Positively Local, Fearlessly Original: The Art and Life of Tim West


This World, a photography by Diana Michelle Hausam of Tim West

Fayetteville Underground is now featuring a retrospective of the work of outsider artist and Ozark legend Tim West, displaying a range of the artist’s landscapes, prints, sculptures and drawings. This show, organized by curator and folklorist Willi Goehring, also features the photographs of the artist by Diana Michelle Hausam; a selection from her provocative, lyrical documentary-in-progress on the artist was screened at the opening reception:

“That Tim West was a positively local and fearlessly original was further confirmed to me by the huge turnout of our opening,” Goethring wrote in an email to Art of the Rural. “Dozens of people who knew Tim, either as a crazy neighbor or an honored friend, were in attendance, and our work on digging up as much of Tim’s work as possible and making a documentary on Tim’s life was much improved! We were able to do a couple of interviews that may prove instrumental. All in all, a legendary figure and a truly original talent was honored by the community. It is the first major retrospective of Tim’s work in the Ozarks.”

Now in partnership with the Fayetteville Roots Festival, visitors and locals to Northwest Arkansas can experience a huge variety of programming at Fayetteville Underground during the last weekend of August, including an Expert Talk with folklorist Robert Cochran and Diana Hausam, folk-art workshops, and dozens of never-before seen pieces of Tim’s work. Find more information on that programming at www.fayettevilleroots.com

photo 3

Photograph from the Tim West retrospective by Taylor Shepherd

For glimpse into the life of Tim West — and the ways in which his biography intersects with so many avenues within and beyond the Ozarks — we can turn to Mike Luster’s reflection on the artist, previously published here, in the wake of his passing in 2012:

Tim West was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1938, but he was very soon brought to live in the Ozark Mountains near the town of Winslow where his parents had long dreamed of homesteading and writing. His father Don West did write a fine novel Broadside to the Sun based on the family’s backwoods life which was published in 1946 by W.W. Norton. Those barefoot years were idyllic for young Tim, but interrupted by a move 22 miles north to the university town of Fayetteville where his father collected fiddle tunes for the Arkansas Folklore Society and his mother Muriel West earned an MA in English in 1952 with her own fine novel Under Every Green Tree. The Wests soon separated, Don relocating to the artist’s colony of Eureka Springs and Muriel taking a job at Southern Illinois University –Carbondale in 1958 when young Tim went there to study visual arts.

Tim West proved both an extraordinary artist and a troublesome young man. At age eighteen he mailed off a print and had it accepted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and he would soon send a pair of works off to the Louvre in Paris where they would also be accepted. His former instructors and classmates remembered both his ingenious talent – including a wall in his home constructed of bicycle wheels—but also his brushes with the law for everything from attempted robbery to skinnydipping. He earned his MFA there in 1962 and stayed on another eight years, drinking, making art, making mischief, and riding his bicycle about town, before he decided he’d had enough of Carbondale and headed back to the Ozarks in 1970.

For most of the next forty years, he remained a barefoot recluse on the old family place, scrounging for materials, making his art, periodically riding his bicycle into town. More sober if not more conventional, he became a part of the spectral fabric of the passing years, not often visually distinguished from the many latter-day back-to-the-landers. 

That is, until one summer day in 2006 when Fayetteville photographer Diana Michelle Hausam was driving the backroads and came upon a fence constructed of deconstructed bicycles. She left a note asking if she could photograph there and in a few days received a telephone call from Tim West. He invited her down, instructing her to honk her horn three times and, as in a fairytale, he would appear. The two became good friends and she spent several months photographing the gray and leathery West, his work, and his environment.

Film Focus: Cavedigger (2013)

Editor’s Note: The Film Focus trailer series is part of AOTR’s rural cinema project, SMALLSCREEN. SMALLSCREEN is a multimedia project dedicated to mapping all forms of rural independent cinema exhibition and highlighting rural productions, place-based documentaries, and filmmakers who have an eye on the rural. Along the way, project designer Jessie Sims will develop a variety of cultural materials and contribute to the formation of an online rural film community. Most of all, Jessie is working to “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”- Robert Bresson]

By Jessie Sims

This Oscar-nominated short follows the extraordinary process of artist Ra Paulette. For more than 25 years, by intense, solitary labor, Paulette has turned sandstone cliffs in Northern New Mexico into transformative space. He is self-taught and uses only hand tools.

Before Cavedigger, Paulette’s underground art was largely unknown and his labor sorely under appreciated. Director Jeffrey Karoff gives us an inspiring picture of Paulette, his material constraints, and what drives him to do his work despite it all.

Since 2008, Paulette has been working on his magnum opus, Luminous Caves. Since he’s determined to realize his own vision, this final cave complex isn’t a private commission. He describes it as an environmental and social art project:

A mile walk in the wilderness becomes a pilgrimage journey to a hand dug, elaborately sculpted cave complex illuminated by the sun through multiple tunneled windows. The cave is both a shared ecumenical shrine and an otherworldly venue for presentations and performances designed to address issues of social welfare and the art of well being.”

Luminous Caves, he says, “is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.”

Read more about Paulette’s final work and its rural social context on his official site. Cavedigger is available on demand from iTunes and Vimeo.


Stories, Human Flourishing, and Spaces of Abundance in BETSY!

Roadside Theater Artistic Director Dudley Cocke facilitates a story circle. Photo by Jim Carroll.

[Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of April, Art of the Rural shared a series of new writing and multimedia from HowlRoundabout the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Curated by Imagining America’s Jamie Haft and Dr. Arnaldo López of Pregones Theater/PRTT, the series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history. The musical premiered off-Broadway and completed its three week run on April 26, 2015. BETSY! offers an important lens on a long-term rural-urban exchange and the many threads of commonality along America’s rural-urban continuum. This series is part of a strategy to develop new scholarship and multimedia about the vision, values, practice, and complexities of intercultural artistic collaboration, which will eventually be digested into a learning guide for teaching BETSY!. This is our final post in this series, and we’re proud to share the work of HowlRound, Imagining America, Roadside Theater, and Pregones Theater.]

Today we share excerpts from Stephani Etheridge Woodson’s essay “Stories, Human Flourishing, and Spaces of Abundance”, in which she discusses her interest in the “how” of how arts and culture builds stronger communities. She talks about building collective efficacy and expanding community networks, and about transparency and effective documentation. She also talks about “how stories build homes and social places for human flourishing”. Mostly, she reminds us that art and theatre can “develop abundant communities through their focus on the narrative wealth of a community, community efficacy, and community meaning-making”:

“Human flourishing does not function as a zero-sum game or a set of inputs for defined outputs (x + y = happiness). A focus on flourishing grows from understanding communities as sites of plenty, not sets of risks. Pregones and Roadside are partners and even catalysts, framing their communities as spaces of power.”

“Theatre companies like Pregones and Roadside function as public intellectuals and cultural development institutions. Their focus on stories, on connections, on the messy reality of the human condition and U.S. American ideologies of self and other don’t offer easy answers.  But they move in a space of abundance in the communion of art.”

 To read Woodson’s full essay, visit: http://howlround.com/stories-human-flourishing-and-spaces-of-abundance