What may or may not be "true" in an artwork is arguably subjective, but when cornered I will insist that it is not. Art that is true will convey that truth clearly; its truth will not be denied, and it will be available to anyone. Truth in artwork can be obscured in any number of ways. The infrastructure of professional training, for example, can be a pretense that overshadows or entirely replaces the truth of a piece (coming from a person who spent eight years at a college for the visual arts). Of course, that is not absolute. Many great artists with professional training have made righteous, honest work. But an absence of that sheen of pretense is what makes outsider art so compelling. Those artists who have had little to no serious support are left with little but their talent and instincts to guide them. The result is artwork, like the best punk music, that is open, authentic, and, indeed, true.
Truth is one of the rewards of "ART for All + ALL for Art," a collection of untitled work by "homeless and formerly homeless" artists in collaboration with Art From the Streets. There is some danger, when talking about a show like this one, of superficial idealism or even primitivism. The same can happen when talking about a show of artists of a particular race or gender, as though anything beyond race might necessarily connect a group of artists who all happen to be black. In this case, it would be a mistake to assign a blanket sincerity or assume a common lack of formal training to artists with the shared experience of homelessness. For instance, June Yan's red abstraction with globular bodies floating like amoebas is exquisitely well-balanced and refined, and indicates thorough polish. It is in stark contrast with John Curran's painting of what looks like a Tyrannosaurus rex, a cat, and a red butterfly taking a walk by a river. The paint is caked on like goo. Lines are thick, forms are extreme, and colors are simple: green, blue, white, purple. The walleyed T. rex bares its teeth; the cat smiles. This does not look like the work of someone who has studied the intricacies of perspective in a professional studio. Instead, it looks like someone letting loose with the no-holds-barred brilliance of "What the hell."
Most of the work in the show shares Curran's roughness. Cathy Carr Haynes' bug-eyed pony, and sky beyond, are bright with swirls and twinkling, multi-colored stars like Christmas lights. Like Curran's, the piece verges on the childlike but is too aggressive to be the work of a child, too sophisticated even in its messiness. Larry Williams' painting of flattened Native Americans riding horses on the frontier is a deceptively simple ode. An anonymous artist's weird scene of two doll-like dancers under a massive smiling sun is a tilted nursery rhyme. The work is all unpredictable, unapologetic, and brash. That brashness may be the "truth" I opened with – an embrace of the adventure offered by a fresh piece of paper and some paint.
The work is also fun, which is another kind of truth. I imagine the artwork is only a single expression of the relief supplied by Art From the Streets to its artists. Each piece in this show provides a voice for someone who has had none. If the artwork is any indication, joy is one among their messages and their truths.
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