Photographer Ted Degener, staff photographer and contributing editor for Raw Vision magazine, has spent the better part of fifty years road-tripping across the United States capturing the lifestyles of outsider artists. These artistic practices often take the form of entire living environments, and it is these that Degener shows in “At Home with Artists” at Intuit. Curated by Annalise Flynn, the exhibition gives an inside view. In addition to the amazing photographs that line the gallery’s walls, there are video interviews with some of the artists, showing in a cozy side gallery. We hear Degener’s voice, drawing stories from his subjects, his curiosity and passion for the project apparent. I sampled several videos and came away with the sense that Degener’s subjects have the courage of their convictions and are happy to discuss them with anyone who will listen.
The promotional image for the show, featuring a bottle house created by Texan Charlie Stagg, is striking—the bold green of thousands of bottles curves overhead, creating a dome-like cathedral of color over Stagg, who sits proudly in the center. This is only the beginning. I found the show difficult to leave, transfixed by the tiny details in every photograph. Some of the environments are exterior and some interior, but all are fascinating and it’s easy to see how they could be the work of a lifetime. In an interior environment by Mona Boulware Webb, the Madison, Wisconsin artist lies in her bed surrounded by a shrine-like installation covering walls and ceiling called “The Way House of Light Gallery.” The image was made in 1993, and the environment no longer exists. Degener’s photographs are a testament to the great talent and perseverance of these makers, a way to keep both them and their life’s work alive.
Some of the images, particularly those across the Southern United States, have been built to glorify a higher power, and some, like the environment by Louis Torres with its draped beer can chains and placard proclaiming, “Rehab is for Quitters,” have an ironic edge. The exhibition also includes a few objects created by L.V. Hull, Leonard Knight and Dr. Charles Smith to make the environmental photographs more visually accessible.
A large map shows where these installations exist across the United States, with the red house shapes marking those still in situ, and the blue houses denoting those that have been taken apart. There are a few green houses, which mark those which someone had the sense to relocate. Kudos to Degener for capturing what is often the life’s work of these gentle souls, which, after their deaths, is disassembled or vanishes into the dust of time.
Ted Degener’s “At Home with Artists” at Intuit, 756 North Milwaukee. On view through September 4.