The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



POP: Eddie Arning, Freddie Brice, Ray Hamilton
curated by Anne Doran
January 27 - March 12, 2011

This exhibition of drawings brings together three self-taught artists - Eddie Arning (1898- 1993), Freddie Brice (1920-1998), and R.A. "Ray" Hamilton (1919-1996) - whose work shares clear affinities with Pop art. None were ever a part of the mainstream art world, nevertheless, their methodologies were startlingly postmodernist. Each utilized formal strategies that included the appropriation, abstraction, and juxtaposition of readymade image; each took as their subject matter common objects or magazine advertisements.

Although superficially very different from Roy Lichtenstein's 1962- 1963 monochrome paintings of golf balls, tires, and spools of thread, Freddie Brice's lively drawings of watches - appropriated from spreads in glossy magazineslikewise feature thick black outlines, minimal color, and surface patterning. In Brice's drawings however, Lichtenstein's stylized geometric designs and Ben-Day dots are transformed into sinuous lines and percussive stipplings that (while far more urban, secularist, and minimal) recall the work of an earlier generation of southern African-American folk artists such as Mary T. Smith or David Butler.

Hamilton's drawings, like Brice's, dispense with conventional spatial and figure-ground relationships. In some, a single image fills the page, breaking it up into a nearly abstract arrangement of geometric forms. In others, the traced shapes of plastic carry bags, bottles, glasses, keys, coins, and fruit (the outlines of each object filled in with dense crosshatchings of ink or pencil), are arranged individually or in groups, on expanses of blank paper. Reminiscent of the art of Jasper Johns, not least for their luxurious surfaces, Hamilton's works employ an extensive and interchangeable lexicon of found and remembered forms that are, as Johns described his own images, "drained of illusion, reduced to pattern."

Arning's colorful oil pastels were often derived from advertisements for liquor, cigarettes, or pharmaceuticals. Although more highly mediated, their compositional elements reduced to simple streamlined shapes, they have something in common with Andy Warhol's Newspaper Front Pages of the 1960s and Ads of the 1980s. Strangely affectless themselves, they often feature lively, convivial people disporting themselves in charming interiors or idyllic natural settings.

The work of all three artists reflects the same 20th-century American environment - with its commodities, architecture, printed matter, and signage - that is reflected in the paintings and drawings of Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Lichtenstein and Warhol. Brice's Movado Museum® watches, Hamilton's near-at-hand objects, and Arning's narcotized figures, in their own way dispatches from 20th-century America, may come to us from a place well outside of contemporary art discourse, but they are no less contemporary for that.

Eddie Arning (1898 - 1993) was born in Texas to German immigrant parents. He began making art in 1964 at the age of 66; he created between 2000 - 2500 drawings before stopping again in 1973. His work was seen most recently in the 2010 exhibition "Approaching Abstraction" at the American Folk Art Museum, New York. Arnings can be found in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the National Museum of American Art, and the Museum of American Folk Art.

Freddie Brice (1920 - 1998) was born in Charleston, South Carolina and at age nine moved to Harlem. He began painting in the 1980's at a senior center on the Upper West Side Manhattan. In 1991 Brice's work was featured in the exhibition "Art's Mouth" at Artists Space curated by Connie Butler. Brice's work is in the collections of: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Milwaukee Museum of Art and The Old Dominion University, Gordon Collection, Norfolk, Virginia. His recent solo exhibition spring 2010 at KS Art received reviews in The New York Times, The New Yorker and Timeout New York.

Ray Hamilton (1919 - 1996) was born in Anderson County, South Carolina. He served in the Navy during World War II. After the war he moved to New York City and in the early 1980's began to draw. In 1991 Hamilton's work was included in the exhibition "Art's Mouth" at Artists Space curated by Connie Butler. His work has been featured in Raw Vision Magazine and the books American Self-Taught, Ricco-Maresca (Knopf) and How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (Abrams)

Anne Doran is a New York based writer and editor for the visual arts. This is her first curatorial project.