidency, his overpowering stance above the “Monica” figure as she leans backwards. The base of this sculpture is an American flag, with 5 silvery dots staining the center between their stances (one can infer what this substance is based on its presence on other elements of the sculpture).
“Fornicating Couples” also has a red white and blue wooden base, painted as a bed with red spotted white sheets and blue pillows, neatly placed side by side. The male figure appears on his knees, grinning while the female figure is balanced on her right arm, facing upward with feet wide apart. Her posture almost indicates raised hips as if a string was pulling her lower body upward. The attitude of this work, while obvious in its humor about the absurdity of the human form, denotes a celebration of pleasure with its joyous expression.
The world of outsider and folk art is a treasure trove of unfiltered creativity, offering a unique perspective on the human experience. Mose Tolliver, Jimmy Lee Sudduth James H. Jennings, and others, each in their own distinctive way, have enriched this genre with their bold expressions and unconventional approaches. Their works continue to inspire and captivate, reminding us of the boundless possibilities that arise when creativity knows no bounds.
Click here to view the full catalog of Kimball Sterling’s sale of Outsider and Folk Art on November 4.
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