This is Willie James Jones, a man who spends his days drawing hot rods, surf boards, bongo drums and palm trees at Heartside Gallery and Studio, a free drop-in art studio located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The studio is frequented by people who have struggled with homelessness, addiction, mental illness and other challenges. I wrote a newspaper column about Willie that was published in today’s edition of The Grand Rapids Press.
Willie’s work (above) will be featured in the international show along with art by Mark Wilson, a fellow Heartside artist who died in 2008.
Funds raised will cover the cost to get Sarah Scott, art director of Heartside Studio and Gallery, (pictured at the bottom of this post) and Mark’s sister, Susan Wilson, (left) to the show. The piece below, titled Cellophane Virgin, is part of Susan Wilson’s collection of her brother’s work. The Virgin Mary appeared in many of Mark’s paintings.
Those who have never been to Heartside or ever spent time learning about outsider art sometimes fail to recognize the significance of this work. Some ignorantly dismiss it as “childlike” or “primitive,” but those folks are missing the point. At Heartside the process of the creating the work is just as important, if not more important, than the end result. To see people who have struggled more that I ever have in my life sit down and use art to heal and express themselves is a truly transformative experience.
The day I stopped by Heartside to interview Willie, he brought his keyboard out to the alley behind the studio and played for a while. Beautiful things like this happen all the time at Heartside and that’s why I keep going back. It’s an absolute privilege to get to write stories like these. If you have a moment, read the full story here. This post just doesn’t do it justice.