Coalition Ingenu, Robert Bullock

Autodidactic Ingenuism, Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artists at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

“Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) or self-education is self-directed learning that is related to but different from informal learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is “learning on your own” or “by yourself”, and an autodidact is a self-teacher. Autodidacticism is a contemplative, absorptive procession. Some autodidacts spend a great deal of time reviewing the resources of libraries and educational websites. One may become an autodidact at nearly any point in one’s life. While some may have been informed in a conventional manner in a particular field, they may choose to inform themselves in other, often unrelated areas.” – Wikipedia

Ingenuism apparently is a made-up word based on the idea of the Ingenue, a ‘Child of Nature’, one who is endearingly innocent and wholesome, the term comes from the French adjective ingénu meaning “ingenuous” or innocent, virtuous, and candid. The term may also imply a lack of sophistication and cunning. (Wikipedia) Robert Bullock started the organization, Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artists, ostensibly to help promote artists who were perceived to have ‘mental illness’ but many in fact were people who had difficulty assimilating into ‘normal’ society. Let’s face it, none of us are normal. Many of the artists he aided had very little money or training and using his own funds he started putting on art shows clothes-line style. Over the following years he began to frame the works, initially, using found frames and simple slats of wood, Robert began presenting the work in a more formal style and soon taught himself how to frame art professionally. But even then, he was using his own money to fund the projects just so he could help present the artist’s work in it’s best light. His main concern was to promote the work of out-sider, self-taught artists in a manner that would make them ‘acceptable’ in the contemporary art market.

Robert Bullock, Coalition Ingenu

Robert BullockAutodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Autodidactic Ingenism is the final exhibit of the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artists presented at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardenspresenting the culmination of decades of hard work by this great man and his lovely wife with a collection of imaginative artworks by self-taught artists they helped to make into art stars. In this final show Robert Bullock includes his own paintings which until now he has been too shy to share with the world. He told me he didn’t feel accomplished enough to present his work along side his protoges. But just as he helped so many disadvantaged artists find a path, they helped him find his own artistic voice and style.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) is a mosaicked visionary art environment, gallery, and community arts center that preserves, interprets, and provides access to Isaiah Zagar‘s unique mosaic art environment and his public murals. The Magic Gardens site, Zagar’s largest artwork, includes a fully tiled indoor space and a massive outdoor mosaic sculpture garden that spans half a block on Philadelphia’s famous South Street. Inside, visitors can view folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, Zagar’s hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors. The installation pays tribute to Zagar’s artistic influences, along with community and personal experiences.

Open to visitors daily, PMG has become a unique Philadelphia destination, hosting year-round, low-cost public programs within its own distinctive venue and the surrounding community. PMG, a nonprofit organization, inspires creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic, and visionary art.” – Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens website

Jim Bloom, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Jim Bloom, Twelve, acrylic on canvas, $950.00, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

I first came across Jim Bloom‘s artwork in Bethlehem PA at May, 2008 at Home and Planet and was immediately fascinated with his art. I didn’t know what to think of the expressive paintings that were presented on found paper and cardboard such as paper plate, pizza boxes and old signs. It was as if he would paint uncontrollably on anything. The back of the shop was dedicated to his work and it still is vivid in my mind’s eye all these years later. This is what I wrote at the time:

 “Bloom’s art is hyperactive, bold, scary and inspiring; DoN could tell that Bloom paints to relieve the pain of life as an artist.  Bloom paints wildly on whatever material is at hand whether it’s canvas, cardboard boxes or even paper plates; each piece tells a bit of his personal history from family trauma, school bullying, personal relationships…it’s all out there, often with words scrawled across the image provoking inappropriate church laughter.  Some of the paintings are signed August since Bloom’s Dad thought artists would ruin the family name – DoN totally identifies.  Jim Bloom‘s art is featured in the Winter edition of Gaydar Magazine.” – DoNArTNeWs

Jim Bloom, Coalition Ingenu

Jim Bloom, Until I Find a Real Man, mixed media on cardboard, $550.00,  Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Later that same year I reviewed Jim Bloom‘s art that was being shown in Reading, Pa at Outsider Folk Art Gallery @ Goggleworks. I was flabbergasted! Here was the artist I had just seen across the state in another small town presented in one of America’s premier outsider art galleries. It was a magnificent painting with a wide aspect ratio and and an abundance of characters. This was my observation at the time:

Outsider Folk Art GallerOwner, George Viener, is an extensive self-taught art collector and expert in contemporary folk and outsider art; at one time he held 250 of Bloom’s paintings.  Curator Emily Christenson told DoN that Jon Clark of Home and Planet (which closed June on this year after a fifteen year run)in Bethlehem cherry-picked the most angst-ridden pieces for the superb show held earlier this year in his gallery.” – DoNArTNeWs

Jim Bloom, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Jim Bloom, Untitled (Woman’s Face with Maked Man), acrylic on canvas, $950.00, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Then in January 2009, I went to a one-person show of Jim Bloom‘s work called ‘Them‘ at Vivant Art Collection, 60 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, right in the heart of Gallery Row in Old City and had the opportunity to meet the artist. This is what I wrote:

DoN has written about other shows by artist Jim Bloom at Home & Planet in Bethlehem, PA and Outsider Folk Art Gallery in Reading PA but the current show called “Them” at Vivant Art Collection, 60 N. 2nd St., Philly is a tour de force.  Bloom has a knack of poking a stick in the eye of cultural prejudices from gender issues to homophobia to obesity; Jim’s brutalist painting style highlights how words and attitudes can be painful and ridiculous.  The one-person show includes portraiture but the works using words are particularly powerful and poetic.  One large canvas shows a smiling couple clicking a snapshot of them outside a concentration camp as if they were visiting Disneyland, another lampoons stereotypes of effeminacy and homophobia and another painting highlights how words are often just so much noise.

Florcy Morisset, the owner/curator of Vivant Art Collection, is thrilled with this year’s first show, telling DoN that she can date the century of a painting by the design of a face in a painting and that Bloom’s socially incorrect subject matter shows how we all are included in “Them”.  Jim Bloom told DoN he was “discovered” by Robert Bullock of Coalition Ingenu introducing him to George Veiner of Outsider Folk Art Gallery who immediately purchased his entire collection for his gallery. Since then, Bloom has been able to move forward from painting on found objects such as cardboard boxes and paper plates to canvas’ but the vibrancy and irreverence remains.” – DoNArTNeWs

The work on exhibit at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens‘ no longer reads to me as out-sider art, brutalist or naive; now Jim Bloom is an accomplished artist whose art captivates with rich color, assured brushwork, challenging subjects and his own unique style reminiscent of Chaim Soutine or Jules Pascin. Robert Bullock took a troubled young man under his wing, an artist painting feverishly on anything he could find, and set him on a path that changed his life forever.

Justin Duerr, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Justin Duerr, Scroll Series, pen on paper, $7500.00 each, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

I first became aware of Justin Duerr at a one-person show at the Church of Saint Asaph’s art gallery put on by the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artists. The gallery off of City Line Avenue is exquisite with vaulted wooden beams, long white walls and excellent gallery lighting. The show was mind-blowing with intricate, epic works using simple materials like felt tipped markers, ball-point pens and butcher’s paper but presented in a beautiful, professional manner. This is what I wrote at the time:

DoN can’t stop thinking about Justin’s story about his first job in a bakery.  The boss was mean – we’ve all had mean bosses but this jerk took the cake – but Justin learned to decorate cakes and design with frosting. Duerr decorated his own cake for the opening party with day-glo orange piping of a woman’s face. The framing by Robert Bullock of Coalition Ingenu is truly superior, some of Duerr’s drawings are five feet or more with thin plexiglass offering distortion free viewing.  Learn more about Coalition Ingenu and the fine work they do using art to improve people’s lives and our community, you’ll be inspired – Shoska & DoN LoVe this show and art space! ” – DoNArTNeWs

This is what I wrote about the cake:

Justin Duerr: Song-Story Images in Black and White  (and some Red) @ St. Asaph’s Gallery, presented by Coalition Ingenu is a tour de force in magic realistic drawings.  Duerr’s marker drawings, some huge and involving, some small and dream-like, fill the Gothic room with Bosch-ian imagery of bird-men, crawling words and psychedelic thought forms.  The presentation by Robert Bullock of Coalition Ingenu is pristine, with simple framing with glare-free plexiglass, permitting the viewer to delve into the mind of Justin Duerr.” – DoNArTNeWs

Justin Duerr has continued his exploration of his word/picture narrative he began years ago but now it is encompasses many panels and is over sixty feet long. Four of the panels of the Scroll Series are on display at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, magnifying glasses are provided to help read the infinitesimally small lettering. I talked with Robert Bullock at the opening of Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens:

“They were all intended to be stuck together, fit together perfectly, so that they can form one continuous piece. And at this point he’s up to twenty-one separate pieces that work together to form a single piece. I think we put it together at one point when he had about eighteen of them and we measured it at about fifty-two feet, now it’s about sixty-seven feet. I’m not sure how long the whole thing would be if we put it all together but that’s a good guess.They tell a story from beginning to end. Everything he does tells a story. It’s all got words in it, sometimes the words within the piece are a little bit too small to read. So I have magnifying glasses for looking at them, We consigned some of his pieces for the Material Culture auction.” – Robert Bullock

Justin Duerr, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Justin DuerrScroll Series, pen on paper, $7500.00 each, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

In May, 2009 DoN had the honor to be included in an art show at Philadelphia City Hall’s Art in City Hall show called ‘In Your Dreams‘ along with many other artists including Justin Duerr, you can see an example of the art he exhibited in the same show here.

David Kime, Autodidactic Ingenuism

David Kime, mixed media, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

David Kime, Autodidactic Ingenuism

David Kime, The Zero Effect, mixed media collage, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Ralfka Gonzalez, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Ralfka Gonzalez, Zapotec, Snake Dance Lovers, enamel on tin, $1000.00 and Los Terroristas del Norte, enamel on tin. $1100.00, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Ralfka Gonzalez was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1958. He has lived and worked as a nartist in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and south of the border in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the work in this show was painted. Gonzalez’ work has also shown his work at the popular La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles.”

Ralfka Gonzalez, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Ralfka Gonzalez, Tres Mukes Graces, enamel on tin, $1000.00 and El Clown Mexicano, enamel on tin, $1100.00, Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Ralfka Gonzalez‘ most recent solo show was at the Seed on Diamond Gallery in Philadelphia and his children’s e-book My First Book of Proverbs will be released soon. Gonzalez’ newer artworks focus on living with HIV, using the blue roses to symbolize a cure for AIDS.”

Edward Woltemate, Autodidactic Ingenuism

Robert Bullock with artist Edward Woltemate at  Autodidactic Ingenism, the Coalition Ingenu Collective of Self-Taught Artistsat Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

DoN interviewed Edward Woltemate‘s wife, Elaine, his manager and interpreter and is writing a separate post about him for DoNArTNeWs that will be posted soon. There are several more artists included in this farewell exhibition that are included in Autodidactic Ingenism that I couldn’t fit intro this post. Please, stop by and see this historic show before it ends mid-November. I don’t know who will take the reigns of this important resource for artists living with challenges, the work of Robert Bullock  and Coalition Ingenu will be sorely missed in Philadelphia. Below is an excerpt of a history Bob wrote about Coalition Ingenu for DoNArTNeWs.

“Bullock invested the past 18 years of his life in pursuit of this belief, and his wife supported him in doing this, even as the couple began to experience a long string of financial difficulties. For the most recent half of the its’ 18 year history, the Coalition Ingenu funding stream has grown increasingly dryer, while a 2004 layoff forced Bullock’s wife to eventually take a job making less than half as much money. But the exhibits only got better. As some of the members became better known and the group attracted new and more accomplished artists, and the collective adapted and evolved into a respected arts organization. Their growing reputation earned the attention of higher profile venues from New York NY to Pittsburgh PA — and as far south as Washington DC and Durham NC. But this is where it will end:

In less than two months, Bullock and his wife will be moving to Florida for family reasons. If resources permit, the Coalition Ingenu Self-taught Artists’ Collective will eventually resurrect and pick up where it will leave off when it departs Philadelphia this December. The groups’ final exhibit is, very appropriately, at the gallery within the visionary masterpiece of local artistIsaiah Zagar. The exhibit features nine of the groups most popular and renowned artists, and is entitled Autodidactic Ingenuism, which essentially means self-taught and without restraint.” – Robert Bullock for DoNArTNeWs

I will miss you, my friend, but I know our paths will cross again. Your spirit and open heart will reach all the way up the coast from Florida and I know we’ll stand together again in the sun.



Read about Edward Woltemate, Jr. on DoNArTNeWs

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff November 3, 2013 at 9:46 am

Brilliant review! I know Jim Bloom casually from Facebook, we have mutual friends in the community. I think you have captured the essences of his work wonderfully.

I have never had the honor to visit Coalition Ingenu what a lost it shall be to Philly and the area. We need more lovers of the arts to be involved in this way.

Justin Durerr work looks amazing maybe I will have to stop by Magic Garden soon!

admin November 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Robert Bullock – Thanks again Don, for this glowing description of the work I’ve been doing for the past 18 years. I really tried to be completely OK with it and accept the compliments as written, but I’m afraid I need to set the record straight about a few things. 1) I’m not a great man. I’m not even sure I’m a good man. I am only a lucky enough man to have found something I could be truly passionate about, and to have a found a steady stream of artists who were worthy of the effort. The only remarkable thing about it was that I did it all with very little money, and that I have a wife who didn’t mind living on the edge and making big sacrifices for it the entire time. 2) George Veiner didn’t buy all of Jim Bloom’s artwork outright, he initially bought about a dozen pieces, and took the rest, eventually, on consignment. As Jim needed money, George was in a position to help, and the arrangement might have changed a little over time, but it was George who made Jim Bloom as well-known as he is today. Coalition Ingenu was just the farm team. 3) We generally refer to the group as the Coalition Ingenu Self-Taught Artists’ Collective…not that it really matters. As we collect the unsold artwork from these final exhibits, we’ll take that name to Florida – as well as some of the artwork. But we will dearly miss Philadelphia and all of the amazing people who have helped to make it possible for us to do this — friends and board members, facilitators of local art programs at hospitals and homeless shelters and mental health centers, gallery owners and directors who believed in us and appreciated the unique art and the work that we were doing, people in the press, like you Don Brewer, who helped spread the word tell the stories– and, definitely NOT least, the incredibly diverse and fascinating artists. I only hope I have done as much for them as they have done for me.

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