Pushing Against the Boundaries


Outsider Art Fair 2014, NYC

Art brut, Naïve art, Outsider art -- the times have changed. Artists no longer have to study and refine their craft in schools of higher learning. They can trust their own instincts, use their own mediums, often mixed and often any found canvas -- street buildings, pieces of wood, any type of paper or board -- to share their muse. 

And just as important, because every artist needs a patron, "new" collectors can afford to purchase art that is both relevant and exciting and has real potential to increase in value over the years.

Make no mistake, self-taught artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Darger, Morris Hirshfield, and to a lesser extent even Howard Finster, certainly never get snickers from snobbish art dealers and collectors who might have thumbed their collective noses at these "unskilled" artists just because they lacked formal training. Moreover, with the rise of the internet and the buzz that it can create around an unknown artist, that has all changed. Now these regional artists from the furthest corners of the globe can find a global audience while never even showing their work in a formal gallery show, let alone a museum.

Trolling this fair in Chelsea, their twenty-second year, I approached it with very little PR hype and just my own personal fascination for discovering new unknown artists. (Truth be told, I have collected some lesser known "naïve" artists.) There was so much to take in that I will need a second visit to really explore and appreciate every artist. However, first impressions can be profound, and four artists appealed to me on my very first visit.

The stark realism of self-taught artist Holly Farrell, born in North Bay, Ontario, jumped out at me. Wonderfully presented by the Austin, TX Garde Rail Gallery. Her paintings of every day objects -- a set of spoons, a row of cookbooks, bars of soap, a pair of pumps (image top), toy wrestlers, pulp fiction book cover -- are simple but arresting objects that conjure up emotions of lost memories. Informed by a distinct Americana sensibility are both timeless, but yet immediate, like sensory snapshots embedded in our mind.

The primitive, whimsical child-like quality of former New Jersey-based lawyer Daniel Berlardinelli's paintings have always been arresting and amusing yet thought-provoking. whether rendered on small handbills, large wall paintings, or his "painted" books; all on display for Bourbon-Lally Gallery. His collection of palm-size rocks of various sizes painted black with ironic single words and short phrases (image right) offer a soothing dada simplicity to the our overwrought digital universe.

With so much to take in, I nearly missed the micro detail of the ink, acrylic, and gold leaf work of self-taught Idaho-based artist Stephanie Wilde showing for private dealer Angela Usrey through Tanner-Hill Gallery from Chattanooga, TN. This is extraordinary work by a master technician. Her latest series, which she started in 2008, entitled Golden Bees (Swarm II, imagine above) examines the "AIDS-like" virus devastating the Western Honeybee. The social and ecological implications are devastating, and yet that devastation is informed by her previous work and continued minute attention to detail which, when taking several steps backwards, offer a very different macro vantage. 

I was knocked out by English artist Cathy Ward showing for Galerie Toxic. She frames her mysterious swirling "hair" work in antique Victorian frames and even older wooden cross frames. The labyrinth of sensual strands rendered on glass affords the viewer a vantage down some mystical and timeless rabbit hole. Apparently Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures was an album that inspired this work. Unable to conjure up one of Ian Curtis's timeless songs, I immediately started humming the theme from the musical Hair:

"Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair 
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me it down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there momma, everywhere daddy daddy..."

Looking forward to another day of wandering this fascinating fair of outsider fare.

'Til next time...