Seeing Art Everywhere

Had the good fortune to go over and check out the new exhibits at the American Folk Art Museum this weekend and saw some really amazing stuff by outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein.

If you aren't familiar with outsider art, it's really worth checking out. Basically these are wholly self taught artists working outside the art mainstream. Often, their works are not appreciated, or even viewed, in their own lifetime.

Von Bruenchenhein was a baker and florist living in Wisconsin from 1910-1983 with his wife Marie. His work was only discovered after his death when a police officer, hoping to help out Von Breunchenhein's then destitute wife,  contacted a local museum owner to see if any money could be earned by selling the thousands of paintings, photographs and sculptures that the artist spent his life making.

He began as a photographer, almost exclusively taking pictures of Marie. Early photos are pretty straightforward but soon he began experimenting with double exposures and created distinct, surreal images like this:

Soon Von Bruenchenhein moved onto painting, creating eerie, abstract and apocalyptic images like these. Most of these are painted on scrap pieces of cardboard he picked up and bound with masking tape. He painted with his fingers, finger nails and brushes he sometimes made with Marie's hair. (wow, that really makes him sound more nuts than I think he was. Keep in mind he was a fairly poor dude so alot of this is about making due with what he had)

Was he satisfied being a photographer and painter? Nope. Apparently one day he stumbled across some clay, brought it home, and started making things like this.

Even dinner wasn't safe. When Eugene and Marie had chicken or turkey for dinner he kept the bones and made sculptures like these, painted with metallic paint he got from a guy he knew that worked at an auto body shop. (again, not nuts, just poor and creative)

While not my favorite of his work, I'm blown away by these pen and ink drawings he did later in life. They're just such a radical departure from the rest of his art that it almost seems like they were done by someone else. How impressive to make such a radical but assured left turn so late in life.

The thing I love about this work is that here was a guy that was alive with art. He saw it everywhere he looked, felt it in everything he touched. And it didn't matter that he spent his life as poor and unrecognized,  he worked passionately, constantly innovating and evolving, his entire life. While it's sad that he didn't enjoy any of his well-deserved notoriety, it somehow makes his efforts and his dedication so much more heroic.  An example for us all I think.

How about all of you? Where do you find your inspiration? Found any somewhere unusual lately? 

Jeff Hirsch
The Eleventh Plague
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at and @jeff_hirsch


Ellz said...

Very inspiring post. I find inspiration in beautiful days.

Jacqueline Howett said...

inspiration comes sometimes from beautiful posts like this one, but really its all a mystery. I once painted huge mural panels as big as I could get them just from a doodle sketch of a blob on paper. You can see one on my blog. I am amazed how many artist don't seek to be known while others have a strong need to be recognised.

Angie Smibert said...

Cool stuff! Here's an unusual thing that inspired me:

Jeff Hirsch said...

Aw thanks Jacqueline! Glad you liked it. I'll definitely swing over to your blog and check out your murals.

Hi Angie, I'm intrigued by your video. As soon as I get out of this darn day job I'll give it a look!

Carol Riggs said...

I've never seen these, or heard of this artist! Very cool. I have to say my favorite is the clay vase/house--so imaginative, and I love the subtle colors. Gorgeous! Thanks for posting these.

Liana said...

very cool post! I like this guy

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi Liana and Carol! Glad you guys like him. Search him out online, you can actually find links to quite alot of his work out there.All pretty amazing stuff.

CL said...

Excellent! I love that museum and you're making me miss NY. Have you ever heard of Henry Darger? They had an amazing show of his work several years back.
thanks for the post.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi CL! Yeah, I think Darger's stuff is amazing. They still have a few pieces of his at this museum. Now that guy seems like a bit of a loon. Brilliant but a loon.

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