BOCA RATON, Fla. — World-class museums often display the work of highly trained and accomplished artists, but an exhibit showcases work that veers far off that expected road. Gary Monroe spent about 10 years driving into every nook and cranny of Florida’s communities, seeking out the “outsiders.”
The makers had no formal art education, and no expectation of who might see or purchase their artwork. Instead, pure and simple: they were driven to create. Monroe collected about a thousand pieces from 44 artists during his many dries and adventures, which started in the early 1990s.
“An Irresistible Urge to Create: The Monroe Family Collection of Florida Outsider Art” is on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art through September 5, 2021. It includes 86 of the works collected by Monroe. This is the exhibit’s first stop at three major museums in the next two years.
“They’re so different, they’re a surprise and they just radiate these peoples’ struggle and significance that they’ve gleaned through their creativity,” Monroe explained.
Monroe Monroe is a professional photographer with a high level of art education, but he says he’s always been drawn to outsiders.
“I think when people see the work it’s so raw and so immediate and so unpretentious, that they gravitate toward it and they just stare at it, and it talks to them,” he said.
The work is at times made on scraps of paper and cardboard. One piece is in a large sketchbook so filled and pressed tightly together, it was challenging to open for the display. Some of the artists created thousands of works, with no intention of showing them to a broader audience.
“Most of them started creating later in life, after a trauma or after an illness, or because of a revelation from God,” Monroe said.
They now hang, perfectly lit, on the walls of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Executive Director Irvin Lippman says the exhibit shows each artist’s unique and raw human experience. While they are all Florida artists, Lippman says there is no need to seek out parallels between the work.
“As you go from artist to artist, you’ll realize that each one is very personalized. You’ll see sort of their signature in how they’re letting their imagination run,” Lippman said.