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Tim West Story Far From Black and White

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April 5, 2012 by wcobserver

Tim West (Archive Photo)

Winslow Artist Tim West died on Monday, April 4. Below is Susan McCarthy’s profile feature of the man, from the Observer’s March 8, 2010 edition.

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” So goes a quote from George Bernard Shaw, a playwright and essayist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

The quote seems fitting for Tim West, an artist who makes his home off Sunset Road in Winslow in a hauntingly primitive shed against a background of Ozark beauty. West is proof that nothing in life is as it seems and that you can’t make assumptions about people or things by just looking at them.

West is well-known in Win- slow; a daily fixture at Mikey’s on 71 South. He’s known for his homemade bicycles that are crafted from parts of old bicycles. He’s often seen riding around town with “garbage” he’s collected for his art. He has no car and bicycles 50 miles round-trip to Fayetteville once a month.

We drove out to West’s home last Wednesday to meet with him and photographer Diana Hausam, who first met West in 2006. Hausam has spent the past three and a half years photographing West and chronicling his life.

West , 72, greeted us with a toothless grin and tobacco- stained hands. He was wearing a soiled, unzipped jacket and unhemmed gray pants that were a little too short. A black knit cap poked from the

top of his head, slightly askew to one side. His eyes were intense as though he could see right through me. An odor

hung in the air between us. As I absorbed the person I was facing, I noticed a bungee cord hooked around his waist. Under the cord was a large piece of hickory bark, placed low. I’d later learn it was there to sup- port his hernia.

West is a sculptor and creates intricate drawings in ink, pencils and markers. “There’s a break from realism, a place that sort of makes everything a little abstract. But you can still tell what it is,’ says West of the art he likes to create. West, him- self, also seems to exist in this same space.

West is real and can be in the moment with you, yet easily floats off subject and has so many stories, one is left wondering which are true and which are tales. His reality is gritty and yet, he seems not to notice. He’s at home here, at ease and completely unapolo- getic for his surroundings.

“We know there is a very thin line between genius and crazy” says Jerry Kidder, the barista at Winslow’s Mercantile on Saturdays. Kidder says that “Tim was just considered crazy,” but as Hausam has promoted his work, he’s become better known as an artist too.

West lives and works in a small shed with the only “creature comforts” being his cats. There is one light bulb overhead and no running water. A bucket sits in the corner with urine in it. There is an uncovered mattress on the floor with four baby kittens squirming in a ball. A woodstove occupies much of the room. Discarded food and garbage cover the remaining floor space. An arm chair is stacked with newspapers.

But this is the space where West creates art. In here, there is also an art book, and a make- shift easel. A large stack of drawings lies in a corner and the wall above his easel is covered in drawings. “Tim’s work

is weathered, dirty, torn, but that’s part of it,” says, Hausam. His drawings cover every space on a page. What catches your eye at first is just the beginning of what is to be discovered.

West seems to be haunted by his past. Alcoholism has plagued his life. “I drank to drown my sorrows and worries. I was embarrassed about my life and drank to not think about it,” he says.

West recalls he was placed ahead a year in grade school. He says being one of the youngest in his class ruined his love life. He says he tried basketball and baseball and couldn’t make either team. He has been married and divorced four times. West says he’s spent many nights in jail; although he jokes that the nights when he “blacked out” don’t count. He graduated from the University of Illinois and says he “earned a Masters in Fine Arts, but they wouldn’t let me teach”.

“I think most of society avoids this kind of person and behavior and are afraid of it. I try to make it acceptable for him in a social way. Just because he’s different, people shouldn’t fear him,” Hausam says of West. She says she wants people to see West as the artist he is. “I want people to understand him and relate to him in a way.” Hausam has arranged an exhibit at the University of Arkansas that will showcase West’s art and her photographs as well as a documentary of his life that she’s filmed over the past three and a half years.

“I’d convinced myself that I’d die without being known. She found me,” West says of Diana Hausam. Hausam, in 2006, was a photography student at the University of Arkansas and was driving through Winslow’s country roads looking for something to photograph, when she happened on a bi- cycle fence.

She left a note for the owner and West arranged to meet her through a letter. Hausam drove there alone on a hot August day. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but when West emerged from the woods, she knew immediately he’d make an interesting subject. She says she spent the entire day with West and took most of her best shots of him in that single day.

“Nothing like that has ever happened since. There was something about that first day; it was magical and weird. I’ve been working with him ever since,” Hausam says.

Their exhibit, “The Artist,” runs from March 29-April 23 in the Anne Kittrell Gallery in the UA Student Union. On April 1, you can meet Tim West and Diana Hausam at a gallery talk at 2 pm and a reception at 5:30 pm. “Westland”, the documentary film Hausam has developed with John Stauffacher about West’s life and “coming out “ as an artist will be shown in the University’s Programs Theater at 5 pm.

Hausam says a “cleaned-up” version of Tim West will attend. “He is an amazing artist. I want to show people him in a non-threatening way,” she says. “He’s a social butterfly. Everyone hangs on his every word.”

“Westland” will have addi- tional screenings April 4-9 at 2 pm and 5:30 pm at the Univer- sity Programs Theater.

As I got into my car to leave Tim West’s place, I stepped over a large pile of athletic shoes that had been left across the driveway from his house on the edge of a large sculpture garden West created. The shoes had been left by a well-meaning member of Winslow’s community. Others have brought him food, and even the wood stove in his home. I inhaled deeply as I drove away, wondering about the man I’d just met and even more curious about what I’d see at his upcoming exhibit with Hausam.

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