My name is George Spencer. I sign my paintings "St. George" because my work is divine. I slay dragons of conformity.
I'm a neoOutsider.
What's that mean?
Here in America, an Outsider artist is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a folk artist. Bottom line? It's someone who has little, if any, training. Think Grandma Moses.
There are a few wrinkles to the definition. Outsiders are typically older, typically not just rural but from way beyond the boonies, often Southerners, sometimes mentally unsound or alcoholic, and occasionally profoundly religious. In many cases Outsiders come to art as a consequence of a terrible life trauma. As in getting one's leg snapped off in a coal mine.
These Outsider folks are all dead. Howard Finster—dead. Jimmie Lee Sudduth—dead. Grandma Moses—her, too.
What's more, no one is Outside anymore. Even the most remote holler's got WiFi. Or could.
A neoOutsider is what then?
First, I'm a Southerner with bona fides back to 1649. That's when William Moseley, my earliest ancestor to enter the New World, came from "beyond the seases" to the banks of the Lower James in Virginia. This English merchant adventurer brought with him his wife Susannah, daughter of a London cloth merchant, and their son Arthur whose nickname was "Captain Blood." William also had with him indentured servants and sack of jewels to buy the essentials of life.
My mother's father was a football hero at Tech under Heisman. "Automobile" Clark they called him. When Heisman offered him a spot on his New York City professional football team, my grandfather replied, "Coach, there's no money in football. I'm going to be a farmer." He later ran a multi-state bootlegging operation with the sheriff. Good money in that.
My father's mother sewed hoods for executions (public hangings, to be precise). Her father, the jailer, was thrifty with the taxpayer's dime.
I named my first-born son for my maternal great-grandfather who, as my mother said, "carried a Yankee ball in his shoulder all his life. And never complained."
Another ancestor was an officer at Gettysburg. Writing home to his mother, he said, "The Yankees wouldn't come out and fight." Later wounded, he was captured and put in a POW camp.
Second, I came to art as a the result of a life trauma. D.I.V.O.R.C.E. is not just a Tammy Wynette song. Made me a bit more religious. Thought I'd become a minister. Was admitted to the M.Div program at Duke Divinity. Decided not to go. That was after they—the Duke people—found out about them liquor store jobs I did in Oklahoma City. I done stir. Paid my debt. And if I'd known that feller was the sheriff's nephew, I never would have cold-cocked him with that pool cue.
(Just kiddin'. About the last part.)
You don't have to be a minister to minister to people. So I am finding.
Third, I'm so inside I'm outside. Prep school. JD/MBA with additional schooling in Cairo and Kyoto. Grew up in Princeton and now live in Chapel Hill. One has slush. One doesn't. Former Time Inc. editor. A Deadhead. Not intellectually.
For what it's worth, if you somehow still think I'm not as real as you'd like me to be, I also grew up on my grandparents' farm. (Sugar lump, I got boll weevils in my Chevrolet.) They—my grandparents—had slaves or as close as you could get to having some in the 1960s. Their names were Bo, Doll, Hattie, and Dave. Didn't have last names so far as I could tell. Lived in shacks, but they had running water and electricity!
I'll tell you a story. Because that's what Southerners like to do. Tell stories. When I was a little boy, one of my older cousins pulled a rifle real casual-like from the trunk of his red sports car. Showing it to me, he said, "I'm going nigger hunting. You want to come?" Being six-years-old, I thought the better of it. His father was a surgeon. This cousin of mine, the surgeon's son, was a vacuum cleaner salesman. Door-to-door. Died young. While cleaning a pistol he just happened to be pointing at his skull.
Fourth, not a lick of art training. It all comes from beyond, God willing. I turn off my brain and download from the quantum beyond. My quarks got flavors. Some might say these are "visions" I am having. Others might say my charm is a tad strange. Of course, I have been haunting the UNC Art Library for years educating myself about art history. If Lincoln did it with the law, I can do it, too. Franz Kline, Gerhard Richter, Rothko, Richard Prince, Cy Twombly, and Warhol are influences as are Jimmie Lee Sudduth, S.L Jones, Charlie Kinney, Mary T., and Bessie Harvey.
My work proceeds in phases, all relying on chance.
First, I prepare the boards with two coats of gesso, slathering it on thickly, so that lumps and ridges form. I work on wood not only because it is less costly than canvas but also because the texture of the grain interacts with the paint and gesso in surprising and pleasing ways.
Second, I paint the prepared surface with random strokes creating a non-representational scene. The color or colors are chosen at the moment I step to the easel, never before.
At all times during this and the preceding phase I seek no-mind or vacation mind, a state in which all that matters is the movement where there is no right, no wrong, no ego, no judging of the process. Here there is no success, no failure, just action, creation, and process.
After the surface has dried, I will typically rotate the board to gauge what should be up and what should be down.
Almost always six or more hours or several days pass before I proceed to the nextstage. Here again, chance plays multiple roles. When painting with gesso and doing the abstract basis, I always have no idea what the final representational images will be. I never choose or think about the final phase until immediately before beginning that part of the work. Typically, I see a photograph in a magazine, catalog, or other source and use it as inspiration. (For the past 35 years I have collected images from magazines and have stored them in three-ring binders and have scanned thousands of them. Being a magazine editor, I also have an extensive collection of old magazines from which I pilfer.)
Having found an image that somehow seems correct for the prepared board (how it is appropriate for a particular board I do not know. It catches my 'fancy.'), I go to work not with a paint brush but with artist's trowels. I lay down smears of paint, and while these blotches or blotch are wet, I 'have at' the surface with one or more trowels, as though they were scalpels and I am operating on the patient's blank face. Because the scalpels are not intended for this sort of work, which often involves fine details of facial features, the portraits only rarely resemble those from which I work. This adds an additional level of chance and, frankly, difficulty to the process. Plus, I must work while the paint is wet, forcing me to work quickly and without judgmental contemplation.
Finally, as I find myself in a no-brain frenzy and because the trowels become laden with paint, I hurriedly smear the excess paint about the board, swiping the trowel's blade this way and that. Sometimes I finger paint and wipe off every bit of the stuff on the board not in a planned way but wherever my finger or fingers find themselves.
Lastly, I study the work and consider how to articulate the feeling or feelings it arouses in me into words. My hope is that whatever title I settle on does justice to what the work 'means' and aids in viewers' emotional or rational interpretations. Thus, from this chance-oriented mind-less process of processes come flashbulb seizures freezing moments of passion, ecstasy, and union with the divine absolute.
neoOutside is in.