Repentant visions: Outsiders gallery to present exhibit of the Rev. Albert Wagner’s paintings
Carter Cue recalled how he first met Wes Cochran, a Georgia art enthusiast known for collecting the works of Andy Warhol and other artists. He went to a funeral of a friend in Atlanta and “I saw a lot of artists crowding around this guy,” Cue said.
Cue, a Durham librarian as well as an art enthusiast, then asked his friend, “Who is that guy and he said, That’s Wes Cochran. I said, The guy with the Warhols?”
From that meeting, Cue and Cochran developed a student-mentor relationship, and Cochran introduced Cue to the works of outsider artist the Rev. Albert Wagner (1924-2006).
That relationship led to an exhibit of about 15 of Wagner’s paintings that will be on view beginning Saturday and continuing through March 16 at Outsiders Art & Collectibles. The gallery will hold an opening reception for the exhibit Saturday, with a concert by the Mount Vernon Baptist Church Choir.
The paintings in this exhibit are from the collection of Wes and Missy Cochran, who will be at the reception. Wes Cochran, a stone mason, and Missy Cochran, a retired math teacher, collect art and run an art gallery in LaGrange, Ga.
Cue credits Wes Cochran with developing his appreciation for Wagner’s art. “I had seen one or two of his works, but did not have a great appreciation of his work until Wes told me about some of the nuances of Wagners work,” Cue said. Cue also knew about Pamela Gutlon’s exhibits at her space Outsiders Art & Collectibles, which shows the work of self-taught, or “outsider,” artists. Gutlon and Cochran had some discussions, and this exhibit came to fruition.
Gutlon said she had long admired Wagner’s work, and she called this exhibit “a match made in heaven.”
Wagner was born in Arkansas, where he worked in cotton until moving his family to Cleveland at age 17 because of better wages up north. Filmmaker Thomas G. Miller’s documentary “One Bad Cat” chronicles Wagner’s colorful life. Wagner had a furniture moving business in Cleveland. He had numerous affairs, and had children with three different women. He eventually succumbed to alcoholism, drug abuse and crime.
Then, according to the film and Wagner, on his 50th birthday he saw some paint splatters on a piece of wood, which drew memories of his childhood and inspired his art. In the documentary, Wagner says he renounced his sinful ways, turning his warehouse (and also his house) into a gallery, and began painting.
He also became an ordained minister, and Miller’s documentary has footage of Wagner and one of his daughters leading a church service.
Like the work of many outsider artists, Wagner’s paintings and sculptures reflect scenes from his life, with strong religious and biblical content. (One of his large-scale paintings, shown in the documentary, depicts the parting of the Red Sea and the Exodus. Other Wagner paintings not in this show depict Moses, Adam and Eve and other Bible stories.) His paintings also depict the horrors of lynching, black-on-black violence, and the estrangement of men and women.
For Cue, Wagner’s use of religious elements is what makes his paintings powerful. “I think from an artist’s and from a Christian perspective, what was appealing to me was that he was willing to utilize his artwork to deal with issues of faith. You’ll notice that many of the African-American folk artists, and even with the non-African-American folk artists, there is a very religious and spiritual dynamic in much of the work,” he said.
Cue sees the opening event as a way to create community as well as promote understanding of outsider artists, and he gives Gutlon’s work at her gallery credit for laying the groundwork. “None of this would have taken place without her energy and her interest in promoting outsider artists,” he said.
Go and Do
WHAT: Opening of exhibit of paintings by the late Rev. Albert Wagner
WHEN: Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. reception, with a 6:30 p.m. performance by the Mount Vernon Baptist Church Choir.
WHERE: Outsiders Art & Collectibles, 718-C Iredell St., Durham
NOTE: All of Wagner’s paintings will be for sale.