Step into Outsider Art


I’ve always been fascinated by outsider art.  My interest began through exploration into Surrealism and then the art of the subconscious.  The expression ‘Outsider’ art was first coined by Roger Cardinal, a British writer.  It was the English equivalent for the term Art Brut, originally formulated in the 1940s by the French artist Jean Dubuffet.

Madge Gill ink drawing

Some think of outsider art as dysfunctional art: art that is outside the boundaries of by dominant culture.  My interest in Outsider art began with artists such as Madge Gill (1882 – 1961), Austin O Spare who used automatism to produce work that they claimed to come from the spirit world.

Gill, a British housewife turned spiritualist after the tragic deaths of her children.  She produced a lot of ink drawings whilst in a trance like state among other works like knitted objects (see this post).  Austin Osman Spare also used automatic techniques to produce spontaneous work.

Austin Osman Spare self portrait with dragon
Ody Saban

Multi media artist Ody Saban (b. 1953 Istanbul) produces controlled yet spontaneous work which are very colourful and intricate;

“My art is a magic art.  I am a shaman, a seer.  I am in continual metamorphosis….I transform myself”

Sometimes the detail and concentration used to make these works is phenomenal.  Adolf Wolfii was one of the first artists to become associated with outsider art.  he had led a very troubled childhood and ended in an asylum.

London North 1911 Adolf Wolfii

He produces lots of creative work in his lifetime.  A doctor at the Waldau clinic, Walter Morgenthaler took a great interest in Wölfli, his condition and his work and brought him to the attention of the art world; –

“Every Monday morning Wölfli is given a new pencil and two large sheets of unprinted newsprint. The pencil is used up in two days; then he has to make do with the stubs he has saved or with whatever he can beg off someone else. He often writes with pieces only five to seven millimetres long and even with the broken-off points of lead, which he handles deftly, holding them between his fingernails. He carefully collects packing paper and any other paper he can get from the guards and patients in his area; otherwise he would run out of paper before the next Sunday night. At Christmas the house gives him a box of coloured pencils, which lasts him two or three weeks at the most.”

His work is very intricate and intense and passionate and it is easy to see that the artist turned inwards to his own world.  he never planned the work he just went ahead and created it.  There have been lots written about this artist – here’s a short description of the artist and his work.  I shall be continuing with some more Outsider artists in my blog.

Gill image from here Saban image from here  O Spare image from here Wolfii image from here
Theres a good blog about this art form here

12 thoughts on “Step into Outsider Art

  1. The sheer creativity idea is right! I’ve been following the self-taught world for awhile now. It used to really irritate me that any magazine article on the subject would have to first apologize for having to define the terms and how to collectively lump all the artists into categories. Winds up being more of a marketing necessity than anything. The art that Dubuffet and others so vigorously championed is the work made by your fellow human beings.

  2. I think there is a snobbbishness about art which falls outside the establishment – and I don’t know why 😦
    I can identify with art which comes directly from the sub conscious. The dichotomy between automatism and control being a major element in my own work.

  3. I tend to agree with Al, here. Art is art. I have heard of Wolfii , I think on PBS. His work is phenomenal. Creating with whatever is at hand. Remarkable.

    1. Bits of Wolfii’s work reminds me of the obsessive way I tend to cover journals, just adding to the drawing and colourings without plan. I find that very absorbing. there’s some in ‘My Surfaces’ category.

    1. Sorry 47whitebuffalo – only just spotted your comment here. Glad you enjoyed looking at these, I will feature some more outsider art soon!

    1. Everyone has a different way of looking at things – we should celebrate that difference more I think:) Incidently, I have just visited your excellent blog! I’ll be back:)

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