Thursday, March 10, 2011

Traylor, Lowry, Mashe: The invisible connection

This is a story about three painters. Each of them belongs to a different timeline, nationality and social background. But despite their varied origins, these three artists share an astonishing connection through their styles of creative expressions. 
These three artists are American artist Bill Traylor (b.1854 – d. 1949), British artist L. S. Lowry (b. 1887 – d. 1976) and Jivya Soma Mashe (b. 1934), an artist from India. Of these three, two are officially recognized as ‘Outsiders’ (Traylor, Mashe) and one is not (Lowry), but his artistic philosophy is evidently aligned with outsider art rather than the mainstream.

‘Outsider art’ is a term broadly used to categorize the art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. Although the term ‘outsider art’ has been in use for many years, its meaning is constantly evolving. Earlier it was used mainly to categorize the aboriginal art, folk art etc. , later it took the form of an important French art movement (Art Brut) which laid a larger emphasis on the rejection of established values within the modernist art. 

Bill Traylor (b.1854 – d. 1949): William "Bill" Traylor was a self-taught artist born into slavery on a plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. He started drawing and painting much later in life – when he was 85 – and made 1500 drawings in the next three years. He drew scenes of life on the farm and people on the streets. His art was based on things that he had seen, heard and experienced. He worked in primary colors and made use of simple compositions to create his bold and extremely original style. Later he met Charles Shannon, a painter, who helped him by supplying art material and also buying his drawings. Bill Traylor lived and died in obscurity, his work getting recognition only 30 years after his death. 

L. S. Lowry (b. 1887 – d. 1976): "I am not an artist. I am a man who paints." said Laurence Stephen Lowry, popularly known as L. S. Lowry. Lowry lived in Northern England and painted his famous industrial scenes. He had a distinctive style of painting and used a “matchstick” style representation for human figures. He studied at the Salford School of Art till 1925. He lived most of his quiet and secluded life in Mottram in Longdendale, Cheshire and was well recognized and honored in his later years. Today ‘Lowry Centre’ at Salford Quays holds the world's largest collection of his works.

Jivya Soma Mashe (b. 1934): Jivya Soma Mashe is known for his renditions of the tribal ‘Warli art’, of Maharashtra state in India. To position him correctly, we can say that he is as important an artist of the Warli tribal art as Emily Kame Kngwarreye is of the Australian indigenous art. Jivya was a pioneer in bringing Warli art from being a mere element of tribal rituals to a pure expression of art. Initially he painted on mud walls and later started using flexible painting surfaces like canvas. This transition helped him immensely in developing his unique painting style. But even in his new style, the subject matter is still related to Warli tribes, forests, birds and animals and traditional patterns. The magic of his work is such that it draws you into its unique world and makes you feel like you are a part of the activity inside the painting. Jivya’s work is widely exhibited around the world and is well recognized. In 2011, he received ‘Padma Shri’ (the fourth highest civilian award by the Government of India) for his contribution towards Warli painting.

I’m a great fan of these artists, and their humble and unbelievably original nature of work. I look at their paintings and wonder if Traylor’s farmer, Lowry’s worker and the tribal from Jivya’s painting could meet somewhere, perhaps for a drink in the evening after their tiring hours on farms, factories and forests?:) 


Lynn said...

Thanks for the introduction to these three fascinating artists.
The similarities in their work is quite amazing, especially considering just how strong and unique each one's artistic vision is.

Debu Barve said...


Yes, quite true. You feel that they share some sort of common invisible ancestry, makes you think of Altamira caves.


Anonymous said...

bonjour à vous, votre article est superbe et le titre est beau. L'expression: "je ne suis pas un artiste mais un homme qui peint", je l'employais moi-même souvent quand on me demandait de me décrire :-) ; à bientôt: thibault

Debu Barve said...

Thanks Thibault,

Indeed Lowry's quote says it all.:)
It is so nice that you identify with it!

Laura G. Young said...

What a lovely blog! I'd not heard of these artists or their similarities; thanks so much for sharing.

Debu Barve said...

Laura, thanks.

Nomi Lubin said...

Wow. I knew Bill Traylor and L.S. Lowry a little bit. Mashe not at all. This is fascinating. Such elegance and delicacy. And sensitivity. And a kind of refined visual sensibility that comes from...?

Debu Barve said...


Thanks! I agree with you, these artists have a great elegance in their work and amazingly similar emotions.

Andrea Schell said...

Hi Debu.
Thanks for introducing me to three wonderful artists. Traylor reminds me very much of aboriginal artist Tommy McRae who lived in the 19th century.

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