“There is no discovery without context, no context without complexity, and no complexity without the need for empathic understanding.”
- John Maizels (About the “Outsider” Artist)
“No one introduced me to the arts,” says Len Agrella. “When I was young, I went to the Chicago Art Institute and saw a showing of French Impressionists. I was so fascinated by the texture of those paintings that I went home and tried to do the same thing. I put the paint on very thick.”
The paint never did dry, but his fascination with painting stayed with him through various odd jobs that ran the gamut from stuntman to lumberjack to professional sports, as well as a tour with the Airforce.
In the late 1950’s, a desire to become an actor took him to Hollywood, into actor’s school, and work in theatre and films. Eventually the realization came that art was the driving force in his life. He started to paint again. The work he produced was very different from that of the past, and was accepted quickly.
Encouraged, Agrella moved to Arizona in the early sixties and settled down to painting in earnest. Developing a highly realistic, almost classical style, he became a traditional western artist and produced a long series of western paintings and bronzes. But neither form provided Agrella with the freedom to work within the image.
Using techniques learned in sculpture, Agrella turned to the design and creation of boldly innovative contemporary jewelry. For nearly three years his brushes went untouched.
When he returned to painting in 1975, sculpture and jewelry having freed him from the confines of his earlier realistic style, Agrella experimented with dimensional canvases. This led to a very popular long series of mask paintings portraying spirits and symbols from centuries-old Indian mythologies. These magic imbued myths intrigued Agrella and played a strong role in the development of the Agrella statement. The transition of the Agrella style has been breathtaking, and he continues to experiment with style and technique.
He comments, “The function of the artist is to provide what life does not. Logic gives man what he needs, but magic gives him what he wants. I truly believe in the artist as magician. Magic is the art in art. The point where you begin dealing with matters of the spirit and communicating an essence is where the magic comes in.”
“I regard myself as a southwestern contemporary OUTSIDER artist. If I lived in the Midwest or East, I would still be a contemporary artist, but I live in the southwest and am very influenced by the area”
One common denominator has remained constant. The notion of a certain intensity and purity of vision, a never quite defined, yet palpable freshness of invention or what is called “raw creation”, or untutored creativity.
Len Agrella currently lives and works in Prescott, Arizona.