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Vision in word and Deeds


Libby and I met Kip Deeds a while back when Spartaco Gallery existed and Deeds’ friend Jason Urban was having a solo show there. Deeds and I had a short but intense chat and he was someone you’d remember — sensitive, a little shy maybe. He said he was working on some autobiographical art. We had a Midwest connection — he got his MFA from the University of Illinois and he taught in the summers at Interlocken, the music and art camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


Since then I had seen his work here and there — in the “Comix” show in City Hall. And he’d sent me a book he’d made, “Key Note” which had a nice silkscreened cover and inside a complex story in words and pictures having to do with building an ark, finding a key, slides on a projector, horses and Icarus. The book’s illustrations are xeroxes of what look like woodcut prints. The style of illustration is rough hewn and muscular. The book is poetic.

“When the world is flooded we will need no rudder” is one sentence tossed in the mix.

“Possession proves illusive as the untold unfolds…” is how the book ends.


In spite of all these clues I still didn’t get it. I didn’t see that what Deeds is doing is visionary art.

It took my seeing his installation at the Fleisher Challenge 1 where the work grows into one long yarn, a kind of grand woven opus, that it clicked. This is an artist whose storytelling in words and pictures (“picture writing” is graphic novelist Art Spiegelman‘s word for it and it applies to Deeds’ work even though what he’s making is not comix.) is akin to that of Elijah Peirce. It’s not made by an outsider but it comes from the outsider’s state of mind and integrative way of thinking and making.

I had coffee with the artist last week and I’ll try to do justice to our talk which travelled between Bucks County (where he lives and grew up) and Quakerism to ideas about art, naive art and distilling personal experience into words and images. What I learned is that the same way that you can take a girl out of the Midwest and she’ll still be a midwesterner 20 years later, you can take a visionary and school him with a BFA and an MFA and he’ll still be a visionary and make art that expresses that impulse.


Deeds, who had to stop and think a moment when I asked him how old he was (he’s 32 and just had a birthday), told me about making his first word and image piece. It was about the Houston Astrodome. He’d found a book about it that told the ground-breaking sports arena’s history including details about how the baseball team for which it was created laater moved out wanting to be in a smaller old fashioned ball park. The book told about how the windows let in so much light they blinded the fielders and so they “fixed’ that problem by covering the windows and then the grass died. Thus was born “astroturf.” The book told that Elvis played there; Evil Knievel played his tricks there. The history captivated Deeds and so he did a piece with words and images all over it.


“A woman came to my studio and she said, ‘You’re not this naive.’ he said.” Meaning the work looked like it was made by a naive artist and here he was in an MFA program.

He fulminated about that and still worries about it. How can I make it more my own, he asked himself, answering that if he made part of the piece out of prints (he was a print major as an undergrad) he would surely overcome the charge of “faux naive.”

So he made prints and collaged the printed elements on to the works.


Deeds wanted to know if I saw the Bob Dylan biography on PBS and I told him I’d missed it. He not only saw it but he read Dylan’s autobiography. In fact he’s a Woody Guthrie fan, too and listens to folk music alot. He says there’s a correlation between folk art and folk music. “What school did Woody Guthrie go to? What school did Bob Dylan go to?” he asked rhetorically meaning the way those artists learned their craft was to look and listen at works in their folk tradition.

Hicks and Fallsville


Deeds’ artists statement says he was influenced by the work of Alice Neel, William T. Wiley and Roger Brown. What it doesn’t say is that he’s also influenced mightily by Edward Hicks and the experience of growing up in Newtown, Bucks County, with its heavy history of Quakerism sitting on the land and little towns.

His parents rented an apartment to Edna and Richard Pullinger. Richard was an architect who designment many of the Temple campus buildings. Edna was a Hicks scholar and wrote a book about Hicks. The couple never had children and when Deeds would come around and visit them as a child Edna was always delighted. “She was quiet but she’d get excited at what I was doing. She was an influence.”


Deeds is clearly moved by life experiences and by large and small moments. The Astrodome intrigued him as a story. So did the happenstance of seeing a sign for Arkadelphia when he was travelling through Alabama. That triggered thoughts about Philadelphia and arks and the floating world that is history.

His father’s death from cancer has left a big footprint.

“I’m not very good with theory,” he said. I went to a shcool where the head of the program was very theoretical. (Buzz Spector). I read Art in the Age of mechanical Reproduction…yah, but so what? What does that mean for me?”

“The Author as Producer” influenced me more. It’s about being influenced. I thought about that in relation to gallery culture and New York. In a way you’re no longer the author (when you’re producing things for the gallery culture).”


It made me aware. It’s a subversive text.

Right now Deeds is living in his mom’s house doing work in exchange for rent. He’s worried about whether he’ll get a teaching job or not. He’s worried about finding a gallery that fits with his work.

Finally, here’s what he wrote me in a follow-up email: There was one thing I also forgot to mention about Edward Hicks. Besides the the Peaceable Kingdom series of paintings the only other painting that Hicks made that directly illustrates a passage in the bible is his painting of Noah’s Ark which is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the American art section. I was aware of Hicks’ ark painting before I began making my own ark. This was an inspiration for me along with seeing the sign for the town of Arkadelphia. Hicks’ ark painting is a favorite of mine but unlike the Kingdom paintings it was never followed up in a series by Hicks.

I’ll leave it here. For more on Deeds, see his website. To see some of these images larger see my flickr site. The Fleisher Challenge 1 is up through Oct. 8. Check it out if you haven’t already. Also showing work at Fleisher are Sarah Gamble and B. Ever Nalens.

I’ll get the picture captions up later today and more links.