Outsider art goes Uptown

Norbert Kox
Outsider artist Norbert Kox of Wisconsin is often inspired by verses from the Bible and depict apocalyptic scenes. This work is titles "Scrubbed."
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

So what exactly is an outsider? Yuri Arajs is the co-founder of the three-year-old organization Outsiders and Others, which shows and supports the work of outsider artists. He says the definition of "outsider" is always up for debate.

When we use the term outsider art it's like saying you're Caucasian," Arajs says. "It's a very, very generic term. If you area an artist who is non-traditionally trained, self-taught, that's the first step into that genre. Underneath the term there are a lot of subcategories that have very specific meanings: visionary, naive, intuitive, folk art."

Della Wells
Della Wells creates collages using images from magazines, broken cds and other found objects.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Milwaukee artist Della Wells is one of the many self-taught artists in the International Outsider Art Tour. She says she doesn't mind the label outsider, especially since she has her own definition.

"For me basically the outsider doesn't care what the art world thinks," she says.

Wells makes collages and drawings, featuring black women young and old in settings that are sometimes whimsical, often empowering.

"I kind of like making up my own folklore in my own fantasy, in my world. A lot of the work is based on...I call them psychological portraits. Really this is about self-growth, finding one's self."

Wells says she may not be formally trained in art, but she's an expert at being a black woman. One of her collages is titled "Mr. Magic is back and I don't care!" A woman sits in a rocking chair, large and powerful, while a tiny man in a suit sits meekly on the living room couch. For Wells, the picture is about getting out of bad relationships.

La Mazatleca
Doug Padilla is the one Minnesotan artist represented in the International Outsiders Art Tour on display in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

"And what happens is that when you do find yourself, you do feel stronger, you do grow bigger," Wells says. "It's not that you think that other people are smaller; it's that you begin to value yourself, so she's valuing herself."

Much of the work in the International Outsider Art Tour defies categorization. One woman crafted a doll using bones, velvet and $20 bills. Another artist, who calls himself "Mr. Imagination," made sculptures using pop bottle caps.

Ann Marie Grgich, an outsider artist who's also co-curator of the exhibition, says there's already quite a market for outsider art.

'Dichotomized' detail
Cynthia Lund Torrell's drawing "Dichotomized" invites viewers to explore. Looking closely at her hair you can detect a second pair of eyes peering out.
MPR Photo/Mariann Combs

She wanted to highlight artists who have yet to become legends in the art world, "because outsider art--a lot of it--is based on people who are deceased or mentally ill, the people who get all the big top collectors. I wanted to showcase what's going on with living artists today."

Artistic Director Yuri Arajs says people new to Outsider art often question its quality, since the artists tend to work with everyday materials--magazines and glue, trash and found objects. But he says in many ways outsider art is more visceral and more emotionally rich than many traditionally accepted works in the modern art world. "So much of the work is instantaneously created," Arajs says. "There's that spontaneity to it that really is an extension of what the artists' emotions and feelings are and what they're doing at that moment. And it comes across in the work. It's very accessible."

Arajs says it's a freshness of vision and originality of outsiders' work that have helped it to become more and more popular in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But until now he says outsider art has had a low profile in the Twin Cities.

Adam Nidzgorski
Outsider artist Adam Nidzgorski lives in France; several major art museums have his work in their collections.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

"Outsider art has its own history just like anything else does; it just hasn't been brought to prominence. This show will help do that," Arajs says. "We're just catching up in the Midwest."

The International Outsider Art Tour runs through December 2 at Outsiders and Others Uptown gallery in Minneapolis.

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