Jordan MacLachlan

1347670712-94I met Canadian artist, Jordan McLachlan, earlier this year. Getting to know Jordan and her work has been one of the greatest pleasures of my research into Canadian outsider art, both because her work is outstanding and because she is a remarkable person. As things sometimes go, I was introduced to her work through my friend, gallerist Marion Harris  in New York. She had read an article about Jordan and asked if I knew her work. How is it possible that I had not heard of Jordan before? I thought I had talked to every single person in Canada who was familiar with outsider art. Apparently not.

Since then, I have exchanged many emails with Jordan, and each one reads as if it were crafted by a poet: words roll off the tongue, visual images leap off the page, and emotions bubble into the air to gel as language. I could use the same words to describe her clay sculptures. They touch upon things that are difficult to articulate because they are oh-so-familiar, painful, or cringe-worthy. The word ‘unflinching’ comes to mind when describing Jordan’s view of the world. The above image of her sculpture, Young Woman Attempting to Strangle Herself, is a example of what I mean.

Jordan was born in Toronto in 1959 and, from a very young age, had an affinity for animals. She wove a fantasy family story for herself, choosing to believe she was an abandoned forest creature whose mother had been shot, causing her to be raised by her adoptive human family. She crawled around on all-fours, not wanting to speak, and eating from a dish on the floor. Going to school interrupted that dream, but she spent her after-school hours absorbed in making clay sculptures of animals. That obsession never stopped and a significant portion of her work still features animals in one way or another. They leave you with that uncomfortable reminder that we are, indeed, animals by nature.

Subsequent posts will introduce you to Jordan Maclachlan’s incredible body of work.

 

 

 

Martine Birobent (d. March 30, 2016)

160406_779lc_martine-birobent_sn635It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of Martine Birobent. Her epitaph notes that she died as she lived – fully and deliberately. Suffering from cancer, she chose medical assistance to die on March 30th  in her hometown of Danville, Quebec.

I wrote about Martine in a previous blog about my visit to La Galerie des Nanas in Quebec. I didn’t have an opportunity to meet her then, as she was away exhibiting her work in France. I knew, however, how passionate she was about her art and promoting the work of other women artists. She was a trailblazer in Canadian outsider art and we owe much to her personal vision about art insubordinaire (insubordinate art). I can honour her best by showing you images of her quirky and imaginative work. Spend some time on her website at http://www.birobent.com/oeuvres/.

Thank you, Martine.

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Gee’s Bend quilter Louisiana Bendolph

Louisiana_Bendolph,_History_0I was last blogging about  Gee’s Bend quilts and my introduction to the work of the remarkable women who make them. I met two quilters, Louisiana Bendolph and her mother, Rabbit, at Lonnie Holley’s workshop last fall. I sat beside Louisiana, a modest and reserved woman, and looked through a beautiful book about the quilts, as well as the autobiography she contributed to the book.

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When I closed the book, Louisiana asked me what I thought about it. I was at a loss for words. You see, her biography reads like something I would have expected from an African-American woman over a hundred years ago, not someone who was born in 1960. As I’ve said before, my knowledge of American social history comes from books; I have not lived there or experienced the truth of racial oppression. It looks quite different in real life.

 

But Louisiana was patient and waited for me to speak. I said how sad I felt to learn about her childhood. From age 6, Louisiana worked with her family in a cotton field, from sunup to sundown, every day except Sunday, which was saved for church. She felt wistful as the school bus passed her by. She went to school only on rainy days (not many) and from the end of November to March when it was time to start planting crops again. She didn’t have much of a childhood, and says her life was hard, but they had to work in order to survive.

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Louisiana watched the women in her family make quilts, but didn’t make her own until she was 12, and only then because it was something to do. Her life was busy with children, a husband, and a low-paying job. In 2002, she went to Houston to see the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit and admits that she didn’t know what to expect other than seeing some old quilts. She was shocked to see her name in a book beside a photo of one of her quilts. She was profoundly moved when she saw her great-grandmother’s quilt on display, realizing that she had created something important and continued to live through her artwork.

Louisiana had always thought her quilt-making days were over. She had made enough quilts to keep her family warm. But on her way home from the exhibit, Louisiana started having visions of quilts. She says the visions have never disappeared and she keeps making more and more and more quilts. Sometimes she holds the design in her mind and sometimes she draws it on paper. It’s mainly about colour for Louisiana and her quilts are a testament to her exquisite sense of design and colour.

LB imageI met Louisiana and her mother a few days later at a  music event featuring Lonnie Holley. I had a visit with her before the concert began and she told me that she was going to be on stage with Matt Arnett (their manager) and participate in the introductory lecture. She hadn’t planned what she would say; she was a storyteller and the story would unfold as she said the words. Unfortunately, Arnett dominated the session, telling stories about himself and his father who began collecting outsider art many years ago. Listening to him was painful. His words were fuel for his own ego, not for the artists and musicians who were the stars of the event. Time ran out. Louisiana didn’t have an opportunity to speak.

Read paragraph 2 again. Just sayin’.

 

 

 

The Gee’s Bend Quilters

images (3)I have no excuse for my blog silence since I finished my degree.  Laziness, perhaps. Recharging, probably. Anyway, I have been prodded along by some of my readers, so here we go.

I left off writing about artist Lonnie Holley and his visit to Vancouver. He came with the Gee’s Bend Quilters, and that was an eye-opening (and eye-popping) experience for me. I had heard of these quilters, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Unfortunately, I missed the lecture they offered about their work, but I did get to meet them at the workshop with Lonnie Holley.

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Gee’s Bend is a very small, riverside community in Alabama.  As you might have guessed, the community has a long, and inexcusable history of plantations and slavery. Perhaps the only good news to come out of that area is that the quilting collective has carried on their quilting traditions, with skills passed down through the generations. Notice was taken of the work in the 1960s; now their quilting masterpieces hang in museums and are recognized as one of the most important African-American visual and cultural contributions to art history in the United States. Documentation suggests that their unique abstract style evolved because of their geographical isolation and unusual degree of cultural continuity.

This blog serves only to introduce you to the quilters’ stunning work. Enjoy.

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The degree

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I’m happy to announce that I have completed my Master’s degree. The thesis is called Outsider Art:  Forty Years Out, referencing the chaos that ensued with outsider art terminology after Roger Cardinal published his book Outsider Art in 1972.

Next step? A book about outsider art in Canada, of course!