In the early 1980s, a couple of photographers and a poet from Kentucky piled into a Volkswagen and traveled all around the South, chronicling the work and stories of the artists who existed way off the beaten path.
They spoke with artists like Howard Finster, Edgar Tolson, and Sister Gertrude Morgan. Over the course of ten years, the travelers put these photos and essays together into a book…which then sat on a shelf — until this year.
The work of Guy Mendes, Roger Manley, and Jonathan Williams has finally been published, and the High Museum of Art is celebrating with an exhibition called “Way Out There: The Art of Southern Backroads.”
Williams was a North Carolina poet who had trained at the Black Mountain College and become a publisher of his peers’ work and his own. In the early 1980s, he decided to travel the backroads of the Southeast, and along the way to visit and chronicle the artists living “way out there.” He enlisted photographers Mendes and Manley to help record the journey.
This exhibit of the artwork they collected along with photos of the artists coincides with the 2019 publication of their long-awaited book “Walks to Paradise Garden: A Lowdown Southern Odyssey.”
“With this project,” the High’s curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art, Katherine Jentelson says, “we are celebrating the important but often neglected legacy of unconventional Southern creatives and highlighting how these artists truly embraced and inspired one another.”
“Way Out There” is on view now through May 19.