Bryans Notes on How to look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (Book 1/7)

Art without artist

Page #11

” “Outsider Art” is the work of people who are institutionalized or psychologically compromised according to standard clinical norms. The writer John MacGregor has revised this definition to include art created under the conditions of a massively altered state of consciousness.” (Rexer 33)

Page #32

Self-taught: Having acquired knowledge or skill on one’s own initiative rather than through formal instruction or training, its unschooled and autodidactic.

Outsider: A person who does not belong to a particular group.

Folk Art: Definitions vary, but generally the objects have practical utility of some kind, rather than being exclusively decorative.

Page #28

The artist Jim Shaw (b.1952) parodied -and paid homage to- this vast tide of works in a 1990 exhibition titled “Thrift Store Paintings” mad up of paintings he and other artist collected from junk shops, thrift stores and dumpsters.” (Rexer 36)

The Lure of Madness,the Thrill of Crime

” “There is no invention in him until he has been inspired, and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him,” wrote Plato in the “Ion” more than two thousand years ago.” (Rexer 48)

Clement Fraisse (b.1901) began carving wood panels when he was committed to an asylum for attempting to burn down his family’s house using a bundle of money he stole from it. During some six years in the asylum, he managed to carve 189 panels using only a spoon… Clement exemplifies the freedom that prison denies with one hand and gives back with the other. (Rexer 53)

In the Eye of the beholder?

” the “carers of most outsider artist do not display the conventional pattern of initiation, growth and maturity evident with most insider artist. Many self-taught and outsider artist do not begin working until late in life (or until their outward circumstances change) because they do not have the opportunity and time or have never experienced an occasion that triggered such creativity.” (Rexer 78)

“Outsiders often see writing and drawing as indistinguishable aspects of a single, unitary process of formal generation and organization. They frequently use numbers in a similar way. An immediate but probably mistaken conclusion is that outsider artist are attempting to communicate a univocal message, albeit in a language only they can understand.” (Rexer 94)

“Repetitive visual patterns, intricate detail lavished on trivial visual elements until a sheet of paper becomes an impenetrable field, words and phrases incorporated over and over again like mantras- these are some of the elements of outsider art most familiar to the public. They are lumped together under the term “obsession”.” (Rexer 99)

Masters and Mysteries

Henry Darger (1892-1973; outsider)

“Some have argued that labeling Henry Darger an outsider is presumptuous, since no one seems to have ever asked the reclusive Chicagoan what he was up to or what he meant. Yet it is hard to imagine that he intended his vast visual and textual epic of war and carnage inflicted on prepubescent girls to be seen by any.” (Rexer 123)

Henry Joseph Darger Jr. was an artist who worked as a hospital custodian in Chicago, Illinois. He has become famous for his posthumously discovered ,145 page, single spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. The visual subject matter of his work ranges from idyllic scenes in Edwardian interiors and tranquil flowered landscapes populated by children and fantastic creatures, to scenes of horrific terror and carnage depicting young children being tortured and massacred. Much of his artwork is mix media with collage elements. Darger’s artwork has become one of the most celebrated examples of outsider art.

Martin Ramirez (1895-1963; Outsider)

When the conquistadores shattered the indigenous societies in Mexico, they also shattered the indigenous languages. These languages were visual and spatial relations to narrate ceremonial events. The scribes who came after could not reconstruct the visual maps, even if they knew some or many of the characters… After being homeless in Los Angeles and apparently unable to communicate , he was eventually committed to a California mental institution, where drawings became to flow out of him. Done against the orders of his warders, these works were gathered first as lecture material on psychopathology and art.” (Rexer 135)

Martin Ramirez was a self-taught artist who spent most of hi adult life institutionalized in California mental hospitals, diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He is considered by some to be one of the 20th century’s self-taught masters. In January 2007, the American Folk Art Museum in New York City opened “Martin Ramirez” the largest retrospective of the artists work in the United States in more than 20 years. The exhibition featured 100 of the 300 drawings and collages that had been known to exist. It was accompanied by a catalog that includes a biographical essay, written by sociologist Victor M. Espinosa and Kristin E. Espinosa, which discusses many previously unpublished details of Ramirez’s life.

Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930; outsider)

” “For the Heavenly Ones are displeased if someone does not pull himself together, sparing his soul.” So wrote the nineteenth-century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin when he was hemmed by madness. These words could serve as the epitaph of the prodigious Adolf Wolfli, the incarcerated child molester, poet, musician, graphic artist, and occasionally violent Swiss-German schizophrenic…Elements such as faces, Sun imagery, musical notes and Christian symbols are linked by sinuous lines as a series of local orders.” (Rexer 151)

The images Wolfli produced were complex, intricate and intense. They worked to the very edges of the page with detailed borders. In manifestation of Wolfli’s “horror vacui” every empty space was filled with two small holes. Wolfli called these shapes around the holes his “birds”. His images also incorporate an idiosyncratic musical notation, This notation seemed to start as purely decorative affair but later developed into real composition with Wolfli would play on a paper trumpet.In 1908, he set about creating a semi-autobiographical epic which eventually stretched to 45 volumes, containing a total of over 25,000 pages and 1,600 illustrations. This work was a mix of elements pf his own life blended with fantastical stories of his adventures from which he transformed himself from a child to “Knight Adolf” to “Emperor Adolf” and finally “St Adolf II”. Text and illustrations formed the narrative, sometimes combining multiple elements on kaleidoscopic pages of music, words and colors.

Outside in: The End of Outsider Art

“Outsider are also scavengers. The most important of these artist- Wolfli, Darger, Ramirez- used collage in complex ways and developed styles that somehow refracted the current events of mainstream visual culture that surrounded them.” (Rexer 153)

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