If you’ve paid any attention to that roiling mass of talent variously known over the past century as folk, naïve, primitive, Art Brut, self-taught or outsider, chances are you’ve come across the infectious creations of Nellie Mae Rowe (1900-1982). They rivet the eye with bright, dense colors, ingenious patterns and thickets of line and buoyant, sometimes bulbous figures and animals.
It’s one thing to know a few Rowe works and another to grasp the full force of her achievement, revealed as never before in “Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe” at the Brooklyn Museum.
With over 100 of her paintings on paper, several sewn dolls (and one chewing gum sculpture) as well as two amazing reimaginings (not replicas) of her home and yard recently constructed for a hybrid documentary-feature, the show fills the museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Altogether, it propels Rowe’s art into the upper echelons of the self-taught canon with the likes of Martín Ramírez, Bill Traylor and James Castle, where female artists are rare.