Monthly Archives: May 2014

Outsider Art Fair Lectures: J M Basquiat + Sam Doyle


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fallen Angel, 1981An interesting feature of the Outsider Art Fair in NY this year was the panel discussion about the self-taught artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Panelists: Brooke Davis Anderson, Eric Fretz, Lenore Schorr, Xaviera Simmons).

I had only a vague understanding of Basquiat and his work; he entered my radar screen when he began collaborating with Andy Worhol in the 1980s. But, obviously, there is much more to his short life story than that (he died in 1988 at the age of 27).

Basquiat was a bit of a wunderkind; he was said to have shown his intelligence and artistic talent at an early age. His art interest and talent was nourished by his mother, but she was committed to a psychiatric institution when he was 11. It seems that Basquiat’s life took a downward spiral at that point and he lived with his father for awhile, but was soon banished from home. He lived on the street, supporting himself by selling T-shirts and postcards.

Basquiat became known for his spray painted graffiti under the name SAMO. He met Warhol in a restaurant in around 1980 and, so the story goes, Warhol was taken by Basquiat’s genius. Basquiat went on to exhibit in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition, and later was taken up by gallerist Annina Nosei. Warhol and Basquiat worked on some collaborative paintings between 1983 and 1985. Basquiat is “famous” for painting in Armani suits, which he would appear in later for interviews. (Obviously, success was getting to his head…) He died from a heroin overdose in 1988, at the height of his career. His paintings now sell for kajillions of dollars.


OK, well, that’s the official biography of Basquiat, but what about his artwork? His art focused on dichotomies, like wealth and poverty and inner versus outer experience. He used a lot of text in his drawing and paintings and incorporated found materials. He worked in abstract and figurative styles, mixing historical and contemporary commentary. He obsessively included anatomy, words, and symbols in his work. Most interestingly, he loved and collected the work of outsider artist, Sam Doyle (1906 – 1985), pictured at right (Devil Spirit. Image kindly provided by Gordon W. Bailey).

Sam Doyle? Who would have thought that? Doyle was a self-taught artist from South Carolina, who painted bold figures on sheet metal and wood. He profiled the history and people of his community. His work is figurative and bold and one can see what attracted Basquiat to Doyle’s work. Look at the bold, face-on stance and facial expression of Doyle’s and Basquiat’s images. No subtlety, no restraint, just pure expressiveness.

But I find one thing disturbing: Basquiat’s work sells for millions. Doyle’s work doesn’t. Was it Basquiat’s connection to Warhol that commands awe and top dollar, or does it have to do with his images that ask the big questions about life. I think may be a bit of both. Although they were both “self-taught” artists, one of them (Basquiat) had the power of the NY art scene and mega$$$ behind him. The other (Doyle) did not.

I’m just sayin’…


30194andy-warhol-and-jean-michel-basquiat-posters  images





Outsider Art Fair 2014 (NY)

DSCN0833I had the opportunity to attend the Outsider Art Fair in New York last week (May 8 – 11). I first went about 5 years ago, and things have changed under the new ownership of art dealer Andrew Edlin. The fair is now in an old building in Hell’s Kitchen and covers 4 floors in a much more attractive setting. It was bright and inviting, and the booths were dazzling. As usual, it was hard to know where to begin.

DSCN0837The first thing I noticed was that the folk art was gone. Last time there seemed to be  an over-abundance of countrified folk art, which I wasn’t interested in seeing. It seems that folk art and outsider art have finally gone their separate ways. (Hooray!) It is always interesting to observe what artwork is in abundance.  A few years ago there were Finsters and Traylors galore. This year I noticed a lot of William Hawkings, Ramirez, and Von Bruenchenhein’s photos. All were treasures.

The OAF draws people from diverse groups. The serious collectors showed up on opening night and seemed to know everyone there. It felt like a tight group of friends who gathered for a celebration of outsider art. (Note: outsider art enthusiasts do not conform to the black + white dress code!) There was a steady stream of visitors over the next 3 days, and red dots started appearing beneath the artwork.

To walk through the fair with someone who has not been indoctrinated in outsider art is a wonderful experience. I had an opportunity to do that with my son. Although he is somewhat familiar with the genre, he was unprepared for the volume and diversity of the artwork. He marvelled at some works and raised his eyebrows at others – a typical guest, I think. If you ever get a chance to attend the fair, do it. You’ll be glad you did.

One of my favourites by Japanese artist Momoka Imura (fabric, thread and buttons):DSCN0841