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

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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

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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.

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