This fall, we will celebrate one of Lynchburg’s most prolific and beloved folk artists, Willie Shouse. Shouse produced hundreds of his trademark paintings throughout the course of his life. Much of his imagery focused on scenes and gatherings of people, both real and imagined. Shouse had a very unique perspective on the world around him and conveyed it through loose, abstracted, and very colorful works. This exhibition will serve as a retrospective of the work of a man whom many still remember as a quintessential Lynchburg personality.
Willie Shouse Retrospective: September 2nd, 5:30-8:00pm (free and open to the public)
Folk Art, Outsider Art, Visionary Art, Art Brut. People have come up with numerous terms to describe artists who are working outside the mainstream. Local artist, Willie Shouse somehow manages to embody all of these labels and more. The main definition for Folk Art is that it conveys a shared community aesthetic; Willie Shouse not only represented the look and feel of Lynchburg, but influenced that aesthetic as well. His pieces have become known throughout the area and have come to posses a very “Lynchburg” look. Colorful, loose, vibrant, and mysterious, they capture the people we see around town day in and day out. “As I gathered work for this show, I found myself in an Elk’s Lodge, a local pizza shop, an artist’s basement, and a band’s party house. I loved seeing how these pieces had scattered to so many corners of the city and affected such a range of people in so many different ways”, says Erin Stover, the show’s curator.
Because of this Shouse’s influence, some may qualify his work as Visionary Art. Visionary Art is typically defined as art that comes from ones’ own personal vision. The focus is generally on the act of creating versus the finished product. While Shouse certainly was proud of the finished products (he once created a series of work which he tried to sell to Long John Silver’s corporate office), his joy is clearly in the creation of the work. Like many others, his paintings were often cathartic ways of expressing his emotions. Shouse never had any formal training and created most of his work as immediate reactions to his thoughts, experiences, and dreams. Suffering from Schizophrenia, he would sometimes have nightmares and strange dreams which he would immediately depict on his canvases. If he couldn’t handle a hardship, it seems that he would be able to sometimes work through it with paint.
Lynchburg was fortunate to have an artist such as Willie Shouse, but he was certainly not alone in his background or in his approach. Throughout the years, Folk Art and Visionary Art have gained more and more recognition in the mainstream art world. The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore (which is currently considering some of Shouse’s work) draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The Smithsonian Museum of American Art currently houses 70 artists who are classified as Contemporary Folk Artists. The common thread between these artists is that they are all self-taught and have mostly created their work in isolation or in small communities. The same could be said of Willie Shouse. Willie may have lived an isolated life, but it was certainly not a lonely one. He had a community who supported him, encouraged his work, and engaged with him socially. He worked feverishly with a small group of artists in Lynchburg and would take his finished pieces to show off at whatever party was happening that weekend. Most of the time, he could be found talking about art and life at the Firehouse or Rivermont Pizza.
Born and raised in Lynchburg, Shouse dealt with Schizophrenia throughout his life and later developed a debilitating lung disease and cataracts, which made painting more difficult and changed the look of his work. Never deterred in the slightest, Shouse was a prolific painter (and occasional sculptor) until his death in May 2010.