Self-Taught and Outsider Art contains
work from the collection of Anthony Petullo, art-lover and businessman. With
224 pages in large format most of which are devoted to the art, it is a
handsome book. As the book title makes clear, the work is mostly by artists
who have not gone through the standard training and have not aimed to be a
success in the art-world. It is not clear why the book title makes a
distinction between self-taught art and outsider art, since outsider art is
already a broad category including self-taught art. As Jane Kallir says in her
introduction, Petullo favors artists who are true naives, true outsiders, or
marginal outsiders. Some of the artists have been diagnosed with mental
illness, while others have not. Most worked in the twentieth century although
some date back to the nineteenth. They are from both North America and Western
Europe. Some of the artists went to art school. Some are relatively well
known and all have had their work exhibited in both solo and group shows. Some
of the artists were able to make a living from their work, while others never
sold any of their artworks. Apart from being outsider art liked by Petullo,
there is very little thematic unity to these pictures. Some are highly
polished and precise in their execution, while others are much cruder and
involve less technical skill.
Some of the big names of art brut
are included: Adolf Wolfli, Henry Darger, Scottie Wilson, and Carlo Zinelli,
for example. But others artists here will be far less familiar to most
readers. Even if the artists are familiar, the works included in the book may
be less familiar. It's striking that most of the artists here are not featured
in some prominent outsider art collections such as Beyond Reason: Art
and Psychosis that collects many works from the famous Prinzhorn
There are some wonderful pictures
included in Self-Taught and Outsider Art and for each artist, there is a
short paragraph mentioning some of the most relevant biographical facts. To
mention a few of the artists: Consuelo Amezcua created amazingly detailed
drawings with ballpoint pen and pencil, with themes of myth and legend. Minnie
Evans draws bizarre geometric images with colored pencil, featuring animals and
human faces. Joann Fischer draws simple pictures of people, some of which are
childlike in their execution, but which are very elegant. Madge Gill worked on
paper and rolled calico, and some of her drawings reached lengths of
thirty-five feet. Like many outsider artists, she felt a strong need to cover
the surface. Some of her images feature women against highly geometrical backgrounds.
Rosemarie Koczy was an infant when she and her family were imprisoned in a Nazi
concentrations camp during the Second World War, and her pictures show haunting
images of blank faces in despair in a variety of media. James Lloyd creates
some of the most striking and precisely drafted images with gouache on paper.
The colors are often vivid and the faces of the people asymmetrical and faintly
disturbing. Albert Louden's pastels on paper are very different but just as
strong, with human figures with heavy black outlines and simple faces, in
contorted positions. Joseph Yoakum worked in pen, pastels, colored pencils and
ink to create harmonious fantastic scenes from nature.
While the book does not give any
substantial discussion of outsider art or advocate any particular thesis about
the place of this art within the rest of the art world, it does contain many
powerful and beautiful pictures that deserve attention. That's enough for it
to gain a strong recommendation.
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.