Judith Scott was a visual artist isolated by Down Syndrome and profound deafness, who achieved world recognition for her enigmatic fiber sculptures. Born on May 1, 1943, in Cincinnati, Ohio, she spent the first seven and a half years of her life with her family in a semi-rural community on the edge of the city, always accompanied and aided by her twin sister, Joyce, who served as guardian and interpreter. However, it is Joyce who insists that it was Judith who was her guide and her teacher always.
Judith's deafness was unrecognized for 30 years and she was considered seriously retarded, with no prospect for education or a life without constant, basic care and supervision. Following the advise of professionals, Judith was consigned at the age of seven to be warehoused in a state institution, where she remained in anonymous isolation for 30 years.
Following an experience of profound insight, her twin Joyce arranged for her to be released from the state institution and to move to California, to once again share their lives.
Soon after arriving in California, Judith began attending Creative Growth, the first center in the world for artists with disabilities. For two years, Judith appeared to lack all interest in any artistic expression, but after being introduced to fiber and textiles, she suddenly began to create powerful and enigmatic sculptures which were formed from whatever materials could be found and appropriated. First making a skeletal armature from rigid objects bound together, these would then by covered layer upon layer by carefully selected colored cloths and yarns, woven, wrapped and tied. Lacking language, Judith spoke to the world through her sculptures, which seem at different times to reflect the colorful, tactile world of her childhood; the memories and feelings of isolation in state institutional care; and above all, her sense of twinness.
The first exhibition of her work in 1999 coincided with the publication of John MacGregor’s book Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott, a detailed study that helped to propel her to woldwide recognition.
Judith’s fame grew, as museums and galleries around the world staged exhibitions and purchased her works for their permanent collections. During the last 18 years of her life she worked passionately to create over 200 sculptures, some small and intimate, others so large she could barely move them without help.
As Judith’s sculptures reflect little cultural input and are highly individualistic, she initially acquired fame as an ‘Outsider’ artist. However, with the passage of time, any focus on her disabilities has faded to become merely a footnote in the life story of a world-famous artist of great distinction.
Photo (top left) © Lucienne Peiry, collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne.