Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Folk Art - A Case in Point

I found this painting quite recently in the loft above a garage in rural West Quebec.  I would like to use it here for a post about the characteristics of folk art.

The painting, done about 1970, depicts a family of deer by a lakeside.  Although the style is naive, the artist successfully achieves his vision in quite dramatic fashion. Clearly, he wanted the viewer to have the feeling of breaking through the bush and startling this family of deer as they are drinking at the edge of a lake.

The artist captures that exact moment. You can almost hear the noise of the cracking branch or the rustle of the leaves that instantly catches their attention.  The buck and the doe are shown on high alert while the fawn continues to drink, innocently unaware that potential danger lurks nearby.

It appears to be an autumn scene and the artist provides an interesting backdrop of trees with the foliage of some changed from green to a dark orange.  He is not concerned with the fact that the form of the trees in the background appear to be spruce, a coniferous species that does not lose their leaves in the Fall. By contrast, he chose to paint the leaves of the tree in the foreground completely green. Artistic discrepancies in nature are common with folk artists. The leaves on the trees in deep winter in paintings by Maud Lewis (1903 - 1970) come to mind as another example.  While trained artists would not do this, these discrepancies are of no concern to the folk artist.

Most folk paintings tend to be of a conventional size although on occasion you will see examples on a very small scale and sometimes on a large scale. Miniature portraits come to mind as an example of the former.  Murals which take up the walls of an entire room are examples of the latter.  At roughly five feet in length and three feet in width this painting is relatively large.  To attempt a work on a larger scale, the artist must have confidence in his or her abilities.  Clearly, in this case, the artist did not shy away from the challenge.

Folk painters often show concern for every aspect of their work including the frame.  They simply do not like unadorned spaces.  Joe Norris (1924-1996), the brilliant folk artist from Lower Prospect, Nova Scotia adorned many of his frames with birds and flowers.  In this case, the artist opted to surround the painting with a mosaic of small half slices of wood all native to West Quebec which he glued to the perimeter of the painting between two narrow pieces of trim. Doing so gave the piece a forest like quality and further emphasizes the earthy, wildlife feel of the painting.

When found, this painting was in storage in an unheated building, neglected and in somewhat poor condition. It has been cleaned and several pieces of the wood adorning the frame have been re-affixed. It is unsigned but I do know the artist's name.

To my mind, it is a vivid and compelling work of folk art created by an artist who was confident in his abilities and sure of the subject he had chosen to paint.

My upcoming book Folk Art in the Attic has several chapters which provide a detailed account of my major folk art discoveries.  To reserve your copy of Folk Art in the Attic, which will have a limited print run, simply send an email to with the phrase "add me to the list".  No deposit or other funds are required.

No comments:

Post a Comment