Very rarely do we celebrate the J.D. Salinger-types of the world — the hermits, the misanthropes, the people we just don’t seem to understand. They hide away from society, creating art that we, more often than not, will never even see. Yet despite their reclusive tendencies, Eye Level Art was able to track down five of these antisocial artists with the help of Artistic Spirit Gallery for their newest exhibition, the (Outsider) Art: Show, which opens this Friday.
Featuring works from artists Casey McGlynn, Mark Miller, Tom Sassano, Jan Boyer, and Alfred Eaker, the exhibition is centered around the concept of visionary art — abstract pieces that highlight the artists’ internal dilemmas. “Visionary art is work done by artists who are on the outside of traditional society,” says Julie Klaper, who runs Artistic Spirit Gallery in the Old Navy Yard with her husband Marty. “The artwork is very content-driven and very personal. It is something that, when you look at it, can make you uncomfortable.”
There isn’t a single theme that unites the artists that will be on display — works range from the heavily religious to the darkly humorous to the deeply abstract. Boyer’s pieces reflect a religion he created called Allism, which Klaper says is extremely misogynistic. Though his work used to be very anti-female and graphic, his paintings have evolved to become abstract pieces that oftentimes depict women as goddesses. “If you look at Jan’s work, you can see an evolution of where he is personally,” Klaper says. “At one point in time, he stopped painting and drew nothing but robots on notebook paper for a whole year.”
The show will also feature pieces from Miller, who has created his own world of communication through codes and icons. “The work is something that you sit and stare at for an hour, trying to interpret what Mark is saying,” Klaper says. “That’s what makes his work so interesting — it’s so engaging.”
On the other hand, McGlynn’s paintings typically feature animals and himself, while Sassano utilizes unstretched canvases and the color scheme of his native New Mexico. Multimedia artist Eaker will have deeply religious and humorous paintings on display, in addition to two of his films: W, which centers on the presidency of George W. Bush, and Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes, an experimental interpretation of the Biblical story.
Mike Elder, proprietor of Eye Level Art, says that visitors should not stop by the exhibition expecting anything ordinary. “These aren’t realistic paintings of a landscape in England. They touch more on the psychological side of things than my exhibitions normally do,” he says. “And then there’s some cartoonish naked dude with his member hanging out and he’s running after a naked woman. It’s almost like you’re in hell and there’s chaos going on.”
The idea for the exhibition stemmed from a long-standing friendship between the Klapers and Elder, who was introduced to the world of folk art through visits to the Klapers’ home and gallery. “I’ve known them for years,” Elder says. “I told them that I was really digging folk art, and they told me they’d like to do a show together.”
Klaper says that, given the subject matter of the works on display, the exhibition will be unlike any other Charleston has seen in recent history. “I think that a lot of people here have not seen this type of work before. It can really draw an emotional response from its viewers,” she says. “This will be an exciting thing for people to enjoy, especially with the warehouse environment that Mike has at Eye Level Art, because it kind of has that raw feeling to it.”