Many contemporary art galleries have become confectioners of art culture. That is to say, often the works of art hanging on the white walls of your typical contemporary art gallery have no substance but are merely pieces of white sugar crafted to gratify the palette of pop culture. And the contemporary artist caters to this consumption in exchange for affluence and applaud. The weird, the alternative, the taboo have all been integrated and capitalized by the commercial art market. Pop culture is no longer just the content on MTV or reality television, but it also encompasses the subversive and peculiar. With internet accessibility, streaming, and websites that suggest content to its viewer based on search histories, the idea of the underground is a dying concept. We’ve given away our identities through social media and online personality tests. Nothing is hidden online, accessibility is available to all— especially the individual.
There is a genre of art known as Outsider Art that has become more prominent in the last century. Essentially outsider art draws outside of the intellectual lines of contemporary art. But the idea of modern/contemporary art is in essence outsider art. Art that challenges the mainstream and academic institution is Expressionism, Symbolism, Cubism, Fauvism, Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism. The purpose of this reformation is to experience something deeper than aesthetic dogma that has lost its spirit. It is a means to experience and express the human soul, god, nature, love, beauty.
Ultimately it’s not outsider art. It’s not avant garde. It’s not modern, contemporary, or classical. It’s art. Art is a timeless process of creation that is achieved through deconstruction and construction. Defining what that truly means is explored by every artist. It is the pain, the pressure, or the deconstruction of things outside of and within an artist that is fundamental to the process of art because it requires both light and dark to manifest creation. The process by which an artist enters darkness is in essence the process that mystics enter to attain gnosis. Through darkness we enter light.
Why criticize the confections of the contemporary art market? Because although many of their artists are highly skilled their work does not reflect the result of breaking down the layers of the self into elements to use as pigment, but rather their intuition appears to have come pre-packaged at an art supply store.
The attraction to outsider art is refreshing for audiences because many of these outsider artists do not come from sugar-coated realities. Whether it’s poverty, isolation, mental illness, depression, they use art to work through and survive with their external and internal torment. They are in the throes of madness, angst, disruption— many whose works do not surface until after their death, such as the case with Charles A.A. Dellshau.
Another of such artists is the late Robert Kippur (1944), a former New York artist. Humbaba Fine Art will be presenting Kippur’s paitnings in “Robert Kippur: A New York Outsider,” February 8t-February 25, 2017, at Gallery RIVAA on Roosevelt Island, New York. This is the first exhibition of the artist’s works, seven of which will be on view.
Like many outsider artists Kippur was self-taught. Fueled by his nightmares the artist used painting as a process for journeying into his inner darkness, coping with his anxiety and isolation, and essentially working out his demons. Art as therapy was in fact suggested to Kippur by his therapist.
Kippur’s paintings show grotesque narratives that have no apparent focal point. As experienced in a nightmare the shifts and focus of the dream can simultaneously be clear and disorienting. Kippur’s paintings are descriptive with great attention to detail, but at the same time have no starting point. There is no distinct horizon, but there is distance. The artist shows his hand through the thick brushstrokes, which places him in the painting. The carnal elements of fornication, violence, and consumption torment the canvas from corner to corner. And yet the vibrant colors move the eye in and out of the vignettes.
There is a certain peace that one can find within this chaos, like the calmness in the eye of the hurricane. This peace is an effect of feeling immersed within the painting. Artists who delve into the darkness of the psyche and the human condition will bring the audience to such states through their art. Art is a bridge that connects the audience to a destination within mind, emotion, or consciousness.
Art evokes things deep within our hearts and minds and brings them to the surface so that we can experience them with our conscious self. When we have a strong reaction to art we are really having a strong reaction to something within our self, even if that reaction is disgust and anger. That is what we need to listen to. The definition of fine art is subjective and long debated. It’s subjective because it cannot be absolutely defined by style, composition, or theory. It’s subjective because it’s defined through intuition and direct experience. Outsider artists like Kippur work from a place of intuition and raw emotion, yet the result of his labor shows his intention behind every brushstroke.
The art world is in need of artists who have had more breakdowns. When everything of what you know and who you thought you were is destroyed, that which is left standing is the truth. And when an artist reaches that truth, that gnosis, they have something valuable to offer an audience, because that gnosis translated through art can awaken a gnosis within the audience. Without that depth only part of who that artist is will come through, while the rest of the work is a mere reflection of a movement, concept, idea, structure, or theory created by someone else. An artist like Robert Kippur is his own movement.
In America we live in a culture that wants to polish every emotion. There is a pill to smooth out any cognitive texture. But artists such as Robert Kippur show that one’s seemingly greatest flaws might be the catalyst to bring out one’s greatest qualities.
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