“Visionary art is the art of seeing things invisible.” -Jonathon Swift.
Moose and Friend by Elaine Niemi
The spectacular American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is the official national art and education center for intuitive, self-taught art. It opened in 1995 with a mission to highlight American artists whose work was not born from traditional academic art training or specific art history knowledge. The museum showcases outsider art, intuitive art, folk art, and art brut: collectively, these genera are called visionary art.
It is difficult to differentiate between these varying art practices because the act of trying to define or label them according to technique, material, or influence belies the very nature of the beast. However, some generalizations can be made. Folk art often references a localized artistic style that is handed down generation to generation with a recognizable form; outsider art refers to the fact that the artist has not had any formal training whatsoever – either from an institution or a mentor; intuitive art is the work of artists who demonstrate little influence from the mainstream art world and who instead are motivated by their own personal visions.
Across the board, visionary artists offer a highly personalized view of their joys and struggles. The resulting work is not generally seen as a commodity, it is solely a spontaneous expression. There is often very little attention paid to the preservation of the art. Chalk, cardboard, found objects, and detritus are common elements in the work.
Elaine Niemi of Friendship, Maine, is an intuitive artist who sees spiritual power in the objects andcreatures that surround her and her family’s life near the coast. Her work is palpably joyful and direct. Niemi works in acrylics and uses a technique she calls “erasing.” Beginning with boldly applied color and texture, she then uses her brush to carefully erase the colors to define the form of the object she wants to depict.
In Moose and Friend, there is an energy and complexity in the form of the two animals that is lively and organic. There is no effort to simulate fur or flesh – just a trueness of form with loads of power poured in. Niemi says that her art is always upbeat and never that “dark broody stuff.” She does sell some of her art locally for nominal prices, but primarily she produces it for personal fulfillment. She loves to paint what she feels in her daily life and never knows what she will paint next.