"Outsider Art" or "Art Brut" is a problematic term to define and pin down. The phrase itself is a loose umbrella term encompassing many kinds of art from paintings to sculptures to installation pieces. Outsider art refers to artworks made by artists without formal training who work outside the mainstream art culture. Many have led isolated or eccentric lives, sometimes in prison or psychiatric institutions.
The first term to describe "Outsider Art," was "Art Brut" and it was first coined by the French artist Jean Dubuffet in the 1940s. In English, the word brut is translated as "raw unrefined or without education or culture. Since then, an alternative world of specialised publications, galleries, museums and fairs has developed to support the genre.
Their work is often breathtaking original and compelling, and frequently it is created in adversity. In a Connecticut prison, Raymond Paterson uses the thread from unravelled socks to embroider tiny scenes from his life of drug addiction and Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream.
Hawkes was disabled as a result of a mugging. Hawkes focuses on sculptors of religious significance and acts of heroism. One of his pieces he created a life-sized sculpture of violinist Isaac Stern after reading that the musician had continued a recital during a Scud missile attack during the first Gulf War. He says of his art, "Each matchstick represents a human being. My work shows the beauty and strength of what can happen when people work together."
In 1913 after two of her children died, Englishwoman, Madge Gill began creating obsessive drawings of costumed women and the planet Mars while she was in self-imposed trances. She continued until her death at the age of 79 in 1961.
Origins of Outsider Art
The origins and interest in outsider art can be traced to a 1922 book published in 1922 by German psychiatrist Han Prinzhorn. It was titled Artistry of the Mentally Ill and contained a collection of more than 5000 artworks by patients in European clinics. It was valuable as it was said to influence the Surrealists Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali and Paul Klee. Mostly it promoted an interest in artists who were not directly associated with the art world.
In the 1940's French painter and sculptor, Jean Dubuffet discovered Prinzhorns book and was inspired to collect his own art objects created by patients in psychiatric institutions. Much of Dubuffet famous collection is housed in a museum near Vienna that cultivates self-taught artists.
Dubuffet left his family wine business to collect "art brut." It is he wrote "unscathed by artistic culture", and it has a "burning mental tension."