For the last two decades, a number of leading-edge artists have pursued figurative work as a way to explore alter egos - ambiguous imaginary selves that express alternate personalities, drives, fears, and desires. Often placed in surreal or magical narratives, these "others" are rendered in hybrid styles that in part are informed by the figural traditions of folk artists, a strategy that uses the authentic or "real" to heighten the fantastic scenarios.
This exhibition features paintings, works on paper, and sculpture by four contemporary artists from across the country who interpret the notion of projected selves in varying ways.
Over the last 10 years, John Bankston (b. 1963, Michigan; based in San Francisco) has nurtured a magical world in his paintings, drawings, and ceramics, one that features a pastoral forest populated by fantastical (and often costumed) male characters. The stage set for his actors is influenced by the visual language of coloring books, with allusions to comic strips without the panel divisions. Repeat performers—Leopardman, Ring Leader, Donkey Boy, and a man in a bunny suit—come and go, suggesting surreal fables that are both childlike and adult, personal to Bankston and yet imbued with a universal humanity.
Female Doppelgangers have populated Amy Cutler's (b.1974, Poughkeepsie, NY; based in Brooklyn) gouache drawings and prints for over a decade, where brown-haired multiples toil at mundane, sometimes odd, manual activities. Cutler creates unique myths that circle around the oppression of women, and the desire to replicate one's self in the face of an overwhelming "to-do list". Influenced by fairy tales, personal memories, Medieval history, and Indian miniatures, her scenes also echo the work of outsider artist Henry Darger and the dark undertones of Brothers Grimm.
Jeremiah Johnson's (1974, Jersey Shore, PA) obsessive explorations include autobiography, mysticism, nature, folklore, and survival. While he has had formal art training, he channels traditional folk art forms and the manic self-referential works of twentieth century "outside" artists. These influences are most clearly expressed in a series of graphite drawings attributed to his invented alter ego; nineteenth century woodsman Job Johnson. Created with period materials on a variety of handmade papers, the drawings document/invent the imagined nineteenth century industrialization of the Pennsylvania mountains through fabricate local myths, legends, and ghost stories of the region.
Painter Fred Stonehouse (b. 1960, Milwaukee) has himself as maker of "transmuted self-portraits," where his doubles are devils, animals, or half-man/half animal morphs. Blending Mexican folk art, saint cards, and the Northern Renaissance with sideshow carnival banners and tattoo, Stonehouse's iconic images have psychic torment at their core; his mutant alter egos are trapped in cautionary tales that speak to the perils of doing evil and the need for reparation in a nearly doomed world.
Co-curated by Brian Sieveking, Adjunct Curator of Folk and Outsider Art, and Leah Stoddard, Curator of Contemporary Art, Alter Egos and the Magical Other is organized by the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia.