Notes from the Field: Outside The Frame

January 14, 2013

By Cheryl Katz   

Years ago, I saw a show of paintings by the artist Jennifer Harrison. The paintings, urban landscapes of houses packed row-by-row, cheek-to-jowl, vibrated with life. The palette was clear and clean. The paintings had a spirit that ignited my growing interest in Outsider Art.

Referring to work created outside the usual conventions of the mainstream art world, Outsider Art is often created in isolation – whether because of an “off-the-grid†lifestyle or an emotional or physical disability. Outsider Artists are mostly self-taught, often using materials that are recycled or found.

My guide to understanding the genre was Lorri Berenberg, the gallerist who introduced me not only to Harrison’s work but to the work of other outsider artists. I visited Berenberg and her gallery frequently. (It is now closed affording Berenberg time to guest curate other outsider art shows and to serve on the advisory board of the Gateway Gallery and as a trustee at the DeCordova Museum.) Through our series of conversations I learned how to articulate the qualities that I loved about Outsider Art: an honest, open, highly personal, sometimes naïve, often moving, private glimpse into another’s world; a way of seeing behind the artist’s eye.

Jennifer Harrison’s painting career began almost accidentally after she was invited to participate in a small group show at a fledgling gallery in Ontario. Through her painting, Harrison reduces houses, garages and sheds to their simplest form.

Jennifer Harrison, Buildings with Blue Sky

Arshad, a Cambridge resident was born in 1975 and attends Gateway Arts, which provides professional development for artists with disabilities who demonstrate talent in the fine arts or handcrafts. She is represented at Gateway Gallery in Brookline.

Yasmin Arshad’s 129999

Griffin grew up on a farm in Ottawa Canada and used materials he found around the barn and in the field to use in his art. A self-taught artist, Griffin says of the materials he uses for his work, “The surfaces I am drawn to tell me what draw. “

Scott Griffin’s Boxers

At close range, an underpainting is visible beneath Cameron Wilder’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

Cameron Wilder’s Marilyn Monroe

For more information or to see additional work of Outsider Artists visit the Gateway Gallery in Brookline or attend The Outsider Art Fair from January 31 to February 3  in New York City.