Lausanne, Switzerland 1886–1964
Aloïse Corbaz finished school at eighteen and trained to become a dressmaker. In 1911 she travelled to Germany where she was engaged as a governess to the children of Kaiser William II’s chaplain. She developed a violent passion for the Kaiser but returned to Switzerland at the outbreak of the war in 1914. This return home had disastrous effects on Corbaz’s health. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of thirty-two and was treated at the Cery psychiatric hospital near Lausanne. Around 1920, Corbaz began to draw in secret, and from 1941 she experienced a burst of creativity which led to her covering rolls of large sheets of paper with paintings. The French artist Jean Dubuffet was particularly impressed by her work.
St. Gallen, Switzerland 1910–1993
Little is known about Angelus’ life. He worked in an engineering factory and a printing works, and he started producing the bulk of his artistic work after retirement. He was first discovered at the age of seventy-six. Angelus usually drew in pencil to which he would add watercolours or crayon. Several of his surrealist-looking pictures were illustrated warnings that reflected his political and philosophical beliefs about the world.
Jamaica born 1934
When she was twenty-five Pearl Alcock abandoned her marriage in Jamaica and emigrated to England. She took a number of factory jobs until she opened a boutique in Brixton, followed by a café and then a private club located in her basement. The Brixton riots in 1981 forced her to close the premises. In 1985 Alcock took up drawing because she wanted to give a birthday card to a friend but could not afford one. ‘I went mad scribbling on anything I laid my hands on’,she explains, ‘friends admired what I had done and began to bring me materials to use, that is how I started’. Alcock refers to some of her works as mood paintingswhich, like dreams, are inspired from within. These pictures are saturated in vibrant colour and resemble abstract expressionist work. Alcock lives and works in London.
near Verona, Italy 1916–1974
Carlo led a very solitary life. At age nine he left home to become an agricultural worker and developed a great love of nature. At fifteen he began work as a butcher in a local abattoir in Verona. Then, during military service in the Spanish Civil War, the first signs of mental illness emerged. He was eventually admitted into a psychiatric hospital and in 1947 was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. In 1957 the hospital opened an artists’ studio where patients could experiment with creative activity. Carlo used pictures to communicate and he would draw or paint compulsively, sometimes for up to eight hours a day, using both sides of the paper. Carlo’s pictures told the story of his past and were filled with images of birds, animals, flowers and agricultural equipment. Often he would fill a page by line drawing rows of incomplete words and numbers.
Chicago, USA 1892–1973
Henry Darger’s family were European, but he fantasised that he had Brazilian nationality. His mother died in childbirth and his little sister was adopted very young, never to be seen by Darger again. When his father became too frail to look after him, Darger was sent to a Catholic boys’ home. In 1905 he was transferred to an asylum from which he absconded several times. Dismissed from the army in 1918, he was employed as a janitor in a hospital and rented a room in Webster Street, Chicago, from Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner. After Darger’s death, Nathan Lerner discovered forty years worth of accumulated debris: comics, magazines, spectacles, religious bric-a-brac, balls of string. Amongst these items were 13 volumes, handwritten and illustrated, which contained over 13,000 pages of a fiction entitled In the Realms of the Unreal. This fantasy tells of a Catholic planet and the war between ‘the Glandelinian rebels’ and their child slaves ‘the Vivian girls’. In 1966 Darger had begun writing My Life History,a fusion of real and fictional events.
London, England 1884–1961
Madge Gill lived in a children’s home until she was nineteen when she moved to Ilford to stay with an aunt who introduced her to spiritual séances. Married at twenty-three, Gill had three sons, the second of whom, Reggie, died of influenza in 1918. After losing an eye and almost dying while giving birth to a stillborn daughter, Gill began to paint and draw. She usually worked in bed by oil lamp; sometimes she painted in complete darkness. Gill consistently depicted the female form, often set against abstract, architectural lines, crosses and zigzags. The name MYRNINTEREST often appears in her pictures, which might mean ‘mine innerest self’. Her son claimed that she believed her work was guided by a spirit, although she denied this in public. Around 1935 she began weekly séances and first showed her work at the East End Academy. By the time she died Gill had hundreds of drawings piled in her wardrobe and underneath her bed. Her work gained recognition at the Hayward Gallery’s Outsider show in 1979.
Pressburg, Czech Republic 1926–1996
Johann Hauser lived in a displaced persons’ camp with his mother until he was seventeen when he was transferred to a mental institution and eventually diagnosed as a manic-depressive. In the late 1940s, he was transferred to the Gugging psychiatric hospital at Klosterneuburg, Austria. Hauser began to draw in 1959 when he was asked to produce a picture of a sun. He mostly worked with coloured pencil crayons to produce images that were bold and saturated in colour. He frequently depicted images of women which he would sometimes copy from illustrated magazines. Hauser’s large signature, the only words he could write, feature prominently in each work. His distinct moods informed his imagery. During a manic phase he would produce bold colourful pictures which contrast with the geometrical, cold images produced during a depressive episode. Hauser was one of few patients in a psychiatric hospital to attain international recognition in his own lifetime.
London, England born 1964
Chris Hipkiss lives in rural France. He began to draw in his distinctive style in 1990 while riding on a tourist boat along the Seine in Paris. He explains: ‘The work I produce now dates back to a particular time, when I gave up concentrating on the finished product and, instead allowed my thoughts to wander until a finished picture was created. ‘Most of Hipkiss’ intricate pencil drawings depict imaginary landscapes and alien cityscapes that reveal disturbing details when examined closely. The pictures take a long time to produce; indeed his largest work took over two years to finish. Hipkiss says that he is inspired: ‘to find ways of drawing things in repetition that I would like to draw, but sometimes can’t find the way of doing it’.
near Vienna, Austria 1915–1987
Rudolf Horacek worked as a gardener for some years until he developed a mental illness. By 1949 he was permanently hospitalised at the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna. He was a very quiet man who rarely spoke. When questioned, he would consistently provide misinformation. For example, if asked his age, he would claim to be 100,000 years old. Drawing was Horacek’s primary means of expression. He would frequently spend vast amounts of time tracing over the same lines, an activity that would only be undertaken at the suggestion of someone else. It would usually take another event, such as a meal, to end a drawing session.
Austria born 1935
Franz Kernbeis was the youngest of seven children. He worked on his parents’ farm until his late teens when he first started to show signs of mental illness. From the age of twenty he became a permanent resident in psychiatric homes. It was at the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna, that Dr Leo Navratil first encouraged his interest in drawing. Kernbeis usually makes pictures of solitary objects, figures and animals. He begins by drawing an outline which he then fills in with pencils or crayons.
Montfort-en-Chalosse, France 1910–1989
Raphaël Lonné was born to a poor family of farm labourers and as a child showed no interest in art. He could not remember ever picking up a pencil to draw. In 1946 Lonné started work as a postman and around this time he developed an interest in the spirit world. After attending a séance, he felt compelled to draw under the influence of spirit-guides. Over the years this need to draw would suddenly stop when his spirit-guide left, and then re-emerge when the guide reappeared. Initially Lonné drew with pencils, but as he became more skilful he worked with pen and ink. To begin a drawing Lonné would sit still and focus, allowing the spirit guide to direct his hand. He remembered nothing during these drawing sessions: ‘I set off a bit mechanically,’he explained, ‘I make some arabesques, I jolly it up, without necessarily having any preconceived idea’. Initially he refused to sell any drawings because they were the work of the spirit-guide.
Blackpool, England born 1943
Albert Louden’s parents had been evacuated from the East End of London where they returned after the second world war. Louden left school at fifteen and began work as a van driver. When he was nineteen he started to draw in oil pastels and watercolour on paper laid out on the floor. He first received recognition as an Outsider artist in the seminal show at the Hayward Gallery in 1979. Louden’s work comes from the unconscious. His pictures are characterized by bulbous, brightly coloured, cartoon-like figures. And his work is always untitled. He explains: ‘I don’t know when I start to do a picture, who will come to visit me’. Louden is an exception to the Outsider collection in that he refers to catalogues and art books. In fact he no longer considers himself an Outsider artist. He currently lives and works in London.
Hayward, California, USA 1906–1999
By the age of sixteen Dwight Mackintosh’s mental disabilities had become unmanageable and he was institutionalised. He was released from the state hospital after fifty-six years and, soon after, registered for art classes through his day programme at the Creative Growth Art Centre in California. On his first visit to the studio, Mackintosh filled the top half of a piece of paper with an almost entirely indecipherable script. Only his name and the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ were partially legible. On the bottom half of this paper he depicted three men with halos, endowed with exaggerated penises. Mackintosh’s preferred instrument was a black felt-tip pen, and throughout his first year at the Centre he continued to draw line-based, sexually explicit imagery of ‘boys’ and ‘buildings.’ Eventually his repertoire of images broadened to include yellow school buses, animals and musical instruments.
Michael the Cartographer
Michael the Cartographer’s date of birth is unknown. He lived in isolation and spent long periods of time making invented maps which he always eventually destroyed. These maps were inspired by the imagination and bore no relation to geography.
Sandersville, Georgia, USA 1910–1988
J.B. Murry never received any formal education and worked as a sharecropper and farm labourer until the age of sixty-five. He married in 1929 and raised a family of eleven children. In 1977 Murry suffered from a hip problem which was followed by a religious vision in which he was told to spread the word of God through the creation of a ‘spirit script’. While drawing he would find himself in a trance-like state which he believed gave him direct communication with God. He would interpret his ‘script’ by looking through a bottle of holy water. Murry developed an expressive style of calligraphy, intermingled with images of ghostly figures and twisting scribbles. In his later pieces, black, red and blue feature predominantly.
Choisy, France born 1947
Michel Nedjar’s father was a Jewish tailor and throughout his childhood he was surrounded by sewing machines and clothes. As a young boy he remembers being fascinated by his sister’s dolls, especially their clothes. He left school at fourteen to become an apprentice tailor. He qualified for a fashion diploma when he was eighteen. During his military service Nedjar contracted tuberculosis which led to a spell in a sanatorium. After his recovery, he travelled extensively across Asia, Europe and Mexico where, he recalls, he: ‘…came across dolls which were truly magical … it was my first contact with High Magic’. In 1975, Nedjar returned to Paris to work at his grandmother’s stall in a flea market, and he began to stitch together rag dolls using a variety of materials. His first animals and dolls were playful toy-like objects. Over the years they have evolved into more sinister, monstrous creatures. More recently, Nedjar has constructed statuettes built over glass bottles using papier maché. He continues to work in Paris.
Perifimou (Alexander Georgiou)
Nicosia, Cyprus 1916–2001
Alexander Georgiou adopted his father’s nickname Periaphimous (Perifimou), meaning ‘the famous one’, once he became an artist. He emigrated to London in 1935 and settled in Brixton. After serving in the second world war he developed a skin disease, which led to him working as a gallery assistant at Tate Britain. He began to draw at work, when he was fifty-nine. ‘At the Tate you have to sit in a room and watch people passing by’, he recalled, ‘obviously it gets monotonous to see there are no fights or people touching the pictures. So I started to draw. ‘He would begin by randomly doodling lines and shapes onto paper from which a distinct subject matter would emerge. Perifimou explained: ‘I am controlled by something. I don’t know what. When I begin work with my lines I am taken over’. He would often give his pieces poetic titles.
Kent, England born 1954
Valerie Potter briefly studied at Hull College of Art until she was expelled for having ‘no talent’. In her late teens she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, although her mental health has improved as she has developed as an artist. At the age of thirty-four she was awarded a degree in what she describes as ‘The History of Ideas’ from Middlesex Polytechnic. At first Potter experimented with poster paint before taking up drawing. In 1990 she started producing thread drawings, black stranded cotton embroideries on unbleached calico. Recently she has experimented with making ‘cross stitch pictures’, which are, she says: ‘my favourite of all my artistic endeavours because they are so absurd. Can you imagine anything more pointless and bizarre than trying to create a world that is made up of curves and swirls on a grid that only takes straight lines? A cross-stitch is an obsessional quest for bizarre beauty without anything to recommend it except the final result’. Potter lives and works in England.
Sava Sekulić’s family were Serb peasants. His father died when Sekulic was just ten years old, a bereavement from which he never fully recovered. At seventeen he joined the army but was discharged after a wound to the eye. Finding his home village under enemy occupation, Sekulić left to take up any work that he could find. During this time he taught himself to read and write and in 1932 he started to experiment with painting and drawing. The back of many of his pictures are covered with poetry, an integral part of his work. In 1964, Sekulić’s work finally found recognition and he participated in a number of group and solo exhibitions.
Perchtoldsdorf, Austria born 1920
Oswald Tschirtner’s first ambition was to become a priest, but he ended up studying chemistry. His education was interrupted when he was conscripted into the army during the second world war. He was as a prisoner of war in France and was not released until 1946. Soon after his return to Austria, Tschirtner was treated for mental illness at the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna where he first began to draw. Tschirtner frequently produces images of elongated figures, with distinctive heads and feet. When drawing these figures he once said: ‘this is how I am - always the same. ‘He is a quiet man who has little contact with the other patients in the hospital. One of his main hobbies is filling in crossword puzzles.
Borbobari, Bangladesh born 1962
At the age of nine Shafique Uddin moved to live with his brother in England. In 1984 he began a foundation course at the Sir John Cass School of Art. The school offered him studio space, but he chose instead to work in a corridor and he took no notice of their teachings. Uddin’s paintings are drawn from his personal history. They incorporate memories of his life growing up in the village of Borbobari as well as his experiences in east London, where he currently lives.
London, England 1888–1972
Scottie Wilson spent much of his childhood in Glasgow. He ran away from school at the age of nine, unable to write anything more than his name. At sixteen he joined the Scottish Rifles and fought on the Western Front during the first world war. In 1931 Wilson moved to Toronto where he ran a junk shop and where he first began to draw. ‘One day I was listening to some music by Mendelssohn’, he recalls, ‘and I was looking at one of my pens looking like a bulldog, with a nib as thick as my finger - I dipped it into a bottle of ink to try it out, doodling on the surface of the table’. He did this for two days until the tabletop was completely covered in designs. His pictures are characterized by their intricacy, and are filled with strange, mythical creatures. André Breton and Picasso were great admirers, and Wilson is represented in most major museum collections around the world.
Moravia, Czechoslovakia 1908–1986
As a child Anna WilsonZemånkovå developed an interest in drawing but was discouraged in this by her father. In 1933 she married a civil servant and moved to Prague. The couple had three children. During the 1950s, WilsonZemånkovå experienced long periods of depression and took up drawing to improve her mental well-being. She felt that creator spirits compelled her to draw and she would usually work between four and seven in the morning. ‘Early in the morning I am freed from all cares’, she explained, ‘There is no need for second thoughts or an eraser, the drawings work themselves delightfully. Everything goes on its own’. WilsonZemånkovå worked intuitively and liked to draw with her hands raised, as though she were conducting a piece of music.