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GOINGS ON: SANTA BARBARA COUNTY : Primitive Art : A Carpinteria gallery is featuring works by folk artists who are outside the mainstream of art.

August 09, 1990|MAJA RADEVICH

The art world is full of eccentrics and nonconformists. And many of them, says Frances Puccinelli, owner of the Carpinteria art gallery that bears her name, are "outsiders" who stand out of the mainstream of art.

"Their stuff is fresh; it comes from the gut," said Puccinelli, who is displaying the work of eight primitive folk artists in a show she calls "Outsiders."

Outsiders are untrained artists, she said, many of whom turned to art not for art's sake, but to spread a religious message or vision. They are often uneducated beyond grade school, and most are from the South.

All the artists featured at the exhibit "are characters in their own right," Puccinelli said. "I've heard some pretty wild stories about most of them. Looking at their works, you have to know the context, who these people are, where they're from, to fully appreciate what they have done."

To that end, Puccinelli has provided a short biography of each artist and placed it next to his or her work.

One biography explains how Howard Finster, 74, an active revivalist minister for almost 40 years, turned to art about 15 years ago.

It says that in early 1976, Finster was repairing and painting a bicycle when he looked down at a paint smudge on his fingertips and in it appeared the vision of a human face.

It commanded Finster to paint 5,000 pieces of sacred art to spread God's word across the land.

Now, more than 12,000 pieces later, Finster is still going strong, painting pictures and words on anything from wood to rags to telephones. His work has sold for as much as $20,000 each, but Finster still lives in his modest northern Georgia home.

He may be a simple and modest man, but he enjoys publicity because, he says, it helps him spread God's message. The album cover he did for the Talking Heads' "Little Creatures" included not only pictures but also 26 messages such as "Music for the Soul Is a Wonderful Thing." Since more than 1 million of the albums were sold, the messages have been spread far and wide.

Some of Finster's works, including a 34- by 11-inch wooden cutout of a Coca-Cola bottle, are on exhibit at the Puccinelli gallery. Enamel-painted angels fly near the top of the Coke bottle while older-model Fords are parked at the bottom.

Typical of Finster, spiritual messages such as "The Lord Is Never Far From Thee" and "Heaven Is as Far as You Can Go," are interspersed with his less inspirational observations, such as "If Anyone Has a Better Drink Than Coke They Must Have Kept It for Themselves I Haven't Found It Yet."

Also on display is Jimmie Lee Sudduth's four women painted on a large piece of scrap metal. It, like his other works, is painted in earth-tone hues that come from combining herbs and berries and the mud from outside his Alabama home.

The artist adds sugar to harden the mixture and make it more permanent. He now also adds paint. His concoction in its pure form attracts too many insects.

On the other side of the room--and the color spectrum--is a display of James Harold Jennings' colorful, whimsical creations.

Jennings lives and works in three old school buses parked in the mountains of North Carolina. He survives without electricity, running water, telephone or television. His bright, colorful, three-dimensional art is created outdoors when weather permits, and in a yellow bus when it's raining.

Much more somber works of art, including clay skulls, heads and human figures in coffins, are created by James Son Thomas of Mississippi. The clay corpses in their coffins were probably inspired by Thomas' many years as a grave digger.

Brother Benjamin Franklin Perkins, 86, went through a variety of jobs before he became an artist. In 1928, after seeing a sign flashing "Jesus Saves," Brother Perkins said he followed a calling to become a bishop. His art depicts religious themes as well as patriotic symbols.

Like many "outsiders," Perkins paints on whatever material is handy. His pieces at the gallery include a decorated gourd, mailbox and suitcase.

The paintings on the sides of the suitcase depict Old Glory and the Statue of Liberty. Across the top, Perkins has painted the message:

"This Suit Discaded Doomed to the Waste Dump but Turned Into Folk Art."

Further up the coast in Santa Barbara, the Museum of Natural History will present its ninth annual Wine Festival. The Sunday benefit will offer more than two dozen new wines for tasting. In addition, there will be a large selection of gourmet foods available for sampling. The price of admission is $30 for museum members and $35 for non-members. Tickets are sold only in advance at 682-4711.

Saturday night, the Music Academy of the West will present a cello recital in memory of Gabor Rejto, a former faculty member. The concert begins at 8 p.m. at Abravanel Hall on the grounds of the academy, 1070 Fairway Road, Montecito. Tickets, at $12, are available at the door or by calling the Lobero Theatre at 963-0761.

* WHERE AND WHEN: The "Outsiders" exhibit, featuring eight folk artists from the South, will be shown through Sept. 1 at the Frances Puccinelli Gallery, 888 Linden St., Carpinteria.

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