The term “outsider artist” is often used to describe self-taught artists who proudly and defiantly work outside of any movement, commercial trend, or academic tradition. Fort Worth painter-photographer-playwright John Carlisle Moore, 60, uses the description in a more particular way, one that reflects his experiences.
“In the years that I’ve been working in Fort Worth, the theater people consider me a visual artist, and the visual artists consider me a theater person,” said Moore, who regularly works with Hip Pocket Theatre. “I’m outside of both, but I also feel very lucky to be working in both.”
Moore is wearing his painter hat for his current show, Dancin’ Rabbits, Burnin’ Cowboys, and Outsider Art, a multimedia exhibit at Arts Fifth Avenue that also includes works by his daughter, painter Clara Jewel Moore, and Nacogdoches sculptor Wally Knight. This is the fifth art show that Moore has contributed to and organized for A5A. He was head of the fine arts department at Trinity Valley School for almost 20 years and has been a guest lecturer for the Kimbell Art Museum’s Artist’s Eye series. Moore now makes his living as a full-time artist, selling his large-scale oil canvases and prints and receiving the occasional bit of patronage from what he calls “a small cabal” of friends and supporters who admire his work.
Where subject matter is concerned, Moore tends to follow his personal obsessions: He receives inspiration from unexpected places, including the Burpee seed catalog for gardeners, the works of Charles Darwin, and those of the 18th-century mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli. Moore calls his imagery “ironic, poetic, and always with a narrative,” and — despite the references to historical figures and ideas — there are plenty of personal metaphors and autobiographical allusions. One of his most famous series of paintings is the Rabbit Occupations, in which rabbits are depicted as politicians, preachers, and artists. He also undertook a project called 40 Paintings in 40 Days. The title says it all. Most of the images came from vegetables in the Burpee catalog. Lately, Moore has been snapping pictures with his cell-phone camera, manipulating the images with the popular Instagram app, projecting the pictures onto walls, and then painting them.
Moore’s rabbit and Instagram paintings are included in the A5A show. Knight, whose elaborate, three-dimensional pieces light up, make noises, and often have deeply personal narratives of their own, offers new found-object sculptures, and Clara Jewel tackles Big Tex. A trained portraitist, she recently relocated to Fort Worth from Austin and has been obsessing over the recently torched icon of the State Fair of Texas, working via scratchboard (hard boards covered with black ink; artists create images by scratching away the ink).
“Wally’s works are humorous and acidic,” Moore said. “They’re fantastic concoctions of wild metaphors and symbols that are very engaging. Clara is a portrait artist whose technical and classical skills are highly evolved. Big Tex has been her central motif ever since he burned down. Her scratchboards have placed him everywhere from the Big Bang to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.”
The opening reception featured a performance by the Austin group Slim Richey’s Jitterbug Vipers. The titular band leader was recently involved in a hit-and-run accident that hospitalized him with serious injuries and also busted his wife’s bass guitar into pieces. Moore and two other artists are currently recreating the bass as an art object that will be auctioned off to help pay Richey’s medical bills. The bass is displayed as a work in progress. It’s all part of Moore’s philosophy that art events should be about more than the art.
“Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a roomful of hushed voices clinking glasses and eating cheese,” Moore said of the typical gallery reception. “I’ve hired everyone from [guitarist] Darren Kobetich to [magician] Ash Adams to perform at openings. I want people to stop looking at the work and focus on the music instead.”
Dancin’ Rabbits, Burnin’ Cowboys, and Outsider Art
Thru Dec 21 at Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Ave, FW. 817-923-9500.