Creative Growth: Vibrant, 17 artists from Creative GrowthMay 15th - July 31st, 2021
Nina Johnson is proud to present Vibrant, an exhibition of new works by the artists of Creative Growth Art Center, the oldest and largest nonprofit art studio for artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities.
Opening on May 15th and on view through July 31st, Vibrant features works from seventeen of Creative Growth’s artists working across drawings, paintings, and sculpture: Juan Aguilera, Joseph Alef, Terri Bowden, Maureen Clay, Kim Clark, Lauren Dare, John Martin, Dan Miller, Donald Mitchell, Latefa Noorzai, Carrie Oyama, Tony Pedemonte, Carlos Perez, Aurie Ramirez, Ron Veasey, George Wilson, and Ying Ge Zhou.
With styles reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism to Fauvism and Pop Art, these exciting works highlight a group of extraordinary artists once marginalized by disability. Despite never receiving classical training, the distinct and diverse aesthetic considerations of the works on view stem from a sophisticated depiction of the world and their experiences. In Lauren Dare’s mixed media on paper and board, an obsessive interest in pattern, repetition, and technique saturate her energetic swaths of color that recall Helen Frankenthaler’s emotional abstract paintings.
Despite their work often being compared to “outsider art,” the self-taught artists at Creative Growth and beyond have always been an integral part of historical and contemporary art. “It’s important to remember that these artists are part of the contemporary art world, and not relegated to a limiting category such as outsider art or disability art,” says Creative Growth Director of External Relations Tom di Maria.
Instead of marginalizing these artists, Vibrant celebrates their difference. Dan Miller’s autism influences his works on paper, producing abstract forms that illustrate a fixation with glyphs, writing, and color that resemble paintings by Cy Twombly. Other artists, such as Ron Veasey, are largely non-verbal and use their artistic practice to eloquently express their experiences.
As Nina Johnson Gallery’s second exhibition with Creative Growth, Vibrant represents a dedication to showcasing the vibrant and important work of these artists. “Creative Growth is delighted to be partnering with Nina Johnson again,” says di Maria, “and we’re excited by her commitment to integrating our artist into the contemporary art dialogue.”
About Creative Growth
Founded in 1974, Creative Growth is a non-profit based in Oakland, CA that provides a professional studio environment and gallery representation to artists with developmental disabilities. The Creative Growth Studio is home to over 140 artists who work in a variety of media. Facilitated by professional artists, the studio provides artistic support, high-quality materials, and space for painting, drawing, ceramics, wood working, fiber arts, printmaking, and digital media. The studio is an open space, converted 12,000 square foot former auto repair shop.
The Creative Growth Gallery exhibits and represents artwork by Creative Growth artists, securing a place for their work in major collections and institutions worldwide. It presents public exhibitions in the Oakland gallery and represents Creative Growth artists at national and international art fairs every year. Artwork fostered in this unique environment has been acquired by prominent collections and museums worldwide, including the MoMA, The Centre Pompidou, SFMOMA, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The American Folk Art Museum, and the collection de L’art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.
About the artists
Juan Aguilera (b. 1966) emigrated to the United States from Mexico at the age of eight. Often paying homage to his homeland, Aguilera fuses female imagery with flowering plants and other organic content – a gesture that the artist describes as a symbolic nod to the matriarch. He plays out this devotion to female forms and their undergarments in a variety of media – painting, printmaking, ceramic, and wood. His interest in the subject isn’t sensational. Rather, the rendered garments become a profound and multifaceted vessel for feminine energy. Something of an alchemist, Aguilera’s most recent practice combines his established drawing and painting style with assemblage by pouring thick layers of gel medium onto pages laden with real bras and panties. Aguilera has practiced at Creative Growth since 1998.
Born in Berkeley, CA in 1981, Joseph Alef makes active paintings that radiate with energy. Blending an impressive array of colors with gestural and drip elements, Alef has created his own expressive visual language. Often beginning with delicate fields of color, Alef then integrates linear and distinct graphic elements that form sculptural effects. Alef has been a studio artist at Creative Growth since 2001, and devotes most of his time to painting, though he also has explored ceramics as well. Like his paintings, the abstract ceramic tablets he builds are deeply layered with organic abstractions and vibrant colors.
Terri Bowden’s (b. 1962, California) early work consisted primarily of albino animals and people–an interest she developed while attending summer camp with other legally blind people. Using rich applications of pastel, her work on paper plays with the lack of pigment in the figures and the vibrant saturation of colors that surround them. Either anonymous rockers or icons like Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart, Bowden enforces a sublime aesthetic that transcends conventionality she describes as ‘dented.’ Bowden’s recent practice has shifted almost exclusively to digital work, using an iPad to alter photographs and create AR architecture. There is a through line from her earlier work to the digital ‘makeovers’ of historical figures, celebrities, and rock stars that imbue her subjects with bold new meanings. Bowden’s work is included in the permanent collection at the MADmusée in Liege.
Kim Clark (b. 1980, Concord, California) Kim Clark is heavily influenced by pop culture, idolizing everything from Elvis to the Twilight Saga to niche sitcoms. Generally sourcing from movie posters or internet printouts, Clark converts the saccharine, digitally perfect figures into her own expressive style reminiscent of Egon Schiele’s pulled and distorted figuration. She is skilled at both drawing with colored pencil and painting in watercolor, and approaches her subjects with reverence, unfettered enthusiasm, and humor. With a voracious appetite for the glossy covers of celebrity tabloids, Clark also memorializes recently deceased stars through embroidered textile portraits, including everyone from Hollywood’s A-list to the more obscure character actors. She practiced in Creative Growth from 2000 – 2019.
Maureen Clay (b. 1947, California) paints with thickly brushed impasto, layering colors repeatedly until the entire composition has been covered several times. She has an intricate sense of color and design, and while her work appears abstract, Clay describes her images as distorted versions of fish, birds, and food. Her work holds multitudes, appearing as a deep seascape, starry night sky, or a view through a microscope. Also a proficient textile artist, Clay, similarly to her painting practice, covers the surface of her clothing with pompoms, sequins, or dense layers of thread. Clay has practiced at Creative Growth since 1991.
Lauren Dare was born in 1977, Oakland, CA and has practiced at Creative Growth since 2011. Dare’s multi-layered abstract drawings are completed with a characteristically active and gestural process. Filling the page to the edge with high viscosity ink, Dare layers dense, sweeping collections of lines that exercise the full range of motion in her wrist and arm. Dare describes these frond-like forms as “trees,” and sometimes interrupts them with clusters of circles, achieved in the same vibrational hand. Simultaneously organized and frenetic, her linework flows and crashes like waves, creating an energetic visual texture. Whether she’s working in bright color or monochrome, Dare has a captivatingly sophisticated sense of depth and composition.
John Martin (b. 1963 in Marks, Mississippi) creates drawings from memories of time spent with his family on their Mississippi farm. John’s signature imagery makes his work instantly recognizable: trucks, snakes, pocket knives, cell phones as well as an occasional item from his collection of discarded valuables found on the street. Through his extraordinary imagination, John transforms everyday objects into talismans of sharp-toothed animals and goofy characters. John’s style has recently become more refined and minimal, often depicting just the outlines of objects. Working easily with wood and ceramic, Martin’s pieces both mimic functionality in their form, while subverting practicality through his outrageous animal mash-ups, larger-than-life Leatherman tools, and mysterious signifiers. In 2014, John was invited by Facebook to create a site-specific artwork as part of the inaugural Artist In Residence program at the new Frank Gehry-designed Facebook campus.
Dan Miller was born 1961, Castro Valley, CA and has practiced at Creative Growth since 1992. Miller’s artwork reflects his perceptions as letters and words are repeatedly overdrawn, often creating ink layered masses, hovering on the page and built up to the point of obliteration or destruction of the ground. Each work contains the written recording of the artist’s obsession with objects like light bulbs, electrical sockets, and food in a variety of media, including drawing, painting, ceramics, wood sculpture, printmaking, and other mixed media projects. Miller has had solo exhibitions at White Columns, Andrew Edlin Gallery and Ricco Maresca Gallery in New York, and Diane Rosenstein Gallery in LA. His work was included in the 2017 Venice Biennale, and has been included in exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum; The Museum of Everything, London; Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York; Gallery Paule Anglim, Jules Maeght and 836M in San Francisco; Nina Johnson Miami; John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Wisconsin; Galerie Christian Berst and ABCD, Paris. Miller’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Pompidou Centre, the Folk Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Mad Musée, and the Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne. Miller’s work is also included in the private collections of David Byrne, Cindy Sherman, Maurizio Cattelan, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, Thea Westreich & Ethan Wagner, Nicolas Rohatyn and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Andy and Kate Spade, among many others.
Donald Mitchell, a San Francisco native, has practiced at Creative Growth Art Center since 1986. Mitchell’s work began with dense abstract and cross-hatched fields of black lines or brush strokes that obliterated the paper and hid any trace of underlying image which, overtime, uncovered faces and forms buried in the darkness that populated his works. Mitchell’s most recent work maintains the foundation of these anonymous figures, but has returned to large scale abstraction with late-career artist’s skill. Mitchell’s work has been exhibited at Collection de l’Art Brut; Switzerland, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Cavin Morris and Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum; Jennifer Lauren Gallery in London; and is included in the permanent collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Latefa Noorzai, was born in 1960 in Kabul, Afganistan. A native Farsi speaker and immigrant to the United States, Noorzai quickly established her studio practice at Creative Growth in 2012 despite obstacles of communication and cultural navigation. Latefa’s tenacity is demonstrated in her bold portrait paintings inspired by a plethora of source material. Her strong and stark outlines, rendered with immediacy, provide loose structure for the heavy and confident brush strokes that permeate her figures with dynamic expression and presence. A master of color, Latefa paints figures that are, like herself, bright, mercurial, and undaunted by the gaze of others. Latefa’s work is included in Hannah Rieger’s permanent Art Brut Collection and was nominated for Outsider Art Fair’s Art Absolument Award in 2019.
Carrie Oyama’s (b.1948 in New York, NY) drawings dance across the page as a multi-layered visual performance. Her work is inherently expressive in its line quality, which effectively communicates a complex understanding of the human body as it moves through space. Oyama’s figures are taken either from photographs or the depths of her imagination and memory, and are often executed with her non-dominant hand. The artist possesses a rich artistic background, having majored in fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York in the late 1960 and having participated in the Pedestrian Art Movement and in performances at the Whitney Museum and Judson Church before moving to Berkeley in 1979. Oyama arrived at Creative Growth in the 1980s, a tenure in which she largely experimented with soft sculpture and ceramics. Since 2014, Carrie has concentrated on drawing delicate and refined compositions that connect to her past experiences and subconscious mind.
Tony Pedemonte (b. 1954, Oakland, CA) constructs armatures of wood and recycled materials that he then wraps in layers of yarn and thread until the structure is nearly concealed. Pedemonte works in a highly intuitive, energetic and intentional way. Despite comparison to Creative Growth artist Judith Scott, Pedemonte’s process and finished work is entirely different from Scott’s (whom he never met), demonstrated by their tactile and enigmatic presence. Like his sculptures, his works on paper begin with a drawn figure that he obscures with frenzied mark making and sweeping gestures that cover his workspace and reach beyond the paper’s edge. Watching Pedemonte work is like an athletic or performative feat – his practice is grounded by the use of his body as a tool for expression. Pedemonte is a recipient of the 2021 Wynn Newhouse Award.
Carlos Perez (b. 1984, Oakland, CA) is a master storyteller, weaving the struggle between good and evil through his drawings and mixed media sculptures. Be it drawing, clay, or textile, each piece is a narration that continues to evolve as the story unfolds. The majority of his work is based on a fascination with monsters (he has profound appreciation for films like Ghostbusters and Batman). As Perez’s story develops, so too does his drawing, yielding a densely layered sheath ink and intricate textures showcasing indentations of “ghost dogs” or “owls” hiding beneath his dark abstract worlds.
Aurie Ramirez was born in 1962 in Sangley Point, Phillipines and has practiced at Creative Growth since 1977. Ramirez’s sophisticated and delicately rendered watercolor and ink compositions create a fantasy world of 18th century dandyism, neo-Victorian decorum, psychedelia, glam rock sex, and anthropomorphic food. With imagery ranging the full spectrum from saccharine landscapes with smiling suns to punk fetishism and hardcore erotica, Ramirez explores sexuality, fashion, violence, and forbidden foods. Often depicting groups of women in KISS garb (Ramirez’s favorite band and most profound visual touchstone), Ramirez presents these women and their ephemera in endless iterations like paper dolls. In another series, she explores her Filipino heritage and childhood memories by reimagining traditional wardrobe on her red and green pinstriped characters. Her work has been exhibited at galleries and museums internationally, including White Columns and Gavin Brown’s enterprise in New York; Jack Hanley Gallery, Los Angeles; ABCD, Paris; Collection de l’Art Brut, Switzerland; and MADmusée, Belgium.
Ron Veasy was born in 1957, Las Vegas, NE and is an early participant in Creative Growth’s programming. His work has evolved in technique and scale in his four decades in the Studio, but his fundamental interest in the human form as a vehicle for color and line remains central to his practice. Whether a sloping neck or a glancing eye, Veasey’s carefully considered portraits are completed methodically and with great intention. Veasey moves slowly, quietly, and steadily through the stages of image selection, outline, color choice, and then painting. His inspiration comes from source material, fashion magazines or books of photograph, and he can take hours or days to identify the perfect muse. The result is an image that is at once graphic and sculptural, a distillation of color and form that allows the viewer to focus on the gesture of a stare – the gaze of the portrait becomes the fundamental subject of the work, unflinching in its connection with the viewer.
George Wilson was born in Castro Valley, CA in 1946 and has practiced at Creative Growth since 1985. Wilson is an artist whose eyes and hands are always in motion as he works, and his drawings gracefully communicate this vibrant, frenetic energy. For over thirty years Wilson has concentrated on making figurative drawings, presented singularly or in groups. His repetitive, recursive lines, rendered in colorful pastels or fine ink, result in images that are subtractive, yet energized with motion. Wilson’s work has been featured at several international galleries and art fairs, including Galerie ART CRU, Berlin; Direct Art Gallery, Dusseldorf; D’Dessin Paris Contemporary Art Fair; and Outsider Art Fair in Paris and New York.
Ying Ge Zhou
Ying Ge Zhou (b. 1978) was born in Guangdong, China and came to Creative Growth in 2010 with a strong aptitude for drawing and painting. Working with either fashion magazines or her imagination, Ying Ge creates enigmatic portraits rendered in simple lines, and suffused with watercolor. Ying Ge has an ability to translate static advertisements into images that can be bold and vibrant or elegant and streamlined. Ying Ge sometimes plucks lines of text from these advertisements lending an element of unexpected humor and irony to her graceful compositions. More recently, Ying Ge has been combining paint and embroidery on fabric to bring texture and dimensionality to her signature style.