Luc Guerard and Pierre Racine


I visited Luc Guerard’s studio in Montreal, along with his friend, sculptor Pierre Racine (both pictured at right). I introduced you to Pierre’s work in a previous blog. Although Pierre is not self-taught, his work has an “outsiderish” vibe and as beautiful as I have seen in outsider art collections. I saw an exhibit with his current work. Pierre is now working in wax, which is an usual and intriquing form of work. I had no idea that casting bronze was so ludicrously expensive, so this seems to be a creative solution to the problem. It seems that wax is a durable alternative (as long as you don’t leave it in the sun!) and, indeed, it is fascinating to see.


Here is  photo of one of Pierre’s sculptures. IMG_0020  They are as beautiful in “real life” as they are in photographs.   If you didn’t know it was wax,  you might think it was a kind of transparent stone. Lovely.                                  

Luc Guerard in Montreal


I have blogged about Luc Guerard before (see previous blogs), but had only met him through email and telephone. I met him in person on my trip to Montreal and it was pretty much as I expected – art in every square inch of his home-studio and a man who had a lot of interesting things to say about his art. I learned that Luc had “hundreds” more paintings stored in another location in Quebec, and I believed him when he described the stacks of art that are stored there.

Like many artists I meet, Luc is a prolific artist. His work is hung everywhere in his home and much, much more is stored in every small space, like closets and bathrooms. Surprisingly, Luc remembers every piece he created, and that in itself is mind-boggling to me because there is so much of it!

IMG_0029I learned that Luc typically creates abstract works, like the ones pictured here, but he also experiments with portraits, cityscapes, and assembled sculptures. There seems to be no end to his creativity. Every work displayed in his home is a visual delight and it is hard to focus on one in the midst of so many. I think it is easier to show you images of his art, rather than explain the dazzling array of work.





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In memoriam: Ian McKay (1949 – 2014)


Sadly, Vancouver artist, Ian McKay, has passed on. He could only be described as “larger than life.”  He started out as a mime artist and never lost his flair for the theatrical:  full of life, quick to laugh, a friend to many. If you ever met Ian (and because he told everyone), you would know that he was the opening act for a Led Zeppelin concert and performed with Cheech and Chong at the burlesque house, The Shanghai  Junk. Around that time he took a fundamental art course, but found it too academic (and boring). Instead, he taught himself to draw by studying the old masters. This soon led to his first painting exhibit in Toronto in 1972.

Ian was a prolific painter, but the quirky brilliance of his work was the Tower of Babel project. Although Ian developed macular degeneration, which left him legally blind, he hand-drew these works (with a large magnifying glass) until the very end. This is how Ian described his fantastical, imaginary drawing project he called “Axonometropolis”.

Axonometropolis is a city of the imagination; infinite in structures, roads, canals and bridges as if in a daydream.

I have been working on The Babel Project for twenty years. I was inspired by the writings of the blind author Jorge Luis Borges. Ironically perhaps, like him, I am nearly blind.
When inventing the Library of Babel, Borges said that the universe is a sphere whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere. I am imagining the City of Babel. Babel was to be constructed to reach Heaven; and so, for me, it must be built to infinite scale.
Axonometropolis is a term I invented to describe a city which can only exist as an axonometric drawing, which describes mass, volume and spatial relationship without perspective. Therefore, there are no vanishing points or horizon. The buildings, pathways, lakes and gardens are visible in their actual scale, in all directions, to infinity.

Until 2010 I was drawing only the “districts” of Babel. Now the districts are expanding into each other, forming larger areas where the viewer can get a greater sense of my ultimate goal.

Because I am nearly blind, I can only create one small area at a time, using a magnifier. The drawings started in 2008 are improvised directly, in ink, freehand without a plan.


Ian’s work did not go unnoticed. His drawings were included in a beautiful book, Visionary Architecture: Unbuilt Works of the Imagination (1999, Ernest Burden, McGraw-Hill). He was one of the amazing artists included in this book, which featured the famous 18th Century architect, Giovanni Piranese. Marion Harris exhibited his work at the Outsider Art Fair in NYC. In 1992, he received the award of excellence in international competition from the American Society of Architectural Perspectivists. He was also a member of the Blind Artist’s Society.



You had quite a journey, Ian McKay. You were a good friend to many, and always put their needs before your own.  I will always remember you sitting in a corner of your neighbourhood restaurant, the Whip, glass of wine and cigarettes at hand.  Maybe you are now resting, old friend, in a snug corner of one of your own drawings, telling tales of your grand adventures. You will always be with us.








Serge (Friedrich) von Engelhardt: more ceramics

I introduced you to the ceramic sculptures of Canadian artist, Serge von Engelhardt, in my last blog. I would like to show you more of his work (e.g., photo to the right). But first, I have something to say about another artist, Eugene von Bruenchenhein (American outsider artist, 1910-1983). I am a big fan of von Bruenchenhein’s work, and his wide-ranging experimentation with painting, sculptures and ceramics. He is generally known for his furniture models made of chicken bones (!) and the  photographs of his wife, dressed up as a glamour girl. Like so many other outsider artists, von Bruenchenhein worked at odd jobs to support himself and his wife. He dug clay from nearby construction sites to make his ceramic work and fired his creations in his coal-burning kitchen oven. The grey sculpture to the right is one of his pieces.

Von Engelhardt’s intricate and delicate designs remind me of von Bruenchenhein’s, but better. I like to imagine them meeting and comparing notes on firing and glazing techniques. I am pretty sure they would have admired each other’s work, and I’m pretty sure that von Bruenchenhein would have learned a thing or two from von Engelhardt. By comparison, von Bruenchenhein’s clay sculptures look a bit heavy and clumsy. Here are some other examples of von Engelhardt’s beautiful sculptures below:



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Ceramic artist Serge (Friedrich) von Engelhardt (1913 – 2007)

I was blessed to be contacted by one of Serge von Engelhardt’s daughters.  Even better, I had an opportunity to see some of his original porcelain sculptures. They count among the most beautiful creations I have ever seen and I am delighted to introduce him to you.

Like so many other European citizens in the first half of the last century, life for the von Engelhardt family was one of chaos and relocation. They were displaced from Estonia after WWI and sought refuge in Germany. von Engelhardt found employment in a mass-production ceramic factory, where he made models of animals and lamps for sale in gift shops. Because the owner was not able to pay him, he acquired a kiln in lieu of wages. He built a small studio behind his parents’ apartment building from trees that he felled himself. Thus began von Engelhardt’s  calling as a ceramic artist.

After WWII, von Engelhardt immigrated to Canada from Germany with his family in 1952. They landed in northern Alberta, where he worked as a farmhand to support his wife and four children. As one of his daughters described to me, life was dire; they built a house from an old pig barn and eked out a basic living.

Moving to Edmonton a few years later improved their lives a bit. von Engelhardt continued to work at odd jobs to support the family and spent the rest of his time in a studio he built in the basement of their house. While in Germany, he had taught himself to make ceramic and porcelain sculptures, and he was finally able to pursue his dream again. Through trial and error he created 400 different glazes for his ceramic bowls and vases and, sadly, no one is able to replicate them today.  He sold a few sculptures, but it was difficult to build up interest in his fantasy worlds. As with most original art that is out-of-the-box, he was creating work that appeals to some (us), but not always to the general public. He and his wife followed the children to British Columbia in 1980, and Serge opened another studio to work and sell his sculptures. Although he didn’t really care if people liked his work, he hoped that it would generate some income.

The most spectacular of von Engelhardt’s  work is his Atlantis collection, pictured above. The subject of fascination (obsession) for many writers and artists, von Engelhardt sculpted buildings that he imagined on the lost island. He intended them to be illuminated, and they are usually displayed with back-lighting. They are spectacular and beautiful and I wish I had had a chance to see them all together when von Engelhardt was alive.






Canadian artist – Luc Guérard

One introduction leads to another; that’s how I have been tracking down outsider artists in Canada. Pierre Racine (see earlier blog) suggested that I talk with Luc Guérard in Montreal, Quebec. I discovered a treasure-trove of art on Luc’s Facebook page. There is not much that Luc does not do: his paintings and assemblages are amazing.

I had fun talking with Luc. He talks like his paintings look – he is bursting with ideas and you can almost see them bouncing along the telephone line. He has two passions: his son and his art. Luc talks a lot about his disabled adult son. He is proud of his accomplishments and obviously enjoys their time together. You will see his son’s drawings on Luc’s Facebook page. He likes to focus on one object, like a truck, and draw it over and over and over again, filling the page with overlapping, beautiful patterns. It’s not hard to see Luc’s influence – like father, like son?

Luc is in his 60s and has been painting and drawing since he was a child. He was accepted into art school in 1968, but his father didn’t want him to go. Instead, he taught himself how to be an artist. He has explored many media, like painting, assemblage, and wood sculpture.  He also wrote a novel, which seemed to be a good place for his imagination to take flight. The novel is a satire, he says, where the main character goes on wild adventures. From seeing his art, I was not surprised to learn that objects in the novel transform and morph into new things – the world is not what it appears to be. Sadly, publishers rejected his work as “kitchen writing” and were flat-out insulting to him. My impression is that Luc shrugged off their insults and carries on, regardless. (Good on you, Luc!)

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As with most artists I meet, Luc has given up on having his artwork accepted by galleries and continues to work (prolifically) on his own. He sells directly from his home and has come up with a unique way to price his art:  $1 per square inch. I can see gallerists rolling their eyes upon hearing his pricing strategy. But, having been around the art scene for many years, it’s as good a system as any, in my opinion.

Check out Luc’s work – you’ll be delighted.









































































































Canadian artist, Laurie Marshall

Many people told me that I should meet artist, Laurie Marshall. I am delighted that I finally had an opportunity to do so. I had seen a few of his paintings at Gallery Gachet in Vancouver, and was interested to meet the man behind the art.

Laurie is a gentle and reserved man, who loves to paint. He had always doodled a bit with pencil and paper, but first picked up a paintbrush at an art drop-in centre when he was about 50 years old.  I got the impression that he was facing some personal challenges at that time, and painting was a fulfilling activity. Laurie’s life changed dramatically one day when an art collector saw his work and suggested that a local gallery have a look at it. The Marion Scott gallery in Vancouver held a couple of exhibits of Laurie’s work and the public responded in full support. Since then, Laurie has been painting on his own, showing a few pieces from time to time at Gallery Gachet. (Note my earlier blog about Canadian artist Menno Krant, who has an identical story of discovery.)

Laurie’s tiny apartment is filled with paintings. They are heaped on the table, stacked in the closet, layered in a bookcase, and piled on chairs around his bed. He likes to look at them before going to sleep; it helps him see what needs to be done because, he says, paintings are never finished. His cat, Patches, sits wherever he can find an empty spot. All of Laurie’s paintings are on thin pieces of particle board. (Does that make art conservationists’ hair stand on end?) And they are all small – usually around 12 x 16 inches. He signs them  “elbo”, which is a nickname he uses for artwork.

Laurie grew up in farming country in British Columbia, hence the appearance of cows, horses, and other creatures in his paintings. Small cars are often seen zipping along curvy streets. He doesn’t like cars much, so they have to be small and unobtrusive, like Volkswagen bugs. I noticed that similar images, like boats filled with round-faced smiling people, appeared in several paintings. (They reminded me of Annie Hooper’s little people statues. See my earlier blog.) I also noticed a scene that I thought looked like the Last Supper (pictured above). I asked Laurie about that, and he agreed that it was an image he liked, even though he was not a religious person. Crosses also appear from time to time and he includes them because they are such an iconic image in Western society.

Like every artist, Laurie likes to talk about his work. His art idols are the same as mine:  Dubuffet, Rouault, and Klee. He says he doesn’t know much about art history, but sometimes looks at books in the library. He applies paint in thick layers and often scratches images through the paint. He uses a palette knife or his hands to work – he doesn’t like paint brushes. Sometimes he has an idea of an image he would like to paint, but usually he just starts painting and good things happen.

Laurie will be one of four artists in a major exhibit at Gallery Gachet in April. I will report back then about the work he chose to display.

Back to Alma Rumball


I had the opportunity to meet Alma Rumball’s family when I was in Ontario in July. I had been corresponding with Wendy Oke, who is married to Alma’s nephew, Colin. They have a massive collection of Alma’s paintings, and I was lucky to see the originals.

The best part of seeing an original collection is that you get to see everything – what came before the pieces we know and what came after. Firmament – the painting shown above – was done in the 1950s, before Alma’s spirit came to her. I was surprised to see how radically different it was from the others. It was not drawn, but painted in lavish, lush, thick brush strokes. In a word – gorgeous.

The image below, is one of Alma’s paintings from the 1970s. It is called Ego-and-Soul. It was done after her stroke, when she was no longer able to do the fine-detailed pencil drawings. They also have that luxurious quality of her early work, and I marvel at how unique those drawings “in between” came about.


I have been reading a bit more about art created under spiritualistic inspiration. It is fairly well-documented, and there are diverse opinions about its origin. Some hold that it is merely an alibi – something that gives the artist permission to make art. Others maintain that the artists created their work while under the influence of a someone or something from the spirit world.

I don’t have an answer. Any thoughts?





Jahan Maka – symbolist or outsider artist?

So what do we make of Maka’s art? Is he “just an outsider”, or should he be judged by more traditional standards?

Art critic, Michael D. Hall, holds Maka in high regard as one of the great symbolists. In fact, he compares Maka to Chagall, with figures floating in a decorative visual field. Both artists derive their symbols from the same fertile fields of Eastern Europe, they resisted western norms, and neither wanted to be “typed.” Hall describes Maka as creating a visual poetry, both imaginative in form and layered in meaning. Because his images are compelling, he argues, they demand a critical assessment and certainly far more than the “romantic/mythic folk art rhetoric” that we apply to Maka and, in fact, all outsider artists. Maka discovered the power of symbols and colour. He came from a culture rooted in storytelling and recounting of myths and, says Hall, he fits nicely into the box with other symbolist artists.

Hall raises an interesting issue.  In our arrogance, we created the myth of the primitive artist and it is our habit to place artists like Maka in that category. He goes into the box of self-taught artists, who are a breed unto themselves, and we label (and perhaps dismiss) him as an outsider. But he deserves more.

For me, there is another question. As I struggle to define the boundaries out outsider art, I have often wondered if the art has to be “good”. Do we allow “junk” to in the outsider art category, just because a self-taught artist created it? I don’t think so. When people wonder why I am interested in art that is just “weird junk”, I answer that when I am wading through the flotsam and jetsam of the outsider art world, I often bump into art that draws me in.  Like Darger, like Bartlett, like Maka. Their understanding of composition is worthy of comparison to any “real” artist who has gained the respect of the art community. Is it intuitive or learned? I don’t know. But everything is where it should be within the confines of a frame. The movement is bang-on, the colours just right, and the voice of the artist is crystal clear. If you don’t hear it right away, you are compelled to stand there until you do.

I saw a documentary once about the Prinzhorn collection in Germany (art from psychiatric patients in the 1920s and 30s). The curator was thankfully candid in his description of the collection. He fully acknowledged that most of the artwork was not much to look at, but once in awhile, you find a “real” artist, who clobbers you over the head with his talent. I wholeheartedly agree. I guess I’m not with those who prize outsider art, whatever is produced. But I am inextricably drawn to those whose fingers spring magic. Like Maka – one of our own.