Michael Stipe, another outsider at the Art Fair

inside videotapes for REM’s first single, “Radio Free Europe”, the band’s members can be seen traveling in slow motion through Summerville, Ga., the home and yard of the self-taught artist and Baptist pastor Howard Finster. A landscape of lush foliage filled with folk art sculptures and salvaged objects, Finster’s “Garden of Eden” incorporates regional missionary traditions and natural object-making. made and has become a popular pilgrimage spot for South Georgian artists, musicians and other creative types. The Garden gave REM’s 1983 video a dreamlike quality and a recognizable Southern feel, setting it apart from other hits on MTV at the time.

Finster, artwork also featured on the cover of REM’s second album, “Challenge,” was one of a number of non-Southern artists championed by the band and the band’s leader Michael Stipe in their time. first years in the vibrant indie-rock music of Athens, Ga. A drawing of a beautiful duck-like creature by rural artist Alabama Juanita Rogers can be seen on the back cover of the group’s widely admired fourth album, “Life’s Rich Pageant”, and the hilltop installation of metal swirls in Rabbittown, Ga., home of the another self-taught artist, R.A. Miller, the stars in the catchy 20-minute experimental music video, “Left of Reckoning,” directed by Professor James Herbert of the Stipe School of the Arts.

Stipe, as an art student, responsible for REM’s graphic design and visual identity, was the man behind many of these collaborations. Along with teachers and classmates, he visited the homes of nearby artists such as Miller, Finster, Dilmus Hall and St. EOM (Eddie Owens Martin), with several visits that develop into lasting friendships. Stipe picked up a few artworks along the way for inspiration or as a gesture of support – among them Hall’s portrait of legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and pencil drawings Colorful colors of wrenches and circular blades of sawmill workers turned woodcarvers Leroy people.

A selection of these items from Stipe’s collection will be on display and for sale from March 3 to 6 at Outsider Art Fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York, in a special presentation titled “Maps and Legends” (after a Finster-inspired REM song). The display of about 30 works was organized by art dealer and curator Phillip March Jones, whose East Village gallery, March, is dedicated to Southern artists. (A current exhibit there highlights the Alabama-based sculptor Joe Minter.)

“People across the globe have been introduced to these artists through the records, music videos and experimental films that REM is working on,” says Jones. “You think about Southern rock and what it is, Lynyrd Skynyrd – that’s a different thing.”

Stipe, 62, has enjoyed a long career as a visual artist and, since REM’s disbandment in 2011, a very productive artist; he published three his photography book, with another show underway, and preparing for a multimedia show at ICA Milano. He is also working on first solo albumwhich he released songs on website (most recently, “No Time for Love Like Now”, a collaboration with Aaron Dessner’s Big Red Machine; a new track, “We Are Who We Were, Who We Will Be (My Body’s Not Dancing),” will be released this spring.

“Michael is this authentic voice looking for other authentic voices,” says Jones. “He is someone who cares not only about Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol and Jack Kerouac and Arthur Rimbaud and Patti Smith, but who cares about RA Miller and Howard Finster and Dilmus Hall. I have not met so many people.”

Stipe talks about his collection from his home in Athens, Ga., where he has spent most of his time during the pandemic. This interview has been condensed and edited.

How did you first get acquainted with these artists and their work?

In the early 1980s there was no internet; everything is word of mouth. I was deeply influenced by my professors at the University of Georgia – Art Rosenbaum, Andy Nasisse, and Jim Herbert – and it was through them that I met others interested in the work of Eastern pagan artists. Nam is largely untrained, but has done this amazing job. For me, it is a special love for art and music. I enjoyed that moment of visual ecstasy, that feeling of some greater power coming to an artist.

How did you start collaborating with some of these artists?

I started putting their artwork into graphic design, that’s my work for REM. So we worked with Howard Finster and we used the work of Juanita Rogers and Ed Rogers, there is no relationship. I made friends with Finster, and with RA Miller – I was invited to visit St. EOM at his home – he’s this incredible character, sucking huge lumps of fat on his ranch where he created this concrete, South Georgia version of the Taj Mahal. And then I would buy small pieces from these artists. I can’t buy much, but nothing is expensive. And so relationships were formed in this organic way.

What made you decide to show art in the music videos set in Finster’s “Garden of Eden” and Miller’s metal transport scene (“Left of Reckoning”)?

The video for “Radio Free Europe” was probably a response to MTV and what the music video was supposed to be like. We were just like, “Turn it off, we’re not going to do that. We’ll do what we want.” But we needed to have, in today’s parlance, “content.” And “Paradise Garden” is this wonderful place, filled with these beautiful, magical moments. So we hired a movie crew and drove to Summerville and hung out with Howard, and someone came up with a little story about us walking in the garden.

James Herbert, the director of “Left of Reckoning”, is my painting and drawing teacher and he has collaborated with REM to make a number of short films. The footage shot on the hill by RA Miller is three minutes long, and Jim was so excited about the shot that he made the 20-minute film.

These artists, by choice or not, are fiercely independent in their vision. And REM is very independent in our vision, for the most part, and I’m really proud of that.

Are these artists evoked in good music and lyrics in other ways? For example, there is a song, “Maps and Legends”, which is said to pay tribute to Finster.

I wouldn’t say it was about him but it was inspired by him. I’m a singer and lyricist who doesn’t know how to sing or write lyrics, and I grew up in public with a very dramatic style, or not. With the second album, I realized that I needed to develop my writing skills, and I started experimenting with narrative. I used the people around me to create those stories. You start to see that on the second album, “Challenge.” And then the third album, “The Parable of Reconstruction,” are all stories, and mostly characters based in the South.

inside text for an Outsider Art Fair presentation, you say: “I’ve always been interested in people living on the fringes. In the South, they are not only tolerated but often honored and cherished.” What drew you to other things, and why do you think the South celebrates these numbers better?

From a very young age, I considered myself an outsider. I’m weird, and I realized that very early on. I come from a military family, travel and move often, so we have a very different lifestyle from other people. I am different, and I am attracted to people who are also different. I don’t even really like the term “outsider,” but there is an embrace of people who have been themselves historically running through the South – certainly in the case of artists. There are other histories where we can very much question this.

You may have identified with any of the different places, but you used Athens as your home. Why so?

I was born in Georgia. My uncle attended college in Athens – he was a deeply involved activist in the 1960s and early 70s here. And my grandparents lived here during their retirement, and when my dad retired from the military, he and my mom moved here. I was living with a punk rock band outside of East Saint Louis and ran out of money, I went to Athens. I was not happy about it at first. But through art school, I’ll see this community truly recognize me – and in it I can grow as an artist.

How has Southern landscape art influenced your artwork, from your sculptures to your recent photography books?

I can say that there are two things that absolutely help me as an artist and a lyricist. One is to trust your instincts, go your own way. And what remains is to admit and recognize mistakes. If I may use the words of many of these artists, God lives in chaos – in things that are not quite what you would expect.

I’m very object-based, and that’s also found in my work – there’s a recognition of artists like Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley. Holley is a great example of an amorous person expressing himself in all sorts of different ways, with music and objects. In my upcoming performance at ICA in Milan, there will also be a combination of sound and object installations. I like the balance between the visible and the invisible – there’s a magical place where they meet.

Why are you parting with the works that will be in the Outsider Art Fair?

I’m just at that point in my life where I’m letting go of things and pushing things out into the world, instead of bringing them in. For the rest of my adult life, I’ll stop, bag and pick up and go somewhere else to do the next thing. Over the years my house here has become a landfill of my own making. Now I’m just reallocating so many things, some of which are quite precious, beautiful, and inspiring.

Is there a piece of Southern foreign art that is too meaningful to part with?

In my studio, I keep a work of Leroy Person, a sculpture made of broken chairs that he carved and colored with crayons, next to a postcard of a Brancusi sculpture. For me, there is a very clear connection between the two artists.

I also have a carved figurine that Howard Finster gave me. It was a work that he carved – perforated, so to speak – for one of his children or grandchildren, before he had the ecstatic vision that set him on the path to becoming an artist. But he recognized my interest and friendship. I will keep it forever.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/arts/design/michael-stipe-rem-outsider-art.html Michael Stipe, another outsider at the Art Fair

Fry Electronics Team

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