Outsider artists have put down roots in a cozy haven in the heart of downtown Savannah. Photo by Siobhan Egan
Savannah Magazine: What is “outsider folk art?”
Leslie Lovell: Folk art has become synonymous with outsider, self-taught, primitive and visionary art. It is art that has been created outside the conventional dictates of the art world. These artists have a need or calling from within to create, but without technique. There are no rules, so often unorthodox materials are used, such as tin and house paint. This art form can be complex or simple in nature and is as expressive as blues music, which tells stories about memories, hardships, love and loss.
What drew you to opening Roots Up Gallery?
When traveling, I’ve always been drawn to unusual, primitive and handmade items. While at UGA in the Eighties, my husband, Francis Allen, became familiar firsthand with outsider artists R.A. Miller and Howard Finster during their rise to the mainstream. Our goal when opening Roots Up was to share a different style of art that is both approachable and affordable. We also wanted to bring the legacy artists back to life by sharing their stories.
What about folk art captures your imagination?
I’m crazy about the simplicity of this genre. It’s fascinating to learn about each artist’s need to create. And many of my childhood memories are awakened when I see farm scenes, abandoned rural houses and tobacco fields in some of these pieces. Developing an appreciation for outsider art ended up giving me permission to develop my artistic interest. Being a self-taught artist is liberating, so I explore many mediums, including pottery, jewelry, painting and photography.
Which folk artists should we be paying attention to right now?
There are several legacy artists with unique styles, like Jake McCord, Willie Tarver and Howard Finster. These are pioneer outsider artists who have been sought out and collected for years.
Their pieces are limited, which also makes them highly collectible. Contemporary folk artists like Michael Banks and Savannah’s own Panhandle Slim have their own innate styles that are quickly developing national attention.
What’s your advice for someone just getting interested in collecting?
Explore all genres and listen to yourself. Most of us buy art that we’re going to live with, so it needs to strike a chord within.
Roots Up Gallery, parlor floor, 6 E. Liberty St., 677-2845, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday