The imaginative and caustic interiors of Gayleen Aiken in a virtual exhibition

A virtual exhibition at the New York gallery Fort Gansevoort, curated by artist Laurie Simmons, recounts without prejudice the work of self-taught Gayleen Aiken.

Born in Barre, Vermont, in 1934, Gayleen Aiken lived on a large farm. An only child, she started drawing as a child. The characteristics of her childhood home deeply influenced Aiken and fueled her creation of an imaginary kingdom populated by dramatis personae that she called the Raimbilli Cousins, a family of 24 children who accompanied her on extravagant adventures.

Entirely self-taught, Aiken gradually drew attention to her lyrical images of life in a parallel Vermont. Prolific until her death in 2005, she produced over the decades a series of paintings and drawings that often combine narrative text and image, as well as cardboard cut-outs and books. “Interiors” focuses in particular on Aiken’s drawings, which depict domestic scenes teeming with youthful revelry and malice. Although Aiken herself was not known to be malicious, the artist's rebellious nature is revealed through the actions and expressions of her teenage alter egos. Never deferential, the Raimbilli cousins consistently react to situations with exuberant disobedience, defying the usual constraints imposed on children's conduct. With its fascinating details and lively manner, however, Aiken’s work also suggests the threatening underground currents that flow through American rural life and small city communities. Several drawings exhibited in “Interiors” are explained by the artist’s handwritten reflections, which contextualize the events taking place in her deceptively conventional world. In addition to this, characteristic elements of the American folk tradition, such as the precise description of clothes, furniture and details, can be found in her work.
Laurie Simmons’ comments accompanying the images in the virtual exhibition and her statements about Aiken’s work, which place her among Simmons’ own visual references together with Aline Kominski Crumb, Hollis Siegler, Morton Bartlett, Karen Yassinsky, Henry Darger and Doris Lee, break the pattern about who is an artist, whether trained in schools or not.

Gayleen Aiken, Interiors
curated by:
Laurie Simmons
Fort Gansevoort online
7 November 2020

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