Inside Out

February 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

I went to the Outsider Art Fair last weekend: ‘Outsider’ is defined as art by people without formal training, sometimes prisoners or mental patients, but just as often people who spent their lives making art without reference to the establishment. I don’t know much about the backgrounds of the artists except for one whose painting I bought years ago; he was a Cuban refugee with little schooling, a manual laborer who was in regular conversation with aliens. His paintings were mostly of these aliens smiling in garden settings: Caribbean color meets late Victorian whimsy. I still love my painting but I saw better ones this weekend, priced low. Too bad I don’t have any money.

These paintings and drawings and sculptures are not ‘great’ art but at the same time they’re not just ‘good’ or ‘pretty good’ art. The best of them come at you differently, with an astonishing ability to convey and transmit that mental state known as ‘flow.’ I looked at them and felt both deeply peaceful and gently stimulated, reminded not of the urgent mysteries of life but of the joy of swimming sideways in the creative sea, of solitude and making.

When I was a girl, I drew a lot. I read and I drew. The reading took me to other worlds; the drawing pulled worlds out of me, though they were not complex. Like many outsider artists, I drew the same images over and over, obsessive about the way my wrist felt turning the pencil, coloring the curves of faces, eyes, hair, dresses.  I was often asked why I drew girls, and only girls—for hours—.

It wasn’t that I chose to draw only girls. I would have agreed with you that dogs and lions and trees and houses were of great visual interest; that wolves and wasps, milk bottles and oceans made fine subjects for pictures. But drawing girls is what brought me to the flow, the soothing balance of being alone, not thinking about my life yet still thinking, alive, in motion.

I could speculate I was obsessed with my own identity. What else could it be? I was a girl drawing girls but it felt like something else. Or maybe that’s what identity feels like: something else. The need to explain who I am, not only in relation to the world, but in relation to the part of me that focuses, that directs consciousness; the need to find boundaries that may not exist. Me is an endless place. You’re in there too. But I didn’t know that when I was young.

Both Andree and I were inspired to the same fantasy, as we wandered past the booths: an old fantasy, one I’d almost forgotten. We both, independently, desired to build a house—set apart, perhaps in a wood— a strange house, made precisely as we wanted it out of boards or stones or tinfoil or glass beads or bottle caps…I was thinking stucco; pink and indigo, egg-yolk yellow; towers, narrow passages, windows big enough to crawl out of. Today alone, tomorrow visitors.

And when we’d built our strange houses, we’d fill them with these paintings that made us remember our precious inner worlds so delightfully out there multiplying.

‘I learned that her name was Proverb’

And the secret names

of all we meet who lead us deeper

into our labyrinth

of valleys and mountains, twisting valleys

and steeper mountains—

their hidden names are always,

like Proverb, promises.

Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable,

those we meet for only

one crucial moment, gaze to gaze,

or for years know and don’t recognize

but of whom later a word

sings back to us

as if from high among leaves,

still near but beyond sight

drawing us from tree to tree

towards the time and the unknown place

where we shall know

what it is to arrive.

–Denise Levertocv


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