Here is a terrific early work by one of the great American originals, San Francisco’s wild man, Charles Mott Ware. Vivid and geometric, ALMOST abstract, it nevertheless is infused with the visionary quality, sometimes clouded, sometimes clear, that marked all of his other work. In it one discerns a central deer-like creature, alert, curious, using all its senses in a forest so alive with energy that the trees, the paths, the waterways and the very sky seem to be exploding and connecting at the same time, This is not the gauzy stuff of day-dream nor the stage-managed game of surrealism. This is the flash of perception.
Charles Mott Ware found meaning in sources as varied as ancient myths and modern fantasy literature. An artwork might feature a goddess, archangel, medieval knight, unicorn, or a creation of Lord Dunsany or H. P. Lovecraft. These “borrowed” figures joined those of Ware’s own invention. Ware had a particular fascination with Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the inspiration for many works.
The artist was self-taught in many aspects, including printmaking, in which he developed great skill. Ware was not strictly an “outsider” artist, because he had formal training. He attended the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) from 1939 to 1942 – and his talents in drawing earned a scholarship. However, Ware mistrusted authority and preferred to find his own way as an artist.
He described himself as a “rustic” and “bum.” He also admitted to being a man plagued by demons. Ware fought alcoholism and lived a rough, hand-to-mouth existence through the 1950s and 1960s. He earned money as a sign painter, handyman, and itinerant illustrator. He lived in residential hotels and the basements of bars. He associated with poets, artists, and musicians in the Beat subculture, first in New York’s Greenwich Village and then in San Francisco’s North Beach.
As he approached his 50th birthday, Ware managed to control his addictions. He was, at last, able to focus on his art – and through his art, to express the images that haunted and obsessed him.
Ware pursued his visions without considering the demands of the market. Nevertheless, he did enjoy public success – particularly in the 1970s, when art in a visionary mode fit with the times. Ware showed in San Francisco galleries. A publisher reproduced works as posters. He was included in exhibitions at regional art centers. Ware’s collectors included Robert Bloch, author of science fiction and suspense (best known for Psycho, the basis of the Hitchcock film), and Ray Bradbury. Ware died in San Francisco on September 9, 2005.