Interesting Ideas
Ruby's melons 4K JPG

No Disney here: Four Florida folk artists

Key to the definition of outsider art for many of its partisans is the artist's isolation -- from the art market, from formal artistic traditions, from other artists, from culture itself. But if isolation makes for a nice clarity, it is more easily honored in the breach than in biography.

This is true around Lakeland, in central Florida, where there are a number of artists who have taught themselves, but not in isolation. Mostly through the efforts of one of their number, Rodney Hardee, they have assisted and encouraged one another, they trade artworks and help each other forge connections. Each nonetheless has a distinctly personal style, gaining them a following in Florida and elsewhere. It is no surprise that a number of the other normal categories and cliches of folk/outsider art reside uneasily in these precincts.

Hardee himself is a working-class, self-taught, religiously inspired southern artist. Yet he also is a folk-art collector and connoisseur in his own right; there are more Finsters on his walls than Hardees.

Ruby Williams, black, deeply religious and rural (she runs a produce stand), seems similarly well-qualified for the outsider label. Yet she is far from the internally driven, compulsive creator assumed in the usual definitions. She credits much of her artistic production to the promptings and needs of others.

Gene Beecher paints intense, unmediated images -- in his tidy apartment in a large retirement residence. His background as an orchestra leader (he is friends with Artie Shaw) and real estate dealer in Ohio would seem to put him more in a league with Tony Bennett than Adolf Wolfi.

Eighty-year-old Edward Ott, a retired steelworker and plumber also from Ohio, started making art several years ago after a car accident, and he paints from within -- especially memory pictures of black and Amish farm life.

Of course, it's not surprising that these artists do not fit an outsider-artist checklist. Almost any paradigm breaks down when you start applying it to instances, and self-taught artists are nothing if not eccentric. (Another cliche.)

Rodney Hardee Ruby Williams E.B. Ott Gene Beecher
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