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Art of the Ordeal



There is a pattern to the lives of most self-taught 'visionary" outsider artists. They are often, though not always, laborers or tradespersons who after years of hard work suffer an incapacitating accident or shock. At this point, they sometimes hear voices and have visions of otherworldly beings who convey secret information and urge them to tell the world, which they often happily do " taking up painting, and sometimes street corner proselytizing, with the zeal of converts on a mission from God. Not all, of course, fit the above description. Seattle artist Anne Grgich, the product of a middle-class upbringing, skipped several of the above steps, beginning her history of mishaps at age 19, in 1981, when a friend accidentally knocked her teeth out. Soon after, she was in a car accident that left her in a coma for two months. After she came to, lingering pain led to a life of drug addiction. When she tried to quit, she became ensnared in a religious cult that conned her out of the $80,000 dollars she'd received as an insurance settlement, leaving her destitute. Her friends bought her some art supplies and the rest, as they say, is history.

As with many visionary outsider artists, her stuff is a little strange. If she's on a mission from God, it's not one we're familiar with. Her boldly expressionistic faces are elaborately ornamented portraits of otherworldly women that convey a kind of alien electricity. Pandora, a crimson-faced woman with angry eyes and a snarky pout, is emblematic. Considered the first woman in Greek mythology, Pandora lifted the lid off a box containing all the evils of the world, and here she truly looks like trouble. Patterning is prevalent in most of Grgich's work, but in Van Tuyl, a visage like an ancient Egyptian she-demon, it takes over completely, resonating an eerily exotic vibe. Some of her busy, horizontal works contain legions of such she-creatures, and if you saw them in real life you'd know instantly that you'd just stepped into the wrong subway " or art reception. In this show, they are merely an enigmatic taxonomy of the weird, a mass exorcism of the demons that Grgich knows so well. Strong stuff.

As for newspaper-columnist-turned-visionary-artist Chris Rose, anyone who lives here knows what happened to him. Before Aug. 29, 2005, he was as normal as anyone who did 60-second celebrity interviews, but Katrina pushed him over the edge. Post-traumatic stress took a toll even as his writing became more passionate and heartfelt. He knew he needed something, but what? One day he saw his neighbor taking pieces of his ruined garage out to the curb. Debris! Suddenly he knew what he had to do. The rainbow gods beckoned. He would paint.

Old corrugated metal garage pieces, along with tattered windows, doors, roof tiles and other storm debris, are now painted with brightly colored markings and inscriptions including National Guard glyphs, American flags and fleurs de lis, quotes from Nagin and Bush as well as hand-painted transcriptions of warnings from the National Weather Service that read like apocalyptic prophecy from the Book of Revelations. Some have a near House-of-Blues look about them, and it might be tempting to write it all off as cute art therapy were it not for the single-minded sincerity of the artist's unhingedness. Lacking Grgich's gut-wrenching diabolism, Rose rises to the occasion with an obsessive energy that somehow translates into a surprisingly near-Matissean sense of composition and color " especially color, a flair for the sort of prismatic vibrancy that probably can't be taught in school. As the man himself might put it: Who knew?

The paintings of outsider artist Anne Grgich, including Pandora, above, suggest a taxonomy of the weird, a mass exorcism of the demons she knows so well.
  • The paintings of outsider artist Anne Grgich, including Pandora, above, suggest a taxonomy of the weird, a mass exorcism of the demons she knows so well.

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