James Edward Deeds

1908 to 1987, USA

James Edward Deeds was born in Springfield, Missouri. When he was 17 years old his authoritarian father committed him – following a violent argument with his brother – to a psychiatric clinic, where he remained for the rest of his life.

He underwent regular electric shock therapy, without anaesthesia. In the 1970s a 14-year-old boy discovered a leather case in a rubbish bin, which contained 140 double-sided sheets of drawings, which he kept for almost 40 years. He then sold them. Since the letters ECTLECTRC appeared on some of the drawings, the new owners gave the artist the pseudonym “The Electric Pencil”. Some time later it became clear that ECT stood for “Electroconvulsive therapy”, and as the name of the institution – the State Hospital for the Insane, Nevada, Missouri – was on the sheets of paper – the artist’s identity was established. The 140 sheets are numbered sequentially on both sides, and the subjects are mainly people, animals, landscapes and various objects. They are meticulously precise, sensitive drawings, made in graphite and coloured pencils. The eyes of his portrait subjects – men and women –are particularly striking, and may well reflect his experience of electroshock therapy. James Edward Deeds is regarded as one of the classic Art Brut artists. A catalogue raisonné was published in 2010: The drawings of the Electric pencil, Electric pencil press, New York, 2010.

His work can be seen in the Treger/Saint Silvestre Collection in Portugal, the collection of Karin and Gerhard Dammann, Switzerland, and the collection of Amr Shaker, Switzerland, amongst others.


Selected works