A conventional approach to viewing art focuses on how well the piece displays its intentions or how accurately it evokes emotion or thought. This means of viewing can leave little room to consider how the process of art-making itself serves as an important catalyst for the healing and or reflection of the artist and therefore for the viewer as well. Intuit’s most recent exhibition, “Trauma and Loss, Reflection and Hope: Selections from the Collection,” grants viewers the opportunity to process individual experiences of pain and hope through the vision of outsider artists whose work lies outside the boundaries of the conventional art world.
The artists in “Trauma and Loss, Reflection and Hope” come from vastly different backgrounds, but each makes their work, as the show’s statement notes, out of “personal necessity.” Together, these works blur the boundary between loss and hope as often as they speak of them as separate experiences. Purvis Young’s painting “Untitled (prisoner with birds)” captures this balance delicately, framing a shackled prisoner with a border of faded flowers and warm tones of blush and peach. Lonnie Holley’s mixed-media sculpture “You Alley Thing” repurposes scraps of fabric and wire into a structure that seems furtive and purposeful at the same time.
The category of “outsider art” covers so many unique types of artists that it can become a limitation on understanding the work itself, acting more as a blanket term than as an accurate descriptor of the artists’ motivations and practices. This exhibition, however, uses the broadness of the category to the art’s strength rather than to its detriment. Each artist’s work is fiercely individual and speaks to the exhibition’s themes separately. Found objects and layered paint bring together nostalgia and chaos in Kevin Sampson’s messy, layered sculpture “Port Wine Stains,” while Martín Ramírez’s untitled graphite drawing shows a quiet, poised moment of apprehension between a horse and rider. Two works by Malcah Zeldis bring the themes of the exhibition into the present. Her paintings “The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “Amadou Diallo” surround the violent assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1999 police killing of Amadou Diallo, a twenty-three-year-old Guinean immigrant who was shot at forty-one times by police, respectively, with everyday happenings: cars on the street, a setting sun and characters going about their lives as if nothing unusual were occurring.
Together, the distinct works of the exhibition tell us more about trauma, loss and hope than they would apart. These works make it clear that the cries against violence and the desire for justice are not singular but are constructed with many materials and told from disparate perspectives. Each artist’s attempt to process and wrestle with their trauma or loss gives viewers the opportunity to confront their own. As a collective, they challenge the current world and call out for necessary hope and change. (Josepha Natzke)
“Trauma and Loss, Reflection and Hope,” through October 31 at Intuit, 756 North Milwaukee.