Angkasapura, Noviadi (1979- )
Born in Indonesia, Noviadi Angkasapura loved to draw as child and grew up in Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, among immigrants from many of the Indonesian islands. He finished high school in 1999 and went to college to study electronics but dropped out because he couldn’t afford school. Angkasapura says that, when he was 24, he was visited by a supernatural creature who told him to live honestly and patiently. He chased the spirit, but it disappeared, leaving behind a piece of paper with the words “honest” and “patient” written on it. Following this experience, he committed himself to art.
He uses found paper, pen and pencils to create one drawing a day, each a blend of East and West. His art draws upon calligraphy found in Balinese and Javanese narrative scrolls, and many of his images reflect island spirits and the local animism of his home country, with its sacred patterns and celestial beings. Some of the figures in his work have fangs or claws, with internal organs exposed on the outside. Sometimes the fierce figures are connected to other beings that move together in tandem.
Benefiel, Charles (1967- )
Charles Benefiel was raised in Santa Monica and Venice, Calif. When he was a child, he would draw detailed drawings, sometimes on paper as small as a postage stamp. As a teenager, Benefiel struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and was homeless by age 18. He lived in abandoned houses that were part of a circuit between Los Angeles and Seattle frequented by runaways. He spent six years trying to get clean and eventually managed to quit all substances cold.
Benefiel found refuge in art again as an adult and, by 1993, was working out of a one-room shack in the mountains of New Mexico. Creating large detailed artwork 14 hours a day, seven days a week for months at a time, his friends urged him to check into a mental rehabilitation center; there he was eventually diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Benefiel’s compulsive tendencies are reflected in his drawings, which reflect a need for order in a chaotic world. Numbers frequently appear to show how much of human identity is reduced to numbers in items such as identification cards, bills, court judgments and tax forms. He also found inspiration in old dolls he inherited from his grandmother, altering the look of the dolls to express feelings of alienation and crisis, both personal and in the world. As he draws his number and pictorial drawings, he counts the dots in sequences, which helps him focus on his work. Not a single line appears in his art; instead, he uses repeated ink dots and small movements to achieve photographic density and depth.
Blinko, Nick (1961- )
British artist and musician Nick Blinko draws intensely dense and detailed compositions of faces, figures and obsessive patterns and, sometimes, incorporates fragmented phrases. Diagnosed as suffering from schizoaffective disorder and, in the past, hospitalized, Blinko conjures a nightmarish, anxiety-ridden world in which inner demons might be exorcised through graphic marks. Out of thousands of tiny flecks and dashes emerge elaborate visions of skeletons, mysterious symbols and religious figures.
He finds the need to make pictures is stronger than the desire for the psychic “stability” brought by therapeutic drugs. In fact, he finds they adversely affect his ability to work and construct microscopically detailed elements, sometimes consisting of literally hundreds of interconnecting figures and faces. He draws without the aid of magnifying lenses, and these pictures, produced in periods when not taking medication, bring no respite from the psychic torment and delusions from which he suffers
Cromer, J.J. (1967- )
Cromer was born in Princeton, West Virginia. He grew up in Tazewell, Virginia and except for his years in college, has lived in this corner of Virginia throughout his life. He works in a public library. After he and wife Mary were married, he began to draw. It was a pastime while watching television in the evening. The pastime gave way to obsession and drawing developed into painting. Experimenting with new techniques and learning rapidly what works for him, he has developed technical competency and his own unique set of artistic styles. His works are expressive and vivid. Often they are obsessively detailed. Objects may be recognizable but always describe his special viewpoint. They are sometimes witty, sometimes satirical, or even sad, but rarely "normal." He is partial to faces and once expressed a "desire to paint all the faces in the world." Cromer's paintings have grown in scale while retaining intensity. They not only entertain but often challenge the viewer. Since his first exhibitions in 1999, Cromer's works have rapidly gained widespread recognition by art galleries and collectors. His work is in the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum.
Demangel, Caroline (1977- )
Based in Paris, artist Caroline Demangel integrates signs and words within her colorful drawings to express urges of anger, anguish and desire. Her multi-facted character studies combine circular pencil expressions with wisps of pastels to create an emotional tension. Juxtapositions, crossing-outs and areas of color tint balance the compositions of her large, mixed media paper works.
Diaz, Daniel Martin (1967- )
Daniel Martin Diaz begins all his projects as drawings. He feels the medium offers beauty and intimacy that painting cannot capture and only graphite offers the quickness needed to capture an idea. The Los Angeles Times has suggested his work is “broodingly personal” with “...a compelling esoteric edge.”
Based in Tucson, Ariz., this award-winning artist has designed artwork for large public art projects in the United States. His most recent works reflect his immersion in scientific and philosophical concepts such as anatomy, computer science, math, cosmology, biology, quantum physics and consciousness. He is particularly fascinated with explanations of these theories through scientific diagrams and imagery, which form a solid foundation for his work.
Doi, Hiroyuki (1946- )
Born in Nagoya, Japan, and originally trained as a chef, Hiroyuki Doi’s entrée into the art world was borne out of tragedy. The death of his younger brother from a brain tumor in 1980 led Doi to focus on creating visual art. The work was so personally intense it was not shown in exhibitions in Japan for many years and wasn’t seen in the West until 2001, when his work was featured in a gallery in New York.
The Tokyo-based artist uses a Japanese archival ink pen to compose tiny circles that grow to form complex and richly textured pieces on handmade paper. His work draws on traditions in Asian and Western art, including the Sino-Japanese tradition of ink painting (zhe/dunjinga). Some of his pieces are small but others are large and reminiscent of painted screens and hanging scrolls with sprawling universes and lacy, intricate collections of floating cells.
Dominguez, Anthony (1960-2014)
Anthony Dominguez was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and was a sign painter and visual artist as a teenager. At age 16, he won an artist of the year award from Parade magazine, which included a trip to Switzerland. He attended Texas Christian University and became an admired figure in the Texas arts community, working in the well-known design and illustration studio, 500X. When his grandmother died, he followed a friend and moved to New York City in the late 1980s. Sometime in the early 1990s, he decided he wanted to be free of worldly possessions and took to living on the streets and tunnels of the city. Each day, he carried his art supplies and rolled canvas to the public library to work on his art.
Dominguez’s background as a sign painter influenced his straight-line techniques and bold styles of his paintings. He used symbols, words and humor to convey his thoughts on society, employing imagery such as skeletons to show life and death. He used bleach punched though black fabric with needles and white-out on black fabric in some of his pieces, and later added the color red and musical scores to his art.
Echols, Tarik (1973- )
Little City’s Center for the Arts artist Tarik Echols works with marks extracted from a single written word or phrase. These words are repeated and abstracted, creating his signature style of layered imagery. A variety of media are employed to give his works a rich, saturated feel. Large fields of painted color alternate with strings of written words. Words applied in crayon or oil pastel set up a resist to subsequent layers of watercolor, resulting in vibrant and increasingly complex relationships between the written portions of the composition and the background space.
Echols’s stream-of-consciousness working method is often clearly perceivable in the finished artwork. Snippets of words, phrases and symbols will be spread across the surface of the page but never in a uniform manner. Single words may stand out in isolation, while other words or phrases may flow over the page in a graceful arc, tracing the gestural action of the artist’s hand across the paper. The words themselves may be clustered around a theme. This is most apparent in works that incorporate collage materials. Echols’s original works have been exhibited extensively and have been commissioned for both commercial textile designs and print publications.
Ferdinand, Roy (1959-2004)
Self-taught New Orleans artist Roy Ferdinand has described his colorful depictions of the city as a kind of “rap in pictures,” his work often populated with pimps, gangsters, junkies and whores. Though currents of violence and sexuality run through many of Ferdinand’s paintings, others show a more hopeful side of the city, their subjects smiling and showing strength in the face of urban decay.
Cancer claimed Ferdinand’s life in 2004, the year before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, leaving his fans to speculate how he would have chronicled the aftermath of the storm.
Fields, William (1940- )
William Fields’s pastel and pencil drawings are almost all figural depictions of spirit beings to whom he relates in visions. The drawing itself is elegant and restrained; the works stand on their own in terms of craft. At first glance, the images have a psychedelic vocabulary, but their power goes far beyond the ornamental design effects of 1960s art. The figures are complex, with multiple faces and bodies. Often the larger figure contains several figures turned toward each other across the mid-line, or looking out in separate directions, and then those shapes make up the brow or shoulders of a more hidden central being. The effect is to suggest a dynamic, relational presence.
What marks Fields and his art is its grounding in visionary experiences he has had throughout his life, beginning with out-of-body experiences in his childhood. Visionary experiences are intense, but typical in the lives of those who have them. Because of the unexpected nature of the visions, he no longer drives. His current project involves a set of 72 spirits associated with the planet Mercury, whom he invokes and then draws. Fields’s studio is in what would have been the drawing room of his family house, and the lights there are covered with orange silks, because Mercury spirits are partial to orange.
Havlicek, Karel (1907–1988)
Born in Berlin, Karel Havlicek spent his adult life in Czechoslovakia, where his father moved the family in 1923 for his work as a scene designer in the Prague National Theatre. Although interested in art, young Havlicek studied law at his father’s urging. At age 38, he began drawing, working only at night, and drawing a picture a day for tens of years. He was drawn to the monstrous, grotesque and pathological.
After 1948, for political reasons, Havlicek was forced to leave his job and become a laborer. He moved to Kadan and worked in the Thun porcelain factory. The communist regime did not allow the display of his work, so he was recognized only by a few artists and writers. In 1948, the Czech art critic Karel Teige became interested in him and planned to organize an exhibition, a project crushed by the political authorities. This was a profound disappointment to Havlicek.
Hofer, Josef (1945- )
Austrian Josef Hofer does not speak, but he draws constantly. Every day, “Pepi,” as he is known, sits at his desk, drawing tirelessly and completely unaided. Pencils in different colors, sharpener and eraser are always in exactly the same place, and he has access to paper in various sizes. He directs his X-ray-like perspective at beings and things, offering a diversity of viewpoints in one and the same composition. His output is devoted to the depiction of objects, interiors and exteriors, but, also, the human figure, which is his favorite theme.
Having grown up on a farm, Hofer began by drawing agricultural, Terminator-like machines and figures on remnants of wallpaper and office paper. His human figures were built up in a consistent way: First, he would draw a naked body; then, he would dress it in several layers, as if he were putting clothes on it. Finally, he would add a kind of protective covering, with screws on both shoulders, as if to ‘lock up’ the figure. He applies the same precision to the drawing of nudes as to the depiction of a tractor.
He was born in 1945 and spent his early life in isolation, since Josef and his brother both suffered from learning difficulties and hearing and speech problems, and Josef also had impaired mobility. His father wished to spare them from being teased by the locals and, more important, to protect them from the Nazis and, later, the Soviets. After Josef’s father died in 1982, his mother took him and his brother to live with relatives, giving him the chance for some social contact, proving beneficial. Since 1992, he has lived in a facility where he attends a creative workshop.
Jeffries, Harold (1962- )
An artist of Little City’s Center for the Arts, Harold Jeffries’ imagery and working methods are an outgrowth of his personal obsessions and inner world. Nearly every piece has as its basis a grid-work of lines forming squares, rectangles, circles and other forms that resemble an isolated section of a vast blueprint outlining some lost civilization’s palace. If asked, Jeffries will tell you that these are, indeed, blueprints. They are part of his lifelong obsession to create blueprinted plans for Heaven. This project has no beginning, middle or end. The portion of the plans that Jeffries draws at any one time simply reflects his thoughts at that moment and do not advance the project along any conceivable timeline, a fitting solution for planning what is infinite and eternal.
The technique of layering, be it of forms, media or concepts, is another hallmark of Jeffries’s art. Resulting in images that appear to be wholly abstract, Jeffries will sometimes layer additional media over his original blueprint drawings. He will alternate drawing media with washes of paint, obscuring the original blueprint in one spot, reemphasizing it in another, drawing new plans on top of it in yet another place. Sometimes all or part of the original drawing is overlaid with a tight mesh of faces and human forms. These are variously described by Jeffries as ghosts or spirits or voices. To him they are real, and they give the viewer an arresting glimpse of Jeffries’s waking life.
On occasion, Jeffries has taken his blueprints and worked them into 3-dimensional form. Harold is extremely interested in the use of construction materials. This fascination is evident in the decisions he makes to bring his ideas to reality of form. He prefers to reuse discarded materials like empty bottles. The act of building becomes a metaphor for Harold’s life and his sense of the world. He finds comfort in the idea that something both beautiful and useful is being created while the burden that would otherwise have been placed upon existing landfills is reduced.
Jones, Frank (1900-1969)
In 1964, while serving a life sentence for murder in a Texas prison, Frank Jones began to draw using salvaged stubs of red and blue accountant's pencils and sheets of typing paper from the trash cans in the prison office where he worked. When his drawings received favorable attention inside and outside the prison, he was given better paper and new colored pencils. While Jones experimented with other colors, he preferred red and blue, which he said represented fire and smoke.
Jones, an African American, was born with a portion of fetal membrane over his left eye. Ancient traditions suggest that people with such a veil can see spirits and devils. Jones saw his "haints" (haunts or ghosts) and "devils" beginning at age nine. He created several hundred complex drawings of houses that reveal these figures, and his horned "haints" characteristically assume physical attributes of animals and inanimate objects.
Jones, S. L. (1901-1997)
In 1967, after the passing of his first wife and retirement from a 45-year career with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, Shields Landon Jones returned to his youthful hobby of whittling wood. With his Bowie knife, Jones first carved miniature figures and animals from the yellow poplar, walnut and maple he gathered near his home in the hills of West Virginia. By the mid-1970s, Jones’s work had evolved to encompass fully painted, life-sized human busts, animal heads and freestanding table-top figures.
By now in his early seventies, Jones began showing his work at local gatherings and county fairs. It was at one of these events in 1972 that Jones’s pieces came to the attention of prominent collector Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., a founding trustee of New York’s American Folk Art Museum. Jones continued to work well into his 90s, and today his pieces inhabit the permanent collections of not only the American Folk Art Museum but the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
King, Susan Te Kahurangi (1951- )
Susan Te Kahurangi King was born in Te Aroha, a New Zealand farming town, and grew up in a family with 12 siblings. Around the age of four, she stopped speaking for no apparent reason and began communicating solely through her art. Sometime in the 1980s, she mysteriously stopped producing art completely, then started again in 2008.
King uses pen, graphite, colored pencil, crayon and ink to create renderings of cartoon-like images. The cartoons are loosely netted together with cartoon body parts floating freely across the artwork.
Kinney, Charles “Charley” (1906-1991)
Charley Kinney is best known for his paintings of animals, farm life, folklore and religion. His paintings present unforgiving scenes of hell, local legends and the old way of life in rural Kentucky. He portrayed his subjects with bold, colorful brushstrokes of tempera, often applied over a preliminary pencil sketch. Many of the paintings have an outer border of black stove polish.
Kinney witnessed unprecedented and what he considered to be unnecessary change. He picked which changes he would adapt and proved he could live just fine without modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity.
He learned ways to innovate early on to compensate for a lack of upper-body strength resulting from a birth defect. He worked as a farmer, cut hair and baked pies for sale. He made oak-splint baskets and wooden puppets he controlled with foot pedals. Kinney attended school for only about three years, and many of his paintings require some phonetic interpretation. “Griller” means Gorilla; and he titled “Hean Hok Gat Radler,” for Hen Hawk Got a Rattler.
Kirk, Matthew (1978- )
Matthew Kirk is a mixed-media artist affiliated with the Louis B. James Gallery. He lives and works in Brooklyn. Born in Ganada, Ariz., Kirk is half-Navajo on his father’s side and the colors and patterns from turn-of-the-century Navajo rugs have inspired his work, as has architecture and the art he handled from working as an art handler at New York museums for 10 years.
Kirk’s mixed-media on sheetrock paintings with oil, spray paint, chalk and tape are abstract and are often presented as diptychs or triptychs. He incorporates found objects into his art, and, occasionally, his compositions take on the looks of aerial maps with human figures or factories. Kirk has made sculptures with discarded domestic and construction materials such as found wood and metal fencing.
Knopf, Solange (1957- )
Like many others of her generation, Belgian-born Solange Knopf dipped in and out of the world counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s and traveled the globe, specifically India, Afghanistan, Iran and Morocco. Circumstances led to some personal tragedies, and drawing became a way of assuaging pain, depression and confusion, and confronting her own and others' demons to give her life a focus.
Producing art has given her a fulfilling sense of personal identity, something she felt she lacked until well into adulthood. She is humbled by the mysterious nature of artistic, creative energy, and says she is awed by the thought of where it comes from, and how, through her own efforts, it is released.
Koczy, Rosemarie (1939-2007)
Rosemarie Koczy was born in Recklinghausen, Germany, the daughter of Jews. She was deported in 1942 at the age of 3 and survived two concentration camps, first Dachau and then Struthof.
In 1959, she moved to Geneva, Switzerland. First concentrating upon tapestry, Kocsy produced more than 70 fiber works in 15 years. In the mid-1970s, she began focusing her art on the Holocaust. In 1980, Koczy accepted a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, the oldest artists’ colony in the United States, and began to create pen-and-ink drawings memorializing Holocaust victims, drawings which numbered more than 12,000 at the time of her death from cancer. In her later years, Koczy insisted they be shown only accompanied by a statement in English, French and German, which begins: “The drawings I make every day are titled I Weave You A Shroud. They are burials I offer to those I saw die in the camps.” She also completed hundreds of paintings, wood sculptures and other works on the subject.
Koczy became an American citizen in 1989. In Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., she taught privately over the last 20 years of her life. After 1995 she gave free art lessons to elderly and disabled residents of Maple House in Ossining, N.Y., for which she supplied materials and arranged shows and acquisitions.
Lyon, Mike (1954-2012)
Mike Lyon was a full-time artist working in the studios of Little City’s Center for the Arts, and he took great pride in his position as an artist. Lyon approached his art in a methodical and orderly way. He preferred to build his compositions from geometric elements, circles and triangles, which were boldly outlined and repeated. He was often drawn to the simple contrast of black and white, which lent his fields of geometric forms a stark elegance. Just as often he turned to the addition of bold colors, sometimes using them to fill up his repeated circles and sometimes washing over large expanses of the existing composition. He continued to build up colors, shapes and textures, frequently stopping to consider the effect that had been achieved, until he had attained a certain balance and harmony.
Lyon favored basic drawing media, such as markers, pencils and ball-point pens, though he had mastered the use of many different media, which he employed when he considered them to be advantageous. In his last years, Lyon expanded his repertoire to include computer-generated images, manipulated photos and other multi-media works.
Mann, Gene (1953- )
Born in Grenoble, France, Gene Mann grew up at the foot of the French Alps. Several of her family members died when she was young, which taught her about the fragility of life. As a teenager, she moved to Paris and joined a community of musicians. She moved to Geneva in 1980 and saw a Francisco Goya exhibit that inspired her to cover the walls and ceilings of her home with hand-painted designs. This led her to try making paintings, and she audited classes at local art schools while working as an interior decorator.
Mann is a mixed-media artist who works with canvas or paper as well as sculptures that often employ substantial use of papier-mâché. Little squares are an essential part of her work, and she often uses collaged paper to create depth and texture rich surfaces. Her work is described as “primordial,” similar to mark-making with its inky splotches, patches of raised pigment and zigzagging strokes that remind one of ancient writing.
Merritt, Gene (1937-2015)
Gene Merritt was born in Columbia, S.C., and died earlier this year at the age of 78. When he was five, Merritt suffered brain damage from an extended fever. His parents were violent alcoholics, and he often lived in foster homes. When he was 12, Merritt’s mother committed suicide; he then lived with his father and became an alcoholic as well. With nowhere to go following his father’s death in 1972, and dependent on social welfare, Merritt bounced around. He lived in a nursing home, with a Catawba Indian family, in a homeless shelter and, in later years, in a senior living facility. He worked as a bag boy, shoe shiner and movie theater janitor, while selling some of his art to cover his living expenses.
Most of his drawings are on lined paper or tablemats. Merritt drew vehicles, mostly collectors’ cars, and gained inspiration for his drawings of people from those around him in Rock Hill, S.C., characters in old movies and television shows, and personalities from music and wrestling. The faces in his drawings are segmented with lines that create a mask-like appearance.
Monsiel, Edmund (1897-1962)
A small-town Polish shopkeeper, Edmund Monsiel started drawing during World War II. Fearing arrest after occupying German forces dispossessed him of his business in 1942, Monsiel fled to his brother’s attic in Wozuczyn. He hid there until the war’s end and beyond, refusing all outside contact, until his death from the flu in 1962. Some have speculated the war merely provided pretext for Monsiel to fulfill his desire to shut out the world.
The artist left behind about 500 drawings, striking both for their echoes of religious iconography and their obsessive-seeming repetition of mustachioed faces. These facial multitudes occupy almost every square inch of Monsiel’s work, their hundreds of eyes staring intently from the page.
Morgan, Ike (1958- )
Texas-born Ike Morgan took up painting while a patient at Austin State Hospital, where he resided for decades after being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1977. By the late nineties, he could be found making his studios in the hospital’s lawns and gardens, rolling out canvas among paint-splattered patches of grass and pavement.
Morgan draws inspiration for his work from photographs and magazines. While his subjects range from Santa Claus to soul legend Isaac Hayes, his presidential portraits—especially his depictions of George Washington—number among his most popular pieces. No longer a patient, Morgan continues to reside in Austin.
Murray, J.B. (1908-1988)
In his early seventies, J. B. Murray, a quiet African-American man from rural Georgia who could neither write nor read, suddenly began to paint, draw and write in a language of his own making. Believing he had received a vision from God, Murray created art at the confluence of African and Christian spiritual understanding. Murray’s southern evangelical view of the world, not only gave him a reason to create as he followed his “call,” but deeply influenced the form, components and ritual of his art.
Murray believed the Holy Spirit was moving his hand and that God had a message for him to deliver to the world through his ghostly figures and their transfixed eyes and long, vertical bodies expressed in brightly colored abstraction. To Murray these elongated shapes were “the people what is lying, them is the people what is living like God don’t exist.” He often repeated the words, “Give me a louder word up,” as he looked through a jar of well water to see the script hidden in his colorful daubs of paint, erratic dots and larger shapes.
Pyle, C.J. (1956- )
C. J. (Chris) Pyle is a professional musician working the live music circuit throughout the U.S. Midwest. As a traveling musician, he experienced down time because of sound checks, breaks and traveling, and Pyle would draw as a release, whiling away the time perfecting the ballpoint-pen weave technique that is his signature style.
Pyle was first attracted to drawing and illustration by the cult heroes of the world of Mad Magazine and Car/toons. His self-taught skill is strikingly refined. His two-color portraits—the works for which he has become best known—stem from his enjoyment in making them that extends across his artistic practice.
Romain, Max (1930 - )
Max Romain’s paintings often depict elements of ritual, pageantry and sexuality combined with nature and spirituality. Symbols and rituals of Haitian Vodoun belief—into which he was initiated as a young age—permeate many of his paintings. He talks about being in a trance state when immersed in painting and having imagery flow from his deeper imagination. Early pictures were on paper and later were painted on found poster board and panels.
Romain began painting late in life after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, and now works from New York City and Costa Rica. His art is infused with the colors of the Caribbean and influenced both by life he witnessed in Haiti and the multicultural aspect of New York.
Schroder-Sonnenstern, Friedrich (1892-1982)
Born Emil Friedrich-Schroder in Tilsit, East Prussia (now Lithuania), Schroder-Sonnenstern’s unruly youth was marked by accusations of violence, theft and mental illness. His resulting stints in various reform schools, prisons and asylums are thought to contribute to the lifelong hatred of authority that resounds in the artist’s satirical, scatalogical style.
Following an early career as a con-artist “doctor” and hawker of “natural-health” cures, during which he went by the alias Professor Dr. Eliot Gnass von Sonnenstern, Schroder-Sonnenstern surfaced in Berlin in 1944, where he turned to selling firewood. His artistic career wouldn’t begin in earnest until the 1950s, when his graphite-and-pencil drawings of exaggerated, eroticized human figures—typically given monstrous features and disproportionately large breasts or genitalia—earned him acclaim within Berlin’s arts scene. In 1959, Schroder-Sonnenstern’s work gained wide praise from the avant-garde community, including Art Brut movement founder Jean Dubuffet, at the Surrealist exposition in Paris. Though the 1960s and following decades saw a decline in his work’s quality and originality, Schroder-Sonnenstern’s drawings endure as popular examples of outsider art.
Schutzenhofer, Gunther (1965- )
Born in Mödling, Austria, Gunther Schutzenhofer spent most of his life in mental institutions until he was invited to live at the Haus der Kunstler (House of Artists) in Gugging, Austria, in 1999. The house was established by psychiatrist Leo Navratil as part of an art therapy initiative for his patients, who later began to publicly exhibit their work. Schutzenhofer’s work first went on display in 2001 and has since been embraced by the art brut world.
Schutzenhofer does small format paintings with abstract objects and figures, some of which look like animals. Using gray and colored pencils, he uses a multitude of parallel lines to create soft, furry-looking textures.
Shibata, Eiichi (1970 - )
Eiichi Shibata’s works have an allusive and subtle relationship with ephemeral elements. For example, his inspiration for his Soap series derives from his captivation with smooth, frothy textures of swirling soap bubbles. He creates his richly colored, penned drawings while enjoying the sound of striking two disks from the classic board game Othello and the sensation of breezy air by fanning his ear with a book.
Shibata lives and works in Japan as one of the earliest members at Kobo Syu, a creative workshop for adults with developmental disabilities in Saitama Prefecture.
Speller, Henry (1900-1997)
Henry Speller was born in the Central Mississippi Delta region. He dropped out of school at 12 and began working on local farms. Speller taught himself to draw, and his images are generally formed from pencil sketches filled in with colored crayon. Speller drew sexual fantasies of long-haired, big-breasted women. Such fantasies kept him sane and functioning, and drawing them helped to “just consolate” him in the presence of the monotony and internal anger he dealt with each day. Speller described his continuing fascination with the century’s changing technology, especially as it relates to transportation, recording the development of boats, trains, motorcycles, automobiles and airplanes.
In addition to becoming an accomplished outsider artist, he was a talented guitar player and blues man, playing with such notable as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.
Walker, Donald (1949?-)
Donald Walker’s art first gained notice from his caretaker. Her support later led him to take residence at the National Institute of Art and Disabilities in Richmond, Calif., from 2001 to 2005. There, he became known for a distinctive, angular drawing style. Electronic equipment like headphones, televisions and stereo speakers recur in his work; Walker said that he would use the money from his art sales to buy these things. Though severe illness eventually forced Walker to move from the institute to a nursing home, he continues to create art.
Walla, August (1936-2001)
Born in Klosterneuberg, Austria, near Vienna, August Walla was a diagnosed schizophrenic at age 17 and spent the remainder of his teen years in an institution. As an adult, his mother served as his caregiver. Then in 1970, Walla and his mother both moved into institutionalized care. In 1986, he moved to the Haus der Künstler, or House of Artists, a dedicated art-therapy center affiliated with the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic.
Walla’s work encompasses drawing, writing, art objects and graffiti, marked by a focus on the three-dimensional qualities of words and symbols. He painted the walls and ceilings of his room, his personal belongings, the hospital’s outside walls and even the walls of neighboring buildings. He had, quite literally, left his mark on the community by the time he succumbed to cancer in 2001 at the age of 65.
Way, Melvin (1954- )
Born in South Carolina, Melvin “Milky” Way moved to New York City to attend technical school in the 1970s. During high school, Way was a musician and recorded a solo album with a record company that went out of business before the album could be released. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late teens and, after some failed relationships, wound up homeless. In 1989, he was living in a shelter run by Hospital Audiences International, a nonprofit that offered art workshops to people with disabilities. A local artist encouraged Way’s art, and he started drawing small ballpoint pen-and-ink drawings on found paper.
Way creates cryptograms in which he embeds diagrams composed of letters, words, phrases, numbers and designs. His work includes mathematical and scientific nomenclature with equations, scrawled text and astronomical shorthand.
Widener, George (1962-)
George Widener is a self-taught artist and autistic savant who likens himself to a “time traveler.” Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Widener grew up in Kentucky in a poor, multiracial Appalachian family. From an early age, he was a compulsive drawer with a photographic memory and talent for arithmetic.
Widener joined the U.S. military at age 18 and was based in an intelligence unit in West Germany, analyzing Soviet KGB photographs for patterns and information. He enrolled in the University of Texas as an engineering student but later dropped out; his mind was so overwhelmed with numbers and dates he had trouble focusing on his coursework. Homeless on the streets and living in hostels, he spent his time filling dozens of notebooks with the dates and numbers that haunted him.
Widener was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and learned to channel his mathematical ability into gambling and art. He has been featured in documentaries and films focused on savants and geniuses. Widener’s mixed-media works on paper are often created through complex mathematical calculations based on dates and historical events. He often uses found paper or layers of tea-stained paper napkins as the base for his art. The sophisticated patterns that emerge from the maps, months, numbers and dates create bold images. The sinking of the Titanic is a recurring theme in many of his pieces. Some of his art is intentionally designed to be appreciated by robots with strings of numerals that form intricate meanings. Today, Widener lives in the mountains of North Carolina.
Wilson, Scottie (1888 or 1891-1972)
Born in London as Louis Freeman, Scottie Wilson is considered a historically significant figure in outsider art. Wilson grew up in Glasgow and dropped out of school at age nine to sell newspapers to support his family’s income. He later worked as a market trader and joined the British Army, serving in India, South Africa and on the western front during World War I. Following the war, he immigrated to Toronto and ran a second-hand store. It was during this time that he started using some of the antique pens in his shop to draw pictures that depicted the eternal struggle between good and evil. Wilson didn’t want to sell his artwork, so he had traveling shows and made money from charging entrance fees or donations. In 1945, he returned to Britain to live in London.
Wilson’s art includes birds, animals, botanical forms and clowns, some of which are based on self-portraits. Malignant personifications he called “evils” and “greedies” are featured motifs in his pieces, which reference totem poles and decorations in American Indian culture. Wilson’s work is highly symmetrical, with figures and faces emerging onto undulating and unstable ground in ways that are both alive and static at the same time. His work drew the respect and attention of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jean Dubuffet, the latter an active outsider art advocate.
Wolfli, Adolph (1864-1930)
Born in Bern, Switzerland, Adolf Wolfli was orphaned by the age of 10. Throughout his youth, he endured physical and sexual abuse, as well as indentured manual labor. As an adult, he was arrested twice on charges of child molestation. The second arrest, in 1895, led to Wolfli’s admission to Bern’s Waldau Clinic, where he was observed to suffer from psychosis and intense hallucinations.
Wolfli’s earliest surviving pencil drawings date from 1904 to 1906. In 1908, Wolfli began crafting what would become a 25,000-page, 1,600-illustration semi-autobiographical epic, in which he transformed his grim childhood into fantastical, globe-trotting tales of such alter-egos as “Knight Adolf” and “Emperor Adolf.” His almost overwhelmingly complex and intricate images gained the notice of clinic doctor Walter Morganthaler, who published Wolfli’s work in a 1921 book that earned the patient an audience in the art world. Wolfli continued to write and draw his multi-volume epic until his death in 1930. French Surrealist Andre Breton has hailed Wolfli’s drawings and collages as "one of the three or four most important oeuvres of the twentieth century.”
Zinelli, Carlo (1916-1974)
Born near Verona, Italy, Carlo Zinelli’s tragic early life saw his mother’s death and his father, a sister and a brother all succumb to tuberculosis. In 1939, Zinelli enlisted to fight in the Spanish Civil War but was placed on medical leave after only two months of service. He fought again after being drafted into the Italian army during World War II, which was psychologically devastating. In 1947, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized. An introverted child, the adult Zinelli suffered from a quasi-autistic condition that left him nearly unable to speak.
Zinelli, often simply called Carlo, began to draw in 1955 and soon gained a prominent patron in Scottish sculptor Michael Noble. Two years later, Noble would co-found an artists’ studio on the grounds of Zinelli’s institution, where Zinelli was invited to reside. Pen, pastel and gouache pieces on white paper make up much of Zinelli’s prolific output, though he also tried sculpture and collage. Much of his work from 1962 to 1968 is two-sided, the works able to be seen as continuous narratives from one side to the other.