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Messages from the Interior A r t Environment Photography by Fred Scruton & Selections from the Fred and Cher yl Scruton Collection

September 28, 2018–January 27, 2019 Visual Arts Center of New Jersey


MESSAGES FROM THE INTERIOR In a web-connected world, few contemporary artists neatly fit the traditional understanding of an “outsider” or “visionary.” These labels have usually implied that the uniqueness of such artists’ work springs in part from their living in a state of physical or social isolation. Presently, a sizable Facebook following is not a disqualifier; neither is a website nor a “folk artist” business card. Artists who are, in fact, self-taught—in that they have not gone to art school—tend not to attract that moniker if they produce conventional-looking artworks. Even though most of the artists I’ve photographed are thought of as “outsiders,” I’ve also found it rewarding to work with artists who are formally trained. Those tags are probably most useful to signal marketing narratives— I’m not inclined to filter my potential interest in documenting an artist and their work through these difficult-to-define categories. If most art-making is largely a reaction to—or an imitation of—previous artworks, then the challenge for artists is to bring some freshness to what they create. Art school provides

lessons about well-known historical and contemporary artists, and students graduate with an appreciation of what pleases the art hierarchy of their day. In the university courses I teach, I show students the works of old and contemporary masters, but in my “secret life,” away from campus, I’m primarily interested in artists who have never been offered (or had to sit through) such lectures on art. In our postmodernism times, much of the importance assigned to a visual artwork is explained by what the artist has “referenced” or “commented upon.” Many artists eagerly join the smoked-salmon-and-brie party chatter of the mainstream art world, but some have bigger fish to fry. The leftover art supplies of his factory-worker wife gave Vietnam-veteran painter Ronald Mann (Clio, Michigan) an outlet to relieve the severe emotional duress of returning from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder. Mann is not interested in art history—he only paints in direct response to personal emotion. Not knowing the rules,


he can break them unselfconsciously. To quote my colleague Professor Shelle Barron, “When I come to the studio, I try to forget all of the rules that I teach my students.” Several of the artists I’ve worked with, whether trained or untrained, are inspired by religious visions or biblical warnings. Often they don’t think of themselves as artists but as vessels for an urgent, even apocalyptic message. The intricate, brightly colored, wood appliqué covering Prophet Isaiah Robertson’s house in Niagara Falls, NY, predicts the second coming of Christ and other biblical narratives. Surrounded by a multitude of wooden stars meant to evoke a daytime view of the heavens, he insists that this could only be the work of God, not a man. For almost thirty years, Billy Tripp has continued to expand his ongoing monumental sculptural installation, The Mindfield, in Brownsville, Tennessee. He dislikes being called an artist because of the word’s elitist tenor. In my view, however, both Tripp and Robertson are the purest sort of installation artists; their inspiration comes from within and they don’t make transportable or salable artworks. Like many of the artists (and self-described non-artists) whom I’ve documented who don’t offer their work for sale, the gallery/museum curatorial complex has no incentive to promote their reputations. While

I’m working, Walker Evans and the art-historical chorus of my university lectures have my ear when I look through the camera, and I’m confident their sage advice helps bring better results. When I “appropriated” Ronald Mann’s technique of photographing projections of multiple film slides of his paintings onto himself or other paintings, my images were technically better and perhaps compositionally more “correct,” but Mann’s photographs are superior. His works have the emotional impact that one imitative step almost always lessens (even with Ron now leading the chorus). But once again, the out-ofthe-box creativity of an “outsider” broadened my own work in unexpected ways. The ever-expanding range of artists that I have met and worked with over the past fifteen years—with art as seemingly the only common link—has turned my documentary project into a cerebration of human expression. If it brings freshness, it’s through capturing some of the life stories, circumstances, and passions that inspire their work. And hopefully I’ve come to more successfully follow another old master’s timely advice: in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Queen Gertrude impatiently commands, “More matter, with less art.” Fred Scruton


William Brady, Jr., Space Bug, ca. 1980s


William Brady; Centerville, PA, 2018


Brenda Davis, Snake in the White House, 2015


Brenda Davis; Prattville, AL, 2018


John Culver, Birdhouse from the Marchenaught series, 2016


John Culver, Untitled, 2015-16


Ronald Mann; Clio, MI, 2016


James Beoddy; Columbus, OH, 2010


Home of Prophet Isaiah Robertson; Niagara Falls, NY, 2015


Prophet Isaiah Robertson; Niagara Falls, NY, 2014


Messages from the Interior A r t E nvironment Photography by Fre d S cr u ton

Silvio Barile; Detroit, MI, 2018

Work of Melvin Gould; Cheyenne, WY, 2011

Work of Joe Minter; Birmingham, AL, 2018

James Beoddy; Columbus, OH, 2010

Norbert Kox; New Franken, WI, 2017

James Phillips; Three Forks, MT, 2018

William Brady; Centerville, PA, 2018

Juanita Leonard; Montgomery, LA, 2012

Prophet Isaiah Robertson; Niagara Falls, NY, 2014

Chromogenic print 30 x 24 inches Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches Chromogenic print 30 x 24 inches Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

Brenda Davis; Prattville, AL, 2018

Ronald Mann; Clio, MI, 2016

Dominic ‘Cano’ Espinoza; Antonito, CO, 2014

Joe Minter; Birmingham, AL, 2018

Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

Chromogenic print 30 x 24 inches Chromogenic print 30 x 24 inches

Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches Chromogenic print 30 x 24 inches

Chromogenic print 30 x 24 inches

Home of Prophet Isaiah Robertson; Niagara Falls, NY, 2015 Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

Billy Tripp; Brownsville, TN, 2017 Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches


Dr. Charles Smith; Hammond, LA, 2014

Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

Work of Dr. Charles Smith; Hammond, LA, 2016 Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

Charles Wince; Columbus, OH, 2015 Chromogenic print 24 x 30 inches

All works are courtesy of the artist

Joe Minter; Birmingham, AL, 2018


Messages from the Interior S ele c tions from the Fre d and Cher yl S cr u ton C olle c tion

James Beoddy Gazmax, 2010

Pencil and paint on paper Framed: 36 x 30 inches

Zarz, 2009 Pencil and paint on paper Framed: 36 x 30 inches William Brady, Jr. Blue Eye, ca. 1970s/80s

Tin-plated steel, welding rods, and glass 22 x 14 x 7 inches

Space Bug, ca. 1980s

Tin-plated steel, welding rods, glass, and brick 32 x 12 ½ x 4 inches

Untitled, ca. 2012

Tin-plated steel, welding rods, and glass 24 x 25 x 1 inches

John Culver Birdhouse from the Marchenaught series,

Mike Jones Untitled, 2018

Untitled, ca. 2010

Charlie Lucas Untitled, ca. 2013

2016 Paint on wood 12 x 7 ½ x 8 inches

Marker on paper Framed: 34 x 40 inches

Untitled, 2015-16

Marker on paper Framed: 32 x 40 inches

Brenda Davis Snake in the White House, 2015 Acrylic on wood 43 ½ x 48 inches

Georgia granite 11 x 5 x 3 inches

Corrugated metal, paint, and fabric 14 x 9 x 3 inches

Frank Novel Sketchbooks, 1980s-90s

8 ½ x 11 inches (closed)

Untitled, ca. 2010

Four etchings Framed: 23 x 21 inches

Mary Paulsen Angel, 2017

Paint on plexiglass Framed: 20 x 16 inches


Angelo Romano La Maquina De Las Pasiones (The Passion Machine), ca. 1990s

Paint on plastic 44 x 13 x 3 ½ inches

Vollis Simpson Untitled, ca. 2005

Painted steel 33 x 10 x 10 inches

Untitled, 2009

Marker on painted steel with applied reflectors 18 x 18 inches

Dr. Charles Smith Gordon Parks, ca. early 2010s Concrete 28 x 9 x 9 inches

Untitled, ca. late 1990s

Concrete, wood, cloth, and stethoscope 18 x 11 x 12 inches

Angelo Romano, La Maquina De Las Pasiones (The Passion Machine), ca. 1990s


Peter Cottontail and Fred Scruton at Steve Kaselak’s Jellybeanville; Euclid, OH, 2017


A Note from the Curator The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey is pleased to showcase the work of Fred Scruton—a photographer, videographer, and writer, who for the past fifteen years has documented visionary and other non-mainstream artists. Scruton is drawn to these artists who are mostly self-taught and work intuitively, outside the established art world. They create environments—buildings, architectural structures, and sculpture gardens—and artworks that reflect their personal experiences, religious beliefs, and cultural narratives. Scruton travels extensively throughout the United States to meet and visit these artists, many of whom he periodically revisits. Through these efforts he has assembled an impressive photographic archive of more than 100 artists and their sites. Passionate in his enthusiasm and support for the artists he meets, Scruton has also collected objects and artworks made by many of them. Messages from the Interior is a two-part exhibition that features a group of Scruton’s portraits of the artists and their environments along with selected artworks from his personal collection. We are grateful to Fred Scruton for shining a light on these artists who are often overlooked, and for sharing his vision of them with our community. Mary Birmingham Curator, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey

About the Ar tist A native of the Buffalo, NY area, Fred Scruton began his career in the early 1980s and worked for more than twenty years as a freelance photographer of art and architecture in New York City. In 2003, Scruton relocated to the Erie, PA area where he is currently a professor of art at Edinboro University. Scruton’s photographs have been widely exhibited and published. Since 2013 he has contributed feature articles to Raw Vision magazine, including five on artists represented in this exhibition: Prophet Isaiah Robertson, Billy Tripp, Cano Espinoza, Juanita Leonard, and Dr. Charles Smith. For a complete bio please visit his website, fredscruton.com.


Ar twork All photographs of artists and their work by Fred Scruton Cover: Work of Melvin Gould; Cheyenne, WY, 2011 (detail) Inside Front Cover: Billy Tripp; Brownsville, TN, 2017 (detail) Inside Back Cover: Work of Dr. Charles Smith; Hammond, LA, 2016 (detail) Catalogue design by Kristin Troia

Visual Arts Center of New Jersey 68 Elm Street | Summit, NJ | 908.273.9121 | artcenternj.org Major support for the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey is provided in part by the Peter R. & Cynthia K. Kellogg Foundation; the Wilf Family Foundations; and Art Center members and donors.




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