Baker’s and Sowers’ bodies of work display their mastery on their terms, and more importantly, a necessary return to the very purpose of artistic expression: self-understanding, growth, and the impulse to impart our own ideas and opinions on to the rest of society.
The Contemporary Art Modern Project is pleased to announce Me: I Am Not An Outsider, I Am An Artist, a dual exhibition featuring works by Thalya Baker & Eric Sowers, in their Miami gallery for the month of March. Me reimagines the boundaries of Outsider Art and offers an example of what an intentionally democratic art world can look like, granting artists who have intellectual disabilities or are neurodiverse access to the conversation on what constitutes Fine Art.
Outsider Art has come to encompass artists whose legacies are marked by and intertwined with their personal neurodiversities or disorders, as well as those whose careers came posthumously on account of reclusiveness or experiences with institutionalization. It’s an umbrella term for artists who did not have “formal training,” and yet, have produced oeuvres that are undoubtedly career- and era-defining, or those who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to render creative genius. This, however, comes with a catch: a special attention to how works by Outsider artists fit into the aesthetic standards of whatever world they are, markedly, excluded from. Outsider art, known to some as art brut, is also an established market, one that is only willingly experienced within the bizarre hierarchies and “refined” techniques of Fine Art. So, if and when an artist and their body of work doesn’t fit into those niches, does that automatically nullify the legitimacy of their artistry?
For artists such as Thalya Baker and Eric Sowers, their artistic practices are, by virtue of their being artists, a natural pathway to self-construction and affirmation, which tends to be true for most artists to begin with. When placed in a larger dialogue about who has accessibility to the prestige of being labeled “a fine artist,” their works function as a battering ram, allowing them to forge entry into a world typically experienced from the periphery.
Thalya Baker takes inspiration from subjects such as practicing yogis, family, and at times herself, giving way to portraits that embrace a simple humanism. Baker’s intentional strokes and bold color choices commemorate her perceptions of the otherwise mundane, even intimidating, details of waking life: the size of one’s facial features; the frequency of surveillance cameras; meaningful relationships and attachments; advanced yoga practices. Her Goddesses series, in particular, presents the viewer with uncomplicated portrayals of feminine energy that are neither tangible, nor fantasy.
Eric Sowers’ paintings are underlined by an intuitive connection to his color palette. His reimagined landscapes and city views are an experiment in geometric abstraction, ranging from intensely somber grays and browns, to lighthearted forays with warmer tones, and suggesting that the way in which we perceive our environments are reflections of our emotional experiences. Sowers’ experimentation with an omniscient perspective further lends itself to a deeper, yet more instinctive interrogation of the roles we play in our imaginations, and how they manifest in society at large, ultimately blurring the boundaries between the individual and the collective.
Baker and Sowers are placed in conversation with one another in the exhibition, Me, which celebrates what Roger Cardinal, the art historian who coined the term “Outsider Art,” explains as an “expressive impulse... [externalized] in an unmonitored way which defies conventional art-historical contextualization.” While the works in Me were not made in an explicit rebellion against Fine Art conventions, Baker’s and Sowers’ bodies of work display their mastery on their terms, and more importantly, a necessary return to the very purpose of artistic expression: self-understanding, growth, and the impulse to impart our own ideas and opinions on to the rest of society.
Rather than making this an unpleasant fawning over darling Outsider Art, or a familiar romanticizing of Otherness, Me is meant to be an example of what an intentionally democratic art world can look like. The legitimizing of artists who have intellectual disabilities or are neurodiverse grants them an agency that the public isn’t used to granting them, one that has the capacity to demolish weird rules we’ve collectively internalized about who is given access to the Fine Art world, and who “makes cute drawings.” The works in this exhibition are internal observations and worlds made meaningful, and more than anything, conduits for self-construction and affirmation.
Statement by Maria Gabriela Di Giammarco