1988 Southern States
Roger Manley suggested that we should go on this trip of the Southern States and he would take us to these environments. He has always been interested in Art Brut and Outsider Art and he is a photographer as well. We were entirely relying on him to take us to the places. He mapped out all of the ones that he wanted to take us to. The party consisted of Roger Manley, John MacGregor, Genviéve Roulin and her sister, Sam Farber and his wife Betsey and myself. We had two cars and planned to travel through South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama for six days. We stayed in motels, ate lots of fried southern chicken and drank great amounts of cold tea.
The Outsider environments we visited were extraordinary. They were inventions, assembled out of all kinds of materials; old fridges, stoves, agricultural machinery, everything to hand. Quite different from any Outsider Environment that I had ever seen before. They defied categorisation. As we were in the ‘Bible belt’, some had much to do with religious obsessions.
Sandersville, Georgia: J.B. Murry
J.B. was one of the many artists we visited on the unforgettable trip to the Southern States. [His house] was surrounded by fields and trees, and hidden from the main road.
There was a long silence while J.B. held up a small bottle of ‘holy water’ which would reveal to him the ‘divine intent’. It turned out that we were good people and he would show us his work, as he told us in his strong Southern accent. He did this with great pride, followed by a turn around his vegetable plot and his holy well. I noticed as we passed the battered old car that the bottle of holy water was sitting on the bonnet.
I have often thought about that visit. It had a kind of magical calm to it. The sun was shining, J.B. was in his own world and at peace. We have got some of his spirit writings in this display at Tate. From the trip we have got a very nice picture of him.
Georgia: Jimmy Lee Sudduth
I met Jimmy Lee on his home ground. He was in Georgia. He’s a colourful character and very ready to talk. In those early days only a few visitors found their way there, so we were made very welcome.
He was in this hut with his wife. He worked from off-cuts, any wooden boards he could get a hold of. He actually showed us how he drew. He put his finger in the earth and he used a bit of chalk as well and that’s how his pictures were made. Because there was this very nice red earth, a little bit I suppose like paint. So he did it with a wooden stick on his fingers. We have two wonderful works in the collection.
We were almost the first people to have gone to see him. He was so keen that we should tell everybody in the world about what a great artist he was. It was a great event for him that our party included visitors from Switzerland and England. Since our visit he has become quite well known and many avid collectors make the journey to see him.
Buena Vista, Georgia: Pasaquan St. EOM
[The artist] himself wasn’t alive anymore but he made this extraordinary rather big environment which in fact he had lived in, and it was all painted in sort of Mexican signs and it was also rather strange because we had to arrange for somebody to be there and let us in.
As we walked up there were these Alsatian dogs barking away because they had to keep the environment protected… We had an extraordinary time. It was very strange because he wasn’t there anymore. Its always rather strange if you go around this private environment without the actual person being there.
He had shot himself. He had done something or other for which the authorities were after him. He had sent his young man out to buy some fish I think and when he came home he had shot himself. When he was killed he was quite a ripe old age. He also made herbal medicines and he made these necklaces out of bits of painted wood and I’ve got one.
Georgia: Billie Lemming
Billy Lemming was a very strange person in Georgia. He was…about fifty and because he was still living there and it was his environment of course, Roger Manley would go meet him and say: ‘Look I’ve got some friends who would like come and see your work.’
It was a rather amazing place. He was living in sort of rather broken down hut…and he gave himself electric shocks everyday. He thought they were good for him. Roger Manley was asked if he would give himself an electric shock. we were all asked but none of us would.
In front of the hut in quite a good sized space in this scrappy field, there were a lot of fridges, stoves, electrical things that had previously been discarded. He picked them up from rubbish heaps, and he painted everything in red white and blue.
On the poles by his hut he had painted… targets… which he had painted red, white and blue. In one of them he had placed a fork and… in the other a knife. He had been building this environment for a long time. They were quite extraordinary. It was very patriotic.
He was not really communicative as he was not really used to people coming and talking to him. That was really a very weird experience just to see all these red white and blue things in the field. There is a nice photo I took of him sitting on the terrace.
Georgia: Reverend John D. Ruth
There were a lot of religious things. He was very jolly with a nice wife. They played the piano for us and sang local songs … He had sorts of tablets of things he had written, all to do with religion. If you look at the slides you will see what I mean. He was probably Baptist.
Georgia: Howard Finster
I met Howard Finster too. He called himself ‘the Reverend’. Whether he had ever really been a reverend I just don’t know.
His place is very well known. But sadly, he was quite old and one does know that he had quite a family, and the family were making things as well. It was a bit of a production team by the end, but he had made some incredible things.
He gave us a long lecture on religion.