Art Brut

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Augustin Lesage
In his artistic statement of intent, the prose poem What I Believe by J.G Ballard, Ballard lists some of the things he believes in, which notably include a number of Surrealist artists and ‘The Facteur Cheval, the Watts Tower…and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.’  Ballard also writes in his annotations to The Atrocity Exhibition that the dedication for the book should have been, ‘To the Insane, I owe them everything.’  

It was a feature of Modern Art to seek inspiration outside of the recognised Western Canon. The Cubists expressed admiration for African sculpture and incorporated elements within their art. Members of The Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) Group, including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke were interested in the art produced by the mentally ill and children alike. However it was with the publication of Dr Hans Prinzhorn’s study Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) in 1921 that really captured the avant garde imagination and was to influence the nascent Surrealist movement. One of the artists featured was Adolf Wolfli, whose work with its obsessive detailing, elaborate fantasy worlds and horror vacui encapsulates Art Brut (raw art) as the French artist and collector Jean Dubuffet later termed art produced by the mentally ill.

In 1948 Dubuffet, along with Andre Breton, The Pope of Surrealism, formed the Compaigne de l’Art Brut. He collected thousand of works which forms the Collection de l’Art Brut, located in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Below are examples of Art Brut artists work. Art Brut is also referred to as Outsider Art, Folk Art, Naive Art and Visionary Art, all terms that are problematic for various reasons. Several for the artists are mediumistic artists who were never diagnosed with mental illness. Formally trained artists who were later institutionalised such as Van Gogh and Richard Dadd (A Fevered Mind’s Master Stroke) are by and large excluded.

Adolf Wolfli

A violent psychotic who experienced intense hallucinations, the Swiss artist Wolfli spent the majority of his life in prison or the Waldau Clinic, a psychiatric hospital in Bern. He started drawing at the age of 40 and in the remaining 26 years produced a vast body of work, including a semi-autobiographical epic with fantasy elements that stretched to 25,000 pages and 1,600 illustrations, which often feature his own idiosyncratic invented musical notation.

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Adolf Wolfli

 

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Adolf Wolfli
Augustin Lesage

A coal miner by profession, Augustin Lesage spent his life in Lille, France. He was 35 when he heard a voice tell him he was going to be a painter. After further communications with the spirit, whom Lesage believed to be his little sister who had died at the age of three, he received detailed instructions as what materials to buy and what to paint. He developed a uniquely detailed and symmetrical style incorporating motifs from Egyptian and Indian art.

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Augustin Lesage
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Augustin Lesage
Madge Gill

In 1919 the English artist Madge Gill gave birth to a stillborn baby girl and almost died herself. She was left bedridden for several months and blind in one eye. Upon recovering the 38 year old Gill developed a sudden and intense  interest in drawing and over the next forty years produced thousands of works in various media, mainly black and white ink drawings signed by her guiding spirit, ‘Myrninerest” (my inner rest)’. Female figures in intricate dress proliferate among the geometric designs.

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Madge Gill
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Madge Gill
Martin Ramirez

Martin Ramirez left Mexico in 1925 to find work in America. In 1931 he was attested for vagrancy which led to Ramirez being diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He would spend the rest of his life in Californian psychiatric institutions. His work frequently feature trains and repeated arches.

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Martin Ramirez
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Martin Ramirez

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68 thoughts on “Art Brut

  1. Martin Ramirez! You know, 1931 was the year that many Mexican artists and photographers left Mexico and found work in California (Diego Rivera – who hired lesser knowns to help with his murals)…for whatever that is worth.

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    1. Thank you Dana hopefully this is a good brief starter guide for art brut. Ramirez work is fantastic. I believe he only started painting after being hospitalised, and he later rejected the offer of returning to Mexico and remained in the psychiatric institution.

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      1. Well, as I recall Mexico was tough for all in the 30’s – politics you know… I’ll just let you do the work on Art Brut (I am totally unfamiliar) and wait eagerly to see what you come up with!

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    1. Curious that you should mention that… several Surrealists were experts and serious collectors of Native (mainly Pacific Northwest) and Meso-American art. Breton had an amazing collection while Peret and Paalen wrote articles and contributed to digs in Mexico. Thank you Heart, I have been quiet lately hopefully this is a good return

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      1. That’s very interesting. Here in Florida we have the Mikosukee and Seminole Indian tribes, I often ride out to there villages to enjoy their art and crafts, when I saw these works I immediately thought of their works.

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      2. I will send you a link to a previous article that shows the idealised map of the Surrealist world. I mention that the Cubist were interested in African Art, the Surrealists however were obsessed by Native/Meso-American and Polynesian art

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      3. I am a huge fan of the works of Frida Kahlo and enjoy surrealistic art, though surrealist used their art to shock and I am more of a realist in my preference. The surrealist movement seemed an offshoot of the Dada movement in poetry, promoting a super-reality. The twenties were quite exciting, I think I would have enjoyed being there.

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      4. I am more of a visionary though I do like some realist works. You are quite right about being an offshoot of Dada though it was more positive than Dada that had become mired in nihilism.

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      5. It is all a matter of taste… it was mainly a reaction against the horror of WWI. The whole epater bourgeoisie makes sense if you believe they were the ones to led to such senseless slaughter. I will send you some posts (I write a lot on obscure subjects).

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  2. Wow! These are amazing! I love the meticulous detail! Oh the twists and turns of the creative mind! 🙂Alas, once again I’m on my phone. I cannot wait to see this on the larger screen. “Folk art” makes me think of woodturning and quilt making. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… but it just doesn’t fit. Love the post and the artwork. It’s fantastic!

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      1. It is… the horror vacui that seems to be a constant feature is interesting as well. It has affinities to certain religious art and art produced under the influence of hallucinogenics.

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      2. Very interesting… A spiritual/spiritistic connection. Transcendence in three different forms: mental, spiritual and chemical.

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      3. Yes! I’m zooming in on all those marvelous little details now. I started to name a favorite but upon closer inspection I can’t decide.

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    1. And with no formal training. The rate at which they produced is truly astounding. The horror vacui seems to another common trait as well traditional aesthetic concerns taking a back seat to the need to express themselves. Glad you enjoyed.

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      1. Absolutely. It’s a phenomenon not dissimilar to people who have suffered head injuries, and wake up knowing how to speak a language they’ve never studied, or play an instrument they’ve never before touched.

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      2. It does make you wonder…I would be of the Huxley school of thought… to operate successfully in the world you have to limit the flow of information…if something happens like a blow to the head or madness then you have access to more information, more information that overloads the system.

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      3. Curiously his father was the evolutionary biologist T.H Huxley a champion of atheism, yet Aldous argues that the need for spirituality is as great as the need for food, clothing and shelter

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      4. I struggle with the idea that spiritualism is sustenance. I consider myself spiritual, though not religious. But I know many atheists who are good, moral people. In fact, I trust some of them loads more than I do some of my religious, God fearing family members.

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      5. He didn’t say religion he said spirituality, that human nature yearns for a deeper meaning. Lots of good atheists and I was pretty much brought out as one however we do seek meaning or at least answers

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      6. I have committed a faux pas that normally I would scold, mixing spiritualism with religion. However, in my defense, the atheists I know don’t subscribe to the spiritual either. I suppose the ones I know lack depth.

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      7. I have done a series of posts on De Sade, be careful or I will send them to you. You would have to be careful with De Sade, although he would want to talk philosophy he would probably get side-tracked to pursue his other great obsession with you Kindra

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      8. One of my best series I think…i did six posts that are solely or mainly about him…at the chateau la coste and philosophy in the bedroom are two of my personal favourites…he life was so absurdly eventful it is hard not to write interestingly about him

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  3. Mr. Cake, all of the artwork is rich and so very dense, in a good way. Madness may holds hands with many creatives, which always brings us back to Alice.

    “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
    “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
    “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

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