Columbus, Ohio USA
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Duff Lindsay: Beacon for the Outsider
Prestigious gallery reveals richness of untutored talent
By Tracy Zollinger Turner
January/February 2015 Issue
Watching celebrated, self-taught artist Elijah Pierce carve wood in his storied East Columbus barbershop in the early 1970s, Duff Lindsay first caught sight of the work that would become a lifelong passion.
Duff Lindsay holding a work by John Taylor-Lehman, Muskingum Fish. Photo © Larry Hamill
The veteran Short North gallery owner and nationally recognized dealer and advocate of self-taught art was a student of cinematography at the time. He had been invited to work on a film crew for a project about Pierce’s life.
“I was completely blown away by this man and his work and what he stood for,” says Lindsay. “After I did the film, I would go back to the barbershop sometimes and watch him carve and he’d tell me stories. I was just amazed by this person who didn’t need anyone else to give him the title of artist. He was what he was. It was so pure and inspiring.”
“I really started reading everything I could get my hands on and reading more about other self-taught artists. And once I got out of school and got a real job, I started collecting. At some point I realized it had taken over my life.”
That takeover was a couple of decades in the making. During twenty-plus years as a camera man and field producer at Channel 10, Lindsay would advocate to get art stories on the air when it was possible. He met another of Columbus’ self-taught luminaries in the 1980s, painter William Hawkins, after convincing the station to do a story about him.
“It was hard to get art stories on the air, so I would try to come up with hooks they might go for,” he says. “It was around Martin Luther King Day when I said ‘look, there’s an African American artist on the near east side who is very famous and sells his paintings around the world. We should go see him.’ It gave me the opportunity to go out there and watch him paint.”
Lindsay left the news business in 1999 to open a gallery dedicated to the work of artists that have been stamped with a variety of labels over the years, including folk, naïve, brut, outsider and visionary. The common factor among these artists is generally a strong drive to create the work without any formal training, which sometimes includes the use of unconventional materials.
Many of the artists Lindsay represents were creating artwork independently for years before they ended up showing in a gallery, possibly because they’d never considered that it would appeal to anyone outside of their families, or that there is a strong, existing market for self-taught work in the art world. “Discovery,” says Lindsay, is the wrong word for the process of introducing these artists to the collectors’ market, but he has been responsible for shining a new light on many artists’ existing body of work, creating new opportunities for them.
“This is a messy genre,” says Lindsay. “More and more, many of us are referring to it as simply ‘non-mainstream.’”
One of the first major artists that Lindsay represented was Newark-based “memory painter” Janis Price, whose painted landscapes often derive from the stories she was told by her grandparents and great-grandparents about 19th and early 20th century American life. He has also had personal and business relationships with artists such as Grandpa Smoky Brown, Levent Isik and many more of a seemingly prolific number of Central Ohio artists of this genre.
“When I first met the director of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, the first thing she said to me was ‘what’s in the water in Columbus?’” says Lindsay. “To some extent, there are artists like this everywhere – the question is how do they become known? How does the work see the light of day outside of their living room?”
Lindsay Gallery | Courtesy Photo
“In some ways I think it’s because Columbus is a city that’s not as racially polarized as other ones. There’s a level of acceptance in the art world here when you look at how early on the Columbus Museum of Art embraced Elijah Pierce. There’s an artist in Cleveland, Reverend Albert Wagner who was really good, but his work didn’t go as far because it was not as accepted by the arts community and museum up there. The broad acceptance of non-mainstream work is a real testament to the level of openness in this community.”
The openness that Lindsay points to is something that proliferates in no small part, simply because it exists and there are people like him looking to bring more self-taught artists into the light. He is often introduced to new artists by someone who knows someone in their church or at work; a spirit who is driven to create artwork on their own.
The first location of Lindsay Gallery was actually in Upper Arlington, just around the corner from the elementary school where Duff’s son was enrolled, and close to his home. He is now celebrating the 15th anniversary of the gallery, which he brought to the Short North two years later.
“I was not looking to move. Sandy Wood from the Wood Companies and his wife would come into the gallery and Sandy would say he was going to find a place for me in one of his buildings in the Short North. I would tell him I wasn’t interested but he said ‘eventually I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,’ and he did. He went out of his way to try and get me over here, and he did.”
The facility of that transition is something Lindsay says he has always been grateful for.
“Part of it is just being part of a community, and that’s not an exaggeration down here. We don’t just say that because it sounds good,” he says, pointing out that he’d spoken with two of his fellow Short North gallery owners that day, and often does, sometimes to talk about artists that might be more appropriate for one space than another, other times to talk about more nitty-gritty gallery owner concerns, like one of them hearing about and sharing a good deal on lightbulbs.
“Community is a real thing that’s taken a long time to develop. It only continues to work if there are visionary landlords who understand the value of it the way the Wood Companies does. It’s no secret that we can’t pay what a restaurant can pay.”
A lineup of incredible local artists. Without these people there would be no Lindsay Gallery, says Duff. (LtoR) Duff Lindsay, Amber Groome, Ashley Pierce, Morris Jackson, and Joey Monsoon. Courtesy Photo
Having a brick and mortar space does help legitimize art dealership nationally, but Lindsay’s national profile, as well as those of his peers in the neighborhood, have also arguably helped to legitimize the Short North as an arts community nationally.
Lindsay frequently travels to art fairs around the country, including the most prestigious ones in his genre, New York’s Outsider Art Fair. His colleagues at other galleries do the same things, he notes, and “that sort of national presence reflects back on Columbus.”
Just this past fall, the national reputation of Lindsay Gallery was a critical factor in bringing the National Folk Art Society of America’s annual conference to town. It drew about 75 of the country’s biggest collectors in the genre. Lindsay was made the chair and host of the event – an honor rarely bestowed on an art dealer.
Visits to local galleries and private collections, a symposium on Ohio’s folk and self-taught artists at the Columbus Museum of Art and a trip to the Springfield Museum of Art, where Lindsay curated an exhibition of folk art from its collection, showcased the area’s rich history and living culture.
“The people who came were just blown away by Columbus,” says Lindsay. “I’ve gotten letters and cards from so many people who came, just raving about the conference, but also about Columbus. It really made an impact on them – we really have to realize what we’ve got here, and treasure it and support it.”
These days, openings at Lindsay Gallery are often a packed affair. But they weren’t always.
“People’s memories are so short. You look at the Short North now and you think the Short North has been like this a long time. When I moved here there were homeless people living in the parking lot across from the front door, and there were barriers that stopped people from coming this far north on High Street. It kind of stopped at Haiku for many years. All of this development around me now – sometimes I scratch my head when I look at the cranes.”
15TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION CONTINUES IN JANUARY 2015
To celebrate his gallery’s 15th anniversary, Duff Lindsay put together a small group exhibition featuring three artists that he has represented for a long time, as well as introducing a new one.
Bill Miller - A Cleveland-born, now Woodstock, New York-based, collage artist who uses vintage linoleum to create pastoral landscapes as well as surrealistic portraits. Sometimes boldly political in his content, Miller’s work was selected for the cover of the 2010 release of Frank Zappa’s Congress Shall Make No Law, which contained various first amendment/free speech testimony Zappa gave in front of political bodies during his career.
Karl Mullen – An artist with a unique mark who paints with his hands, Mullen was born in Ireland and currently resides in Massachusetts. He often uses unusual found materials as his canvas.
Harry Underwood – A painter of landscapes and scenes that are romantic and nostalgic without being tied to a particular place or time, Underwood often textures his work with evocative words and phrases. Raised in Florida, he now lives in Springfield, Tennessee.
John Taylor-Lehman – One of the newest additions to Lindsay’s stable, Taylor-Lehman is a retired teacher who makes elaborate mosaics and three-dimensional works out of found objects like bottle caps.
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