Life is not lived in black and white: reality may have the tinge of dreams and dreams an air of reality. This provocative tension exists between the experiential nature of early American folk art and the fantastical imagery it often displays—between what is real and what is imagined. The same is true of the work of contemporary self-taught artists, which may introduce unique—and sometimes puzzling—expressions that illuminate the iconoclastic nature that is the flip side of the collective American psyche. The viewer is placed in the peculiar but exhilarating position of deciding for him- or herself whether the artwork expresses a disjuncture with reality or an uninhibited embracing of interior life. After all, what is more true, the picture that looks real or the picture that feels real; the observer or the observed? These perceptions shift as new scholarship emerges. Often, real-life roots are discovered for even arcane and esoteric imagery that has already influenced our response to an artist and his work: does this disappoint or satisfy the viewer? Diminish or enhance the creativity of the artist? One need only contemplate the culture- and memory-driven gestures of Martín Ramírez, the impressionistic nineteenth-century portraits by Dr. and Mrs. Shute, and minimalist mid-twentieth-century soot drawings by James Castle to render these distinctions immaterial. Instead the viewer is urged to enjoy the permeable fluidity between art and imagination, dream and belief.
Stacy C. Hollander