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January 08, 2013

Outsider Art Comes to Hirschl & Adler

By Erin Schumaker | Art


James Edward Deeds Jr.

Nearly 80 years ago a young patient at a mental institution in Nevada, Missouri, put pencil and crayon to the hospital’s ledger paper. The drawings that sprung forth from James Edward Deeds Jr. were fanciful and slightly eerie reproductions of daily life—portraits of his family, animals, vehicles—that were essentially lost until 2006, when they fell into the hands of a bookseller who put them on eBay. It took another five years, forensic research and a series of articles in a Missouri newspaper for the artist’s identity to come to light.

This January 30 of Deeds’s 140 double-sided drawings will be on display at Hirschl & Adler Modern Gallery during a monthlong exhibition called "Talisman of the Ward: The Album of Drawings by Edward Deeds." This isn’t Hirschl & Adler’s first foray into “outsider art,” a term rooted in French artist Jean Dubuffet’s notion of art brut, or work created by individuals who are outside the boundaries of established culture. The gallery is also credited with promoting pieces by marginalized artists like Bill Traylor, a former slave in Alabama whose works now sell for upwards of $100,000.

“Many artists conform to the mainstream,” says exhibit curator Tom Parker. “They are always trying to be something that the mainstream wants.” But the art market doesn’t influence outsider artists, and so their work often conveys an intimate feel that resonates with viewers. “Dubuffet loved this notion that art was purely done from the heart,” Parker says. “There’s the sense that it is revealing something in human nature.” Drawings start at $16,000; January 10 through February 9; 730 Fifth Ave.; 212-535-8810; hirschlandadler.com.