Google+ House Revivals: O is for Outsider Art

Friday, April 30, 2010

O is for Outsider Art

Outsider art is a fairly recent term for a genre of art as old as man.   Originally coined as an English translation of the French Art Brut (raw art or rough art), the term "outsider art" has acquired a much broader meaning than "art brut".  The term art brut was specifically coined to describe the art of people who lived  on society's fringes.
 General view of the island Neveranger, 1911, Adolf Wolfli; 
image source wikimedia commons

These people on the fringes were untrained in the arts, often mentally ill, and thought to be uninfluenced by traditional art culture.  The "art brut" artist created his art for himself alone, often keeping his work secret.  To see an explanation of art brut, at the Raw Vision website, click here.
The photo above shows Art Brut artist 
Adolf Wolfli.  Adolf spent much of his
adult life in a Swiss insane asylum after
being judged a danger to society. 
image in the public domain

The connotation for "outsider art" encompasses a much broader category of  artist.  Although still considered to be uninfluenced by traditional art culture, and untrained in the arts, the outsider artist may not live quite so far out on the fringes of society.
This work, by Gaston Chaissac, was sold
at auction for four thousand Euros in 2007.
  Gaston was considered by many artists of 
his time to be an outsider artist, however
he viewed himself as a rustic modern artist.
  Chaissac was neither untrained in the arts,
nor uninfluenced by the arts, and often
referred to himself as Picasso in clogs. Learn 
more about Chaissac on, here.

Outsider artists might use traditional media in conventional or unconventional ways.  Or they may use unconventional media.
Wax crayon on cardboard, Leroy Person
  A well-known outsider artist, Leroy Person
often combined images of tools and plants
into the same piece. 
Image source,, found here.

Another work by Leroy Person.  
Part of why Person's work was considered
successful, is his intuitive use of rhythm,
balance, light, and shadow.

The work shown above incorporates 
a child's drawing, and wood from an 
old packing crate.  The reverse side of 
the piece is carved and painted red with
some blue and yellow. Notice that the 
artist allowed some of the original writing
from the crate to show through, and that he 
carved plant and tool motifs into the wood 
before painting. Multi-media, Leroy Person.  
Learn more about Leroy Person, here, at 
Images source:  George Jacobs' self taught art website, here.

The determination of who was or is an outsider artist is subjective, of course, and there is crossover between what is considered outsider art and primitive art and folk art and modern art and art brut and naive art and self-taught art.  An entertaining article on the subtle differences of these related art forms can be found at, here.
Mother and Child, mixed-media, by self-proclaimed 
outsider artist Benton Lutz.  Although his work is 
good, and this piece  is undeniably beautiful, the 
fact that Lutz is aware enough of the outsider artist
genre, to classify himself and market himself as such,
makes one wonder if perhaps another categorization
might suit him better.... This piece can be purchased 
on the artist's website, here.

An all-time favorite outsider artist is James Hampton, a janitor, who worked diligently for fourteen years creating his sculptures.  He worked quietly, and few people were aware of his obsession until after his death.  He left journals and papers indicating that Moses had appeared to him, and he was building his assemblage of liturgical objects as a monument to Jesus in preparation for his ministry as St. James. 
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the 
Nation's General Assembly, mixed-media
sculpture, James Hampton. See this image
and read a very good essay about the artist
written by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, here
Image, Smithsonian Institute, via here.

Shown below is an image from one of Hampton's journals.  He often wrote in a special code of his own creation.

Hampton is shown here in the garage he rented in which to build his sculptures. 

Hampton's sculptures were created using kitchen foil, cardboard, foil labels from beer bottles, carpet tubes, and other found materials.

Jimmie Lee Sudduth is considered by many to have been an outsider artist.  As a child, he felt compelled to create art, and even experimented with creating his own pigments from clay and plants. He learned to paint using his fingers, and continued to use them as an adult, claiming his fingers never wore out.
Cotton Gin, sweet mud paint on board, Jimmie Lee Sudduth 
Vintage City Scape, sweet mud paint on board, Jimmie Lee Sudduth

No discussion of outsider art would be complete without mentioning Donald "Cano" Espinoza, of Antonia, Colorado. 

Cano's life work is represented in the home he has created using beer cans, hubcaps, and other found materials.

Cano credits his inspiration to vitamin "M" and Jesus.  

A Native American Vietnam vet, his castle is a monument of thanksgiving to Jesus for keeping him safe and bringing him home.  He uses repurposed materials, creatively adapting items for new uses.
Although, the bathtub virgins are not unique to outsider art, they are definitely a great example of adaptive reuse.   

As you can see here, Espinoza is not shy about sharing his world view!

This post is being linked to Alphabe-Thursday, at Jenny Matlock's blog.


  1. Wow, now that's what I call a VERY interesting post. Thanks for sharing all this information -- I really feel like knowing most about outsider art now.

    Greetings from Munich,

  2. Oh wow, Amanda..I'm truly and thoroughly enjoying this post. I didn't have any idea that there is such thing as "outsider art". Thank you for the lesson!

  3. I absolutely love this post. I am so intrigued by outsider art - art for the sake of art. I would love to see the inside of the home built with recyclables!
    Great post!

  4. I love to read a post that offers me something quite beyond my experience - this was one of those. I've never heard of Outsider art but now I'll be looking for it.

  5. You hit another homerun, Amanda. Awesome! I didn't know that term at all before this. Would the murals that juvenile delinquents paint on any available surface be considered outside art? I've seen some amazing uses of symbols, colors, and imagery in those ;-)

  6. Amanda!

    Your posts always amaze me with obscure information that I never knew existed.

    This was a fascinating post.

    I was reading the words on your rich and luxurious blog background and felt like I was in a jewel box...learning and being amazed.

    Thanks for making Alphabe-Thursday so filled with rich and outstanding variety.


  7. this is an amazing post and it really spoke to me....maybe I can identify with being compelled to create art? come visit my O' post too! melinda

  8. Outsider Art is new to me and I found your post very interesting.
    The Mother& Child piece is lovely and Cano's home and art work amazing.

  9. That was very interesting. There are two places in Houston that I've never visited, but have always wanted to go. One is the Orange Show and the other is the Beer Can House. I now realize both were created by outside artists. Thank you for a very informative post.

  10. Wow. This is fascinating and truly about something I really knew nothing about. I love art and seeing the process and how and what and why people create. Thank you.

  11. This was so interesting. I had to LOL about the bathtub. My mom had a Madonna statue when they remodeled her bathroom she had my brother and husband bury it half in the ground and put the Madonna in it.


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