The term "outsider art", coined and articulated by Roger Cardinal, has helped the art world understand and therefore, include many fine artists who would never have been considered legitimate artists. The term “self-taught” is perhaps a broader and more encompassing expression, including artists who are living mainstream lives, but are not a trained artists. Great artists produce great art whether they are trained or simply have a natural gift for expressing themselves through the outlet of their art. Harriet Wiseman definitely falls into the latter category. Married, the mother of two adult sons and living a vital life, certainly excludes her from the moniker "outsider".
While her husband Ken was in graduate school, Harriet, who was trained as a medical technician, acquired a job designing and selling jewelry to help provide for her growing family. She did this for eighteen years. A chance encounter 12 years ago with Barbara Price, the director of the Moore Art Institute in Philadelphia, helped Harriet appreciate her own talents. Barbara recommended that Harriet show her work to John Ullman of the Ullman-Fleisher Gallery. Nervously, she brought her pieces for John to see and to give his opinions. John was interested in this apparent emerging work and recommended her to Frank Miele Gallery and Gallery Bonheur. Today, she is represented by these and other galleries. Her paintings were chosen to be exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1999.
Through therapy, Harriet has come to realize that she is dealing with her childhood fears and denials as they manifested themselves in her paintings. The paintings are honest and passionate - perhaps reminiscent of German Expressionism with tenderness and feeling.
Harriet starts her work by blindly putting oils on a blank canvas, waiting for the canvas to reveal what is locked inside. She slips into an almost trance-like state and then throws herself into her work. She has no idea when she begins, what the end result will be. Most of the women and girls in the paintings have the familiar olive-shaped mouth and triangular-shaped face of the artist.
Comparisons are always made with the great artists, whether they were trained or self-taught. Sometimes, the elegant forms of Modigliani or the screaming compelling colors of Soutine can be suggested in Harriet’s work. Like many self-taught artists, Harriet has learned of these artists only after people introduced her to their work after seeing Harriet's. The paintings are honest and passionate – perhaps reminiscent of German Expressionism with tenderness and feeling.
In her work there is a colorful patterning of clothing, drapery and fabrics, which make the paintings lively and almost fly off the canvas. Sometimes, the paint is thinly applied and sometimes very heavily. Harriet is compelled to work until she feels right about the outcome. Harriett has painted for 15 years, she remains unspoiled. She must paint what the canvas has within it. Thus, her works are consistently creative and spontaneous.
Written by George Viener, of the National Advisor Board to the "Folk Art Messenger"