22 Apr

Costumes by Vahad Poladian. Photo by Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times

Some gems from Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels. Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a bit of O/outsider attitude.

“What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade of career intellectuals? It’s obligatory. From one capital to another they perfectly ape one another, practising an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigably recopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it have anything to do with art?” Jean Dubuffet in L’Art brut préferé aux arts culturels, 1946.

This was in 1946 and it’s still just as true seventy years later. Very, very depressing. This tale of masterful gallery fucking-uppery is much more comforting:

“Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)… had been a junk dealer, making a living by salvaging what he could from the bits and pieces that fell into his hands. To this end he collected the old nibs from gold fountain pens. One day he found in his possession a particuarly fine pen, large and free-flowing, so good to handle that he was somehow led to use it playfully to draw outlines and forms…

Signed simply ‘Scottie’, the drawings became a source of livelihood for Wilson, who held his own exhibitions in music halls and pier booths around Britain. He was even taken up by a London gallery, Gimpel Fils, who were forced to rescind their agreement when he set up his own stall outside the gallery, selling his work for a fraction of the price of those exhibited within.”

And how about this for somebody who seems to have sat really comfortably on the fence between being an “Outsider Artist” and simply not giving a solitary shit what anybody else thought, because he was living his life as he saw fit:

“Among works that defy classification are the uniforms and exotic costumes made by Vahan Poladian (c. 1902-82), who spent many years in an old people’s home ina French provincial town. Many years before he had fled the Turkish massacres that ravaged his Armenian homeland, losing not only his land but much of his family. He spent years roaming the world, buffeted by the fates. Possibly an invocation of his Armenian origins, in his last years Poladian created a wardrobe of uniforms– including headdresses, medals, brooches and handbags– made from cast-off clothing, costume jewellery and pieces of brightly coloured fabric. He daily paraded ceremonially through the streets of the town of Saint-Raphael, garbed in his dazzling creations. Fully aware of the humour of the situation, he often accompanied himself with a few notes on his reed pipe.”


Reminds me of my recent post about Henrik Ibsen walking around town wearing all the medals he’d awarded himself. Poladian is my career/style goal of the month.

Finally, this interesting diagram analysing the process of creative image making, devised by Dr. Hans Prinzhorn of the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic. Prinzhorn was in many ways the father and the fairy godmother of what is now called Outsider Art, both studying a huge body of work and asserting the aesthetic appeal and beauty of art works by untrained and often severely marginalised people.

After looking at it, I’m actually seeing examples of elements from Prinzhorn’s scheme– specifically the unconscious or semi-conscious dwelling upon particular stages– everywhere in the work of various contemporary artists, and not only ones that are coming from a place of mental illness or disability.


Hans Prinzhorn’s Scheme of the Tendencies of Configuration from his book Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill)


  1. Alistair 22/04/2016 at 5:47 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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