INSIDE THE OUTSIDER
Many artists struggle with control and the lack thereof, but the outsider artist almost entirely circumvents this dramatic relationship with the act of unadulterated “play”. The most common artist statement is something along the lines of “I’ve been making art ever since I was a child.” Everyone makes art as a child but very few continue to play. Every artist plays but very seldom does that organic act become the work or if it does, it does so conceptually and eventually with pretension. Although Ike E. Morgan has been labeled an outsider — a folk artist devoid of rules and aesthetic control — it’s apparent his hand maintains an untainted process of play.
Morgan initiated his inclusion into the art world as a long-term patient undergoing treatment for schizophrenia at the Austin State Hospital. With a battered yet ambiguous past, Morgan coped with mental illness by turning to art making as an excretory mode of expression. When you look at his work you become the outsider.
In Presidents and the Mona Lisa presented at the Hutto-Patterson Exhibition Hall, Morgan uses materials and processes that outdated traditionalists would frown upon. Using cheap poster board saturated with greasy oil sticks and water-based inks Morgan creates childlike portraits inspired by photographs from literature and magazines.
The physicality of the portraits is sinister yet sweet with his frank use of materials. Closer inspection reveals drawings in ballpoint pen and grease stains akin to high fat foods left in a brown paper bag. In every portrait he renders the flesh of the figures in different and apparent directions and colors; some crosshatched, others contour banded. With natural light, colored shadows are cast on the paintings themselves because of the texture and angle of viewing. The color theory makes no sense and nor should it; planning to play is an oxymoronic idea anyway. Morgan’s work reeks of haste, repetition and a need to communicate, bypassing its need to be archival.
Morgan’s African American background calls for attention, as well. In America, we grow up seeing the same “white” faces over and over again, often in positions of power. We carry their images on our currency and rush to see them in our museums. Something that should appear one way to the normal eye is quickly and frequently reimagined to tell a different story; not one devoid of white privilege or supremacy but one leveling the playing field with color.
His work lends to the allure of observing something outstandingly different; however, don’t be confused; you’re not here to gawk voyeuristically at an outsider to determine his outsiderness or even whether he’s worth the hype. You’re here to witness an interpretation of life and how that patina is applied to famous figures. The outsider is counterculture — someone who observes and reproduces innocently, without grandiose theories and stifling standards. Morgan speaks a dialect at first not easily understood until you step inside of the outsider by seeing the work.