10 Issue Supplement: The Glorious Works of 10 Outsider Artists
Ed. Note: In this month's 10 Issue, Bill DeMain's story 10 Outsider Artists Worth Knowing profiles ten fascinating artists who fused raw materials with even rawer creativity to create some of the world's most stunning works of art. But sometimes 76 pages of magazine just aren't enough to cram in all the photos and facts we want. That's why we've turned to our resident art expert (and Feel Art Again columnist) AndrÃ©a Fernandes to fill in the blanks. We're hoping that this supplement, filled with bigger photos and even more insight, will help you better appreciate the outlandish visions of these gifted misfits. Enjoy!
Nek Chand: The Garbage Man
The world's premiere green artist, Nek Chand, uses scraps of metal, shattered dishware, and broken toys to elicit beauty from the industrialized world. His 25-acre shrine of trash, The Rock Garden, has welcomed more than 12 million visitors since it opened in India in 1976, and now rivals the Taj Mahal as the country's top tourist attraction.
Image from flickr user ToreaJade
Chand, who worked as a road inspector in the mid-50s, worked in secret on nights and weekends building a garden out of garbage he'd collected. He built archways and courtyards out of cement bags and lined the walls with burnt-out light bulbs and wires. Pictured at left are the Rock Garden's great arches and swings.
The garden is filled with misty waterfalls emerging from buildings and greenery.
Image from flickr user lharkness
Chand created mosaic courtyards, stairs, and walls. Today, teams of volunteers assist Chand in building the immense mosaics throughout the garden.
Image from flickr user raminders
The mosaic courtyards showcase sculptures of mighty warriors, monkeys, horses, children, and more.
Image on left from flickr user T.K.V.
When officials discovered Chand's secret--and illegal--garden, they threatened to demolish it. Thankfully, a series of newspaper editorials rallied the residents of Chandigarh and the government changed its mind. Instead of razing the land, Chand was given a salary and a crew of 50 laborers to finish what he'd started.
Image from flickr user Carlos A Zambrano
In 2001, Chand received the lifetime achievement award from the Folk Art Society of America. He has since built recycled art in Europe and America and inspired a worldwide movement of green artists, who are turning junkyards into genuine works of art.
View more images of the Chandigarh Rock Garden at the garden's web site, Nek Chand's web site, photographer Iain Jackson's web site, and Mosaic Art Source. PBS's "Off the Map" has a video and other features about the Rock Garden.
Next page: Bill Dan, "the Rock Star"
Bill Dan: The Rock Star
Bill Dan is one of the world's few rock balancing virtuosos, an artist who defies gravity with his vertical sculptures. He created "The Needle" (at left) in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1997 and considers it "one of my best."
Inspired by a deep connection with nature, this former warehouse worker has been gathering riprap along San Francisco's shoreline for the past 15 years and using it to build craggy towers, which are both whimsical and mysterious.
Word of mouth has attracted a steady stream of press coverage and tourists to Dan's San Fran rock formations. Mike Rowe (now of Discovery's Dirty Jobs) filmed the following clip on Dan's work for the Bay area's Evening Magazine on KPIX-TV. (Why he's playing baseball as he introduces the clip is unexplained.)
Of course, because Dan relies on gravity as his only glue, and because the sculptures live outdoors, the works are ephemeral, often toppled by the elements. Surprisingly, they are rarely toppled by the birds that like to land on them. According to Dan, the birds--like the blackbird pictured at left--seem to know "how to land "properly": very slowly and softly, landing almost 100% vertically downward - not landing with a sideways approach. They land straight down to the right point and balance themself [sic] with the rocks."
To earn a living, he hires himself out for private parties and teaches workshops at schools. What does Dan tell his students when their sculptures fall over? "Nothing is permanent. Just go along with nature." Watch one of his lessons to children in the video below.
Dan has created miniature formations to be displayed in museums. The collection at left was on display at the Zeum Museum (San Francisco's children's museum) in 2001.
Next page: Moondog, "the Viking of 6th Avenue"
Moondog: The Viking of 6th Avenue
Street corner musicians have been around for as long as there have been street corners. But Moondog was the first to land a deal with a major label record. And he did it while wearing a Viking outfit.
Born to a Kansas family in 1916, Moondog's real name was Louis Hardin. At the age of 16, he was blinded when a dynamite cap exploded in his hands. Taking up music, he taught himself several percussion instruments and renamed himself Moondog, after a favorite pet, who howled at the moon. In the video below by YouTuber khabaroff, Moondog uses percussion instruments to demonstrate quarterbeats.
Moondog sang catchy melodies, like "Do Your Thing" (below), accompanying himself on instruments that he invented, such as a small harp called the "oo" and a triangular drum called the "trimbas." He even invented a sliding sense of rhythm inspired by the streets, which he dubbed "snaketime."
Although Moondog's albums were never big sellers, he found commercial success with a song in a car commercial and a collaboration with Julie Andrews on a children's record. The following 2003 Lincoln Navigator commercial, "Street Drums," features "Get a Move On," a song by Mr. Scruff with Moondog's "Bird's Lament (In Memory of Charlie Parker)" as its basis.
For more information, videos, and sound clips, check out the site for managram, Moondog's publisher; the Moondog tribute MySpace page; Moondog on last.fm; and the Moondog authorized biography with a preface by Philip Glass and an included 28-track CD.
Next page: Banksy, "the Vigilante"
Banksy: The Vigilante
Being the world's most infamous graffiti artist has its pros and cons. For one, you can exhibit your art anywhere you choose, from the Tower of London to Disneyland. Then again, you could be arrested while you're doing it. (Shown at left is the life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay inmate that Banksy planted in Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride in 2006. The "inmate" stood for 90 minutes before park officials shut down the ride and removed it.)
Banksy may have started out as just another graffiti artist, but he's become so infamous he's just plain famous. One of his graffitied walls was sold for $300,000 on eBay. He held a "vandalized warehouse extravaganza" in Los Angeles, the centerpiece of which was "Elephant in the Room" (at left). The live, painted elephant was designed to highlight the plight of those living in poverty, but the animal-rights ruckus it caused may have detracted from the original message.
Image from flickr user Beopenguin
He also made waves in 2005 when nine stunning graffiti paintings suddenly emerged on the West Bank barrier between Palestine and Israel. His "armoured peace dove," at left, is one of the images he created while in the West Bank.
Image from flickr user eddiedangerous
His protest pieces aren't limited to the outdoors. In a statement against the hierarchy of insider and outsider art, Banksy has even snuck into famous museums like the Tate and Guggenheim to hang his own work on the walls. Shown at left is Banksy, disguised as a "British pensioner," covertly hanging this Banksy original in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit the Wooster Collective to see the works he placed in three other prestigious NYC museums.
Image from the Wooster Collective
While his work is well-known, Banksy's biography is another matter. Like a comic book hero, he never communicates with the public directly, preferring to use email and press releases. Apparently, his face has never even been caught on London's ubiquitous CCTV.
Image from flickr user Thomas Hawk
The irony is, Banksy is now almost an insider. He's had a solo exhibition at the Bristol Museum. (Watch the trailer for Banksy vs Bristol Museum below.) Greenpeace has used his art for a campaign. The band Blur hired him to do an album cover. And celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are avid buyers of his prints.
For more Banksy, check out his web site, Twitter, and movie; the flickr pools of his work "back in the day" and today; the Banksy collection on Wikimedia Commons; and Mangesh's two posts on Banksy, in July 2006 and January 2007. If you have a print or other artwork (not graffiti) that you think is a Banksy, you can have it authenticated through Pest Control.
Next page: Daniel Johnston, "the Boxer"
Daniel Johnston: The Boxer
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Daniel Johnston has been in and out of mental institutions for the last 20 years. But that hasn't stopped him from releasing fifteen albums, exhibiting his drawings in galleries, and becoming a cult hero.
Born into a conservative Christian family, Johnston was a fragile kid who dreamed of becoming the next John Lennon. But his idol worship went a little too far when he took multiple LSD trips. The drug pushed his psyche over the edge, leaving him fixated on two things "“ an unrequited high school love and a boxing match between him and Satan.
For years, Johnston spent his nights perfecting his epic, one-man rock albums, handing out tapes of his performances to anyone he met. He became a local legend and slowly word of his genius spread through the indie rock community. By the late "˜80s, Johnston's fans included Sonic Youth and Nirvana. And after Kurt Cobain sported a Daniel Johnston T-shirt in a widely seen publicity shot (at left), the media flocked to Johnston. He appeared on MTV's The Cutting Edge in 1985 performing "I Live My Broken Dreams," as seen below.
Since then, the unstable artist has made an uneasy truce with the spotlight. Every few years, he'll release an album and play a handful of shows. One of his rare appearances on video was his 2007 recording for The Black Cab Sessions:
In 2009, Johnston's eccentric art snuck into the mainstream again, with a featured song in the movie Where The Wild Things Are. (Listen to Johnston's version and the version sung by Karen O in the movie below). He also developed a game for the iPhone called, "Hi How Are You?" It's sort of like Frogger meets Yellow Submarine.
To immerse yourself in everything Johnston, from music to T-shirts, visit his official web site, MySpace page, online store, Twitter, blog, and fan site. Also check out the galleries Stress Records Museum of Love and Worried Shoes, as well as the Johnston film, The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Next page: Adolf WÃ¶lfli, "the Mental Patient"
Adolf WÃ¶lfli: The Mental Patient
Adolf WÃ¶lfli was the original poster child for art therapy. Born in 1864, WÃ¶lfli was orphaned and abused as a child. By the age of 25, he was convicted on three counts of child molestation. Prone to violence and hallucinations, WÃ¶lfli was institutionalized in a Swiss asylum and considered a lost cause. But then he started to draw.
After receiving art supplies from a sympathetic physician, WÃ¶lfli began work on his magnum opus, a 25,000-page semi-autobiography split into 45 volumes. At left is "The Heavenly Ladder" from the Geographic and Algebraic Books, book 13, page 146.
Teeming with kings, queens, talking plants and travel to alien planets, the tale follows WÃ¶lfli's alter-ego, St. Adolf II, as he saves the universe from cosmic war. The alternate universe WÃ¶lfli created includes the "The Kander Valley in the Bernese Oberland," shown at left.
WÃ¶lfli's tome is also filled with idiosyncratic songs, written on a six-note staff, which he played through a paper trumpet. Musicians may encounter some difficulty playing WÃ¶lfli's musical creations, but it is possible. In 1978, "Adolf WÃ¶lfli - Gelesen und vertont" was released; the album, shown at right, featured recitations of excerpts of WÃ¶lfli's work set to music. You can listen to samples from the album here.
In addition to the songs and more than 3,000 illustrations, WÃ¶lfli's magnum opus includes nonsensical poems, kaleidoscopic drawings, and collages. The collage at left, "Zungsang St. Adolf Rosali of Greenland," is from Books with Songs and Dances, book 15, page 383.
Today, WÃ¶lfli's art resides in European and American museums. His real legacy, however, lives in the art therapy that is now a widespread, effective treatment for the mentally ill.
Visit the Adolf WÃ¶lfli Foundation's web site to view WÃ¶lfli's artwork, hear samples of his music, purchase prints, and more.
Next page: Madge Gill, "the Necromancer"
Madge Gill: The Necromancer
Gill preferred to draw in the wee hours, by candlelight, or sometimes in complete darkness. She'd scrawl labyrinthine patterns on postcards and long rolls of calico, as seen in the photograph at left.
Nestled in her designs was the same female figure, repeated over and over again. The woman had an oval face and large, dark eyes. She looked startled to be revealed by the artist's pen. "Hidden Face" at left is just one of many in which the woman's face is drawn into the geometric patterns covering the page.
Though urged by her two sons and a journalist friend to sell her work, Gill always refused for fear of angering Myrninerest. After Gill's death in 1961, one of her sons sold her drawings, which now reside in private collections around the world, including Anthony Petullo's collection of self-taught and outsider art.
Next page: Yoko Ono, "the Unknown Artist"
Yoko Ono: The Unknown Artist
Before she married John Lennon in 1969, Yoko Ono had already made innovative contributions to performance art, a style that combines visual art, theatrics, and absurd humor. For "Cutting Pieces," performed at Carnegie Hall in 1965, Ono sat motionless on the stage while audience members cut away her clothing.
"Cut Pieces" was performed while she was a member of an anti-establishment group called Fluxus, which blurred the lines between art and life and challenged spectators to find beauty and meaning in the ordinary. Other performances included "Lighting Piece," for which she stood on stage lighting matches and watching them burn out one by one, and "Four" (often referred to as "Bottoms"), a film in which she showed two hours worth of extreme close-ups of bare behinds. Below is an excerpt of "Four."
Performance art wasn't exactly paying the bills, so Ono set out to meet the Beatles and find a benefactor. She wound up falling in love. She and Lennon became inseparable, collaborating on legendary performance art pieces such as the Bed-In For Peace -- a week-long pajama party in protest of the Vietnam War. In 1969, Ono and Lennon held bed-ins in Amsterdam and Montreal; the video below includes footage from both.
Since Lennon's murder, Yoko has largely shunned the spotlight, though she remains committed to peace activism and anti-handgun legislation. At left is a billboard Ono designed as part of the Yoko Ono: Imagine Peace exhibition at Bucknell University's Samek Art Gallery in 2008.
To see, watch, and hear more of Ono's art and music, visit her official web site, MySpace page, YouTube account, flickr photostream, and Twitter. Also take a look at the archive of her Fluxus projects, TIME magazine's slideshow of the Amsterdam bed-in, and a-i-u.net, an unofficial Ono site.
Next page: Henri Rousseau, "the King of the Jungle"
Henri Rousseau: The King of the Jungle
For decades, kids around the world have been drifting off to sleep under Henri Rousseau's popular prints of jungle cats and native musicians. Rousseau would've appreciated that; he thought his works were dreamy, too. "Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!," shown at left, is one of Rousseau's most famous paintings.
Rousseau was a self-taught painter living in Paris in an era when artists were schooled in academies. But what he lacked in insider knowledge "“ a basic command of perspective and figurative drawing - he made up for in imagination. Shown at left is his 1908 painting "The Football Players."
Rousseau never traveled outside of France or even saw a jungle firsthand. Instead, he drew inspiration from magazines, books, and the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden and zoo in Paris. At night, he'd dream of its luscious tropical plants and savage beasts, and by day he'd recreate those scenes on his canvas. Shown at left is "Exotic Landscape."
For years, Rousseau frolicked in his imaginary jungle, with zero support from the art world. After Pablo Picasso, who'd previously scorned Rousseau, declared him a visionary, the critical tide turned, but it was too late for Rousseau. He died in 1910, without knowing that his paintings would inspire a generation of surrealist painters and countless generations of children. (Shown at left is Rousseau's 1910 "Dream.")
Galleries of Rousseau's work are available at HenriRousseau.org and Wikimedia Commons. The National Gallery of Art and the Tate Modern have information and artwork, as well as some bonus features, from past Rousseau exhibitions. And be sure to check out our 2008 "Feel Art Again" post on Rousseau.
Next page: Grandma Moses, "The Cougar"
Grandma Moses: The Cougar
Grandma Moses began her 25-year career as an artist at the tender age of 76. Born in 1860, Anna Mary Robertson Moses lived a full life as a farmer's wife and embroiderer before she picked up a paintbrush. Her embroidery, such as the untitled landscape of a house and barn shown at left, depicts many of the same scenes found in her paintings.
Creating nostalgic scenes of her childhood in upstate New York, Moses painted pictures of women picking berries, churning butter, and hanging laundry out to dry. In "The Old Oaken Bucket" at left, you can spot farm animals, chatting neighbors, and a winding country road.
Shortly after a Manhattan art dealer discovered Moses' paintings for sale in a New York drugstore for $3 to $5 each, Moses had her first gallery show and became America's elderly sweetheart. While the country was mired in World War II, her warm, colorful paintings of rural life touched off a yearning for simpler times, making her the female equivalent of Norman Rockwell. Shown at left is Moses' 1944 painting "The Old Covered Bridge," with children skating on a frozen river and families traveling by horse-drawn carriage.
Before she died at age 101, Moses finished over a thousand paintings, many of which now hang in museums around the world. To the end, she remained bemused by her popularity, as collectors paid thousands of dollars for her work and critics dismissed her as a "primitive artist." Her work continues to sell well -- "Country Fair" (at left), which was estimated to sell for $700,00 to $900,000 at auction, fetched $1,082,500 at Sotheby's in May 2009.
Next page: Henry Darger (the Savior of Lost Children), Joey Skaggs (the Prankster), & Howard Finster (the Preacher)
Henry Darger: The Savior of Lost Children
As a janitor at a Chicago hospital, Henry darger kept mostly to himself. But after hours, in his tiny apartment, his imagination took flight. For fifty years, he wrote and painted a 15,000-page illustrated epic called In The Realms Of The Unreal, which is now considered one of the masterpieces of outsider art.
It's the story of seven pure-hearted girls called The Vivians, who rescue enslaved children from the evil empire of Gladilinia. Full of bloody battles and daring escapes, Darger's illustrations are vivid and captivating. He used comic books and magazines as templates and then embellished them with paint and collage. Later, as his style matured, he became a mixed media virtuoso, weaving in photocopies, ink drawings, text and watercolors.
After Darger's death in 1973, his landlord discovered his secret masterpiece. Much of it now resides in The Art Institute of Chicago, just a few blocks from Darger's old apartment. In 2005, Jessica Yu made a film about Darger, also titled In the Realms of the Unreal, narrated by Dakota Fanning.
Joey Skaggs: The Prankster
A self-described artist-satirist, Joey Skaggs has questioned authority since the 1960s, manipulating the media the way a sculptor molds clay. He creates elaborate pranks, designed to show how easily hype and misinformation can mislead the public. He's scammed his way into news stories on CNN, the New York Times, and other respected sources. The short film, "Skaggs: Bullshit & Balls" (shown below), details several of his most successful pranks and his intentions behind them.
Perhaps his most successful and memorable prank was in 1976 when he placed an ad in The Village Voice for The Cathouse For Dogs "“ a fake bordello for canine prostitutes. Gullible press owners made appointments and the press jumped on the story. An ABC News piece, which was subsequently nominated for an Emmy, led the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to press charges against Skaggs, who only revealed the truth when he was subpoenaed.
To learn more about Skaggs and his pranks, visit his official web site and Facebook page; the sites for two of his "products," The Final Curtain and the Universal Bullshit Detector Watch; the Skaggs videos at The Influencers; and his blog, The Art of the Prank, and its accompanying Facebook page.
Howard Finster: The Preacher
In 1975, Howard Finster, a Baptist preacher living in Georgia, had a vision: He saw a tiny face in a glob of paint, and the face said to him, "Make sacred art." So he did.
Finster retired from preaching and started painting Biblical and cultural icons on plywood, gourds, and Coke bottles. At left is one of his milk jug paintings, "Faces on a Jug '92," which is currently listed with the Anton Haardt Gallery for $450. He also converted his two-acre property in Pennville, Georgia, into Paradise Gardens, a park filled with mosaic towers, junk sculptures, and a chapel shaped like wedding cake. After Esquire featured it in an article, tourists poured in and bought his paintings as inexpensive souvenirs. By the early "˜80s, Finster was the closest thing the outsider art world had to a superstar. When he died in 2001, Finster's proverbial ark was loaded with 37,000 paintings, each one personally numbered by the artist.