Ruth Mae McCrane
Ruth Mae McCrane (1929-2002) taught school and did not start to paint until some time after her retirement in 1985. She created “memory paintings,” highly detailed, colorful paintings that she made based on her life’s memories and experiences, particularly of growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas as in “Party” and “Dancing in the Field.”
Charlie Lucas, or the “Tinman” as he refers to himself, is a resident of Selma, Alabama. He was born in 1951, one of fourteen children. As a child, Lucas knew he was different. He liked to make things with his hands and dream. Lucas’ formal education was limited. He experienced life by doing an assortment of jobs both in Florida and Alabama. However, it wasn’t until after Lucas had married his wife Annie, and they had six kids, that he returned to his childhood dreams. Lucas was laid up in bed for nearly a year with a back injury. During this time, he began twisting metal into animal shaped sculptures. When he recovered from his injuries, he turned to welding large assembled pieces out of scrap metal and other found objects. Lucas also paints, using house paint and slabs of plywood as his media. In 1996, GBDH commissioned Lucas to create a work for our office. Lucas came out to the Bay Area, visited the firm, got to know everyone and created several pieces that are displayed on our on-line gallery. Lucas says that “Sassy Lady” was inspired by all of the “sassy ladies” at GBDH. “Sassy’s” arms move up and down, so “you can dance with her.” Another of Lucas’ pieces was inspired by objects Lucas found while visiting the Bay Area. “Man Sucks in Energy” was inspired by a piece of driftwood Lucas found on Stinson Beach north of San Francisco, and the energy Lucas felt the first time he saw the Pacific Ocean. Lucas’ work is in the permanent collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dwight Mackintosh (1906-1999) spent fifty-six years, from the age of 16, in institutions for people with metal and cognitive disabilities until he was released in 1978. Upon his release, he began participating in a program at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, where he spent the next twenty years prolifically creating art. Mackintosh is the subject of Dwight Mackintosh: The Boy Who Time Forgot (Oakland: Creative Growth Center, 1990) by art historian John Macgregor, who describes Mackintosh’s work as representing “the externalization of the artist’s internal reality. The consistent pictorial language in which the images are embodied is exclusively the product of internal necessity and of obsessive need to fill the blankness of paper with personal markings.”
Purvis Young (1943-2010), was born in the Liberty City section of Miami, Florida and lived in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. Race riots and Vietnam War protests in Miami in the late 1960s and early 1970s influenced Young and his art, as did an early stint behind bars. It was while in prison that Young began to paint. His first public art in the early 1970s was the Goodbread Alley project, which consisted of hundreds of paintings hung on boarded up buildings in Overtown, which had been destroyed when an interstate highway was routed through the community. His energy and anger had found an outlet. Young painted on the pages of books, plywood, pieces of linoleum and other discarded objects. For example, “Face on Desk Pad,” is painted on a discarded desk pad. Young also incorporated scraps of carpet and other objects into his paintings. Many of his paintings depict street scenes of his urban neighborhood, such as “People in the City” or religious otherworldly scenes, such as “Two Angels and a Saint.” Young said, “I was put on earth to paint, not to live – that’s what God put me here for. I never hardly say too much to my neighbors. I just keep my mouth shut. I don’t let people get close to me. I’m not aggressive. God didn’t put me on earth to say too much. God put me here to paint.” His work has gained significant prominence since his death, and is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
Jimmie Lee Sudduth
Jimmie Lee Sudduth (1910-2007) was one of America’s most well known outsider artists. He lived in Fayette, Alabama. He was self-taught and painted nearly his entire life. Sudduth originally painted with his fingers only, “because they never wear out.” He made his own paint with mud, adding juice from sweet potato vines, berries and grasses or house paint to give the mud color. He mixed the concoction with sugar water or molasses to “make it stick.” Sudduth’s paintings can be whimsical, like “Dancing Lady,” or poignant, as is “Cotton Pickers.” Sudduth’s work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and other prominent museums.
Lonnie Bradley Holley
Lonnie Bradley Holley was born in Birmingham in 1950, the seventh of twenty-seven children. He spent much of his childhood in and out of foster homes and state institutions. He was adopted by his natural grandmother when he was 14, but ran away and spent several years drifting around the South working usually as a short order cook. He eventually settled in his hometown of Birmingham. In 1979, two of Holley’s nieces died in a house fire, plunging Holley into a deep depression. His family could not afford headstones for the children, so Holley channeled his grief into creating headstones out of sandstone. These were Holley’s first works of art. Holley then began to create an environment of his artworks out of found objects and sandstone sculptures in the yard at his home in Birmingham. By 1981, Holley’s art had come to the attention of the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution which included him in the exhibition “More Than Land and Sky: Art From Appalachia” at the Museum of American Art in Washington. In 1997, Holley lost his art environment when the Birmingham Airport Authority declared imminent domain over his property and bulldozed it for an airport expansion. Holley then moved to Harpersville, Alabama, and then to Atlanta, Georgia, where he currently resides. His work is in the permanent collections of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
“Missionary” Mary Proctor
“Missionary” Mary Proctor (b. 1960) lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Like Lonnie B. Holley, Proctor turned to art to relieve her grief upon the death of loved ones; in Proctor’s case, it was the death of her aunt, uncle and the grandmother who raised her in a fire at their trailer in 1994. Unable to overcome her sorrow, Proctor fasted and prayed until she was blinded by a bright light and heard a voice tell her the “door is in the way” and “to paint the door.” Proctor, who had been running a junk store, began to paint inspirational message and memorials to her grandmother on doors and other household items. “Grandma Old Buttons” is an example of Proctor’s artistic tribute to her grandmother. Proctor’s work is in the permanent collections of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
George Wilson is an artist affiliated with Creative Growth Art Center of Oakland, which provides creative art programs, educational and independent living training, and other opportunities for adults with disabilities. Creative Growth describes Wilson as a “man of few words, usually offering a whispered comment as he moves quickly through the studio. His eyes and hands are always in motion and his art reflects this. His drawings of dogs, horses, people and places swirl in front of our eyes, charged with brilliant color and kinetic energy.” Such energy and color are evident in “Faces.”
Vincent Jackson is an artist affiliated with Creativity Explored of San Francisco, an organization that “encourage[s] and assist[s] people with disabilities to fulfill their life’s ambitions through the creative process and become as independent as possible.” Creativity Explored quotes Jackson as describing his art in this way: “My stuff I do comes from within. My art’s part of me. It shows – it brings up a whole identity of myself. I’m not asking for a person to pat me on the back or anything. It’s just what I know is good art. That’s why people come here – to buy our art, to appreciate our art and hang it in their homes…instead of thinking it’s a blunder. It’s not. It’s what we are.”
Mario Mesa arrived in the United States from Cuba, where he had been a political prisoner, in 1980 during the Mariel Boatlift, following Castro’s release of inmates of prisons and mental institutions. Like so many other “outsider artists,” Mesa began painting as an outlet to help him deal with the difficulties of life. In Mesa’s case, he turned to art after being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. “When I got sick I lived in the streets. I had always been very neat and clean, but everything changed. When I got better I had to help myself. I started painting to give something back. Thanks to painting I got better.” Mesa’s paintings reflect the tropical colors of his native Cuba and often feature animals, as in “Rooster.”