After Sufjan Stevens saw an early cut of Scott Ogden and Malcolm Hearn’s documentary Make, he was inspired to write and record The Age Of Adz, his brilliant and boundary-pushing 2010 album. Thousands upon thousands of people heard Stevens’ opus, but you’d probably have a hard time finding anyone outside of very specialized circles who’d heard of any of the four artists in Make.
And yet, the film posits, the work of these three men and one woman is just as vital. Here, art is totally divorced from commerce and created without regard to an audience. It’s art at its most viscerally personal — a live-saving lifeline even more than a form of personal expression.
In just over an hour, the film introduces us to Hawkins Bolden, Judith Scott, Ike Morgan, and Royal Robertson, four disenfranchised individuals whose lives revolve around their artwork.
Bolden, blinded as a child by an accident, creates junk sculpture scarecrows out of whatever he can find. Scott, born deaf and with Down syndrome, makes elaborate fiber art pieces by wrapping objects in yarn. Morgan, a patient at Austin State Hospital, paints thousands of portraits using bold, unrealistic colors and a distinctive brush pattern. Robertson, a self-proclaimed prophet and the catalyst for Stevens’ The Age of Adz, creates bold signs that warn of the impending apocalypse. Interspersed throughout the film are striking photographs of each one’s work.
All four fit comfortably within the outsider art movement, but that hip appreciation for the work of the culturally marginal has very little do with their actual practice. They make art because they love to, they want to, they have to, and the passion that Ogden and Hearn capture is palpable.
Make itself represents a committed work of art, with Ogden beginning the project more than 12 years ago. Thanks to an abundance of footage captured on cheap digital video, the film has a rough-hewn look that seems quite appropriate to its subject matter. The scenes of the artists engrossed in their work are fascinating, but Ogden and Stearn have also done a good job rounding up art historians, acquaintances and family members to shade in the details of these four lives.
The DVD, released by Asthmatic Kitty, features three deleted scenes. Artist Erik Parker talks gleefully about Robertson’s work, more footage of Scott working is seen and some decrepit VHS footage of Bolden’s scarecrow-laden yard is included. The package includes a booklet with more images of the artists’ work and director’s notes from Ogden and Hearn.