Outsider art, a genre that originated with pieces created by patients in mental hospitals in the 1970s, is growing in popularity and popping up across the East End this summer including in a two-part series featuring the work of more than 80 artists.
Part one of the fifth annual Outsider Art in the Hamptons exhibition opened June 1 at the Galerie BelAge on Moniebogue Lane in Westhampton Beach and part two, incorporating more folk art, started on July 24. A satellite show will be launched on August 7 at Greenport Brewery Gallery in Greenport and will include original works by several other outsider artists.
“We are … blanketing the North and South forks about outsider art,” said Candyce Brokaw, co-curator of the exhibition. Ms. Brokaw is the director of the Survivors Art Foundation, which works with artists who have survived different types of trauma. Partnering in the exhibition are Fountain Gallery, representing artists with mental illness, and Pure Vision Arts, which advocates for artists with autism and other developmental challenges. Both organizations are working with the Survivors Art Foundation and the gallery to present the exhibition.
The main show has taken over seven rooms in Galerie BelAge, breaking up the white of the walls with myriad colors, textures and mediums, including oil, acrylic, sketches and mixed media. There are works on view by more than 80 artists, hailing from the East End and as far away as France, the Netherlands, Russia and China.
The lagging economy prompted the gallery to lower prices for this year’s show, but Part I still had the highest grossing opening ever, according to gallery owner Robert Deets.
“A Room of One’s Own,” an installation piece by East Moriches resident Ronnie Wiener, has been set up on the grass outside the gallery. In it, picket fences, trestles and window boxes combine, the artist said, to create a peaceful sanctuary. By placing the work on the outside lawn, Ms. Wiener hoped to “minimize the intimidation” and be more welcoming for visitors who venture into the gallery exhibition.
“If I used easily understood elements, it could be good preparation or aftermath for going into or out of the gallery,” Ms. Weiner said. The first “sanctuary” she built was for her late husband, Seymour, after he started coping with neurological problems that included loss of balance and memory fragmentation.
“I feel that outsider art is more alive and visceral than many other genres,” said Ms. Brokaw, a self-taught artist who also has several pieces in the show.
During the 1970s, “outsider” or “art brut” referred to artwork created by patients in psychiatric wards, Ms. Brokaw said. The term has since been expanded to embrace a genre that has grown in popularity and is now crafted by mainstream artists as well as those hoping to work out their inner pain through the creative process. “Part of the message here is education,” Ms. Brokaw said. “It’s not even mentioned in our textbooks.”
As the Quogue resident explained, “It gives a voice to the inner consciousness of the artists’ visions.” Ms. Brokaw, a survivor of both abuse and rape, became involved in outsider art in 1993. “Art began as a therapeutic tool for me,” she said.
“The reason we participate is because traditionally, outsider art was kind of looked at as artists with mental illness … and the term got broadly defined,” said Jason Bowman, director of Fountain Gallery. In the traditional sense of the genre, Mr. Bowman said, “many of our artists create work by tapping into things they wouldn’t necessarily be able to tap into if they had not had a mental illness.”
One audience the works usually draw are young adults, many of whom come to visit on school trips, according to Ms. Brokaw. “It’s alive; it’s not like you have to color in the lines,” she said, addressing the question of why the artwork appeals to a younger audience. “It’s about a stream of consciousness and free color.”
Speaking at Galerie BelAge, Mr. Deets told the story of a young girl who became excited when she saw a figurine of the Disney cartoon character Pluto in Giovanni Gelardi’s piece, which ties the different planets in the solar system to shapes and symbols. “Kids get it,” Mr. Deets said. “They really do.”
Some 38 of the 80 artists whose work is on display have some type of disability, but Ms. Brokaw said visitors won’t be able to tell which is which. As she was quick to point out, “We’re about inclusion of outsiders.”
The exhibition will be on display at Galerie BelAge in Westhampton Beach through September 7, and in Greenport through the end of September. A poetry reading is scheduled for August 15, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Galerie BelAge; there will also be a reading on September 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Greenport Brewery Gallery. For more information, call 672-1130.