Top 5! - Outsider Artists

Ten years ago I was in Lausanne, Switzerland with some former students who, along with me, shared an interest in art. While touring the city, we came upon one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited - the Collection de l'art Brut - a museum dedicated to art produced by the self-taught, the obsessive and/or the insane. In English, this art is subsumed under the descriptor "Outsider Art," but "Art Brut" in French more aptly translates to "raw art." Whatever it's called, it remains an artistic movement that I can't help but obsess over…


5. George Widener

The still productive Widener takes a fascinating interest in disasters, real, past, present, future and imagined. See more examples of his work at the Carl Hammer Gallery.


4. Howard Finster

Finster's work is classic Art Brut. The flat perspective, horror vacui, the high level of attention to very particular details, the writing. Check out his home page for many more examples!


3. Royal Robertson

Working primarily with markers and poster board, Robertson took an interest in spacecraft, aliens, the Book of Revelations and the judgments of God. A classic outsider artist.


2. A.G. Rizzoli

Rizzoli is and should be considered a paragon of the Outsider Art movement for a number of reasons. First, the work that cements his reputation was, by and large, unknown to the broader public (or even to those close to him). Second, the sheer volume of what he produced boggles the imagination. And third, just look at it! A visionary architecture symbolically representing people from the 30s through the 70s every bit as compelling as the speculative fiction of its time.


1. Henry Darger

I dare you to contemplate In The Realms of the Unreal or The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, as it was called by the artist/author and not sit gape-jawed. Millions of words. More than 15,000 pages. Watercolor panels up to 12 feet wide. The story of the Vivian Girls as they fight against wicked, child-enslaving adults is to my mind the definitive example of Art Brut or Outsider Art. The reclusive Darger worked on Unreal throughout his adult life, but no one knew it. It was the kind of dumb luck that no one in fiction would take seriously that Darger's landlord happened to be a New York Times photographer with the capacity to recognize the artistic value of Darger's work. I saw Darger's work for the first time in Lausanne, the huge panels, vivid story and fine details of the collage and the writing have never left my mind.