Edward M. Gómez is an arts journalist, critic, author, curator, and graphic designer. He is the senior editor of the international, London-based outsider-art magazine Raw Vision and a senior writer for the American arts-and-culture magazine Hyperallergic. He has written and provided photography for The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle/S.F. Gate, Art & Antiques, Art in America, Art + Auction, Metropolis, Folk Art Magazine, The Japan Times (Tokyo), Reforma (Mexico City), and many other publications. His film about the Texan outsider artist Valton Tyler, produced with Chris Shields, was released in 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of the Collection de l’Art Brut, the world's leading museum of outsider art, in Lausanne, Switzerland, for which he serves as a guest curator. He has written or co-written numerous books about art and design, with a focus on outsider art.
Even as Intersect Chicago takes place this year as an online event only, there are still many remarkable discoveries to be made among the wide array of artworks in many genres and media that exhibitors will be showcasing in their virtual booths. Rooted in a deep appreciation of originality and craftsmanship, Intersect Chicago continues to celebrate the creativity of artists and designers, and an unabashed sense of connoisseurship — combined spirits that each year bring together passionate collectors, dealers, and art-and-design fans from throughout the United States and overseas.
Not to be missed this year are a variety of interesting works that fall into the outsider art category. “Outsider art,” like “art brut” (French for “raw art”), a research-and-collecting genre established in the 1940s by the French modern artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), refers to works produced by self-taught art-makers who find themselves on the margins of mainstream society and culture. Their paintings, sculptures, collages, mixed-media assemblages, and other creations tend to express each artist’s deeply personal vision — and to be packed with original, often unexpected ways of handling materials or addressing particular subjects.
Among this year’s exhibitors who routinely present this kind of art, works by both canonical masters and emerging artists in this intriguing field abound. Carl Hammer Gallery (Chicago) has long shown the drawings of Frank Jones (1900-1969), an African-American autodidact who made his pictures of richly decorated house frames filled with little demons (“haints”) while serving a prison sentence in Texas. The Jones work Hammer is bringing to the fair is an emblematic one. The Moroccan artist Ali Maimoun (Galerie Siniya 28, Marrakech, Morocco) also uses repeated motifs in dense compositions filled with human and animal forms; a trained stonemason, he mixes sawdust into his paint to produce expressive, textured surfaces.
From Australia, the Aboriginal artist Daisy Japulija (Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York) evokes the ambiance of the western, desert region of her homeland and the mythical worldview of her people in bold, acrylic-on-canvas abstractions, while Alan Constable (Dutton, New York), makes small, ceramic cameras, peculiar objects filled with quirky charm. From Japan, Shinichi Sawada (Jennifer Lauren Gallery, London, United Kingdom) also produces ceramic sculptures; his unglazed, spiky creatures have earned international attention from collectors and curators, and were featured in the 2013 Venice Biennale’s main exhibition. Sawada is a leading figure in the contemporary field of so-called Japanese art brut.
Hill Gallery (Birmingham, Michigan) is showcasing a striking portrait of an anonymous Black man in a white cap by Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997), the New York-born son of Italian immigrants and labor-union organizer whose heartfelt paintings capture the spirit of the American working class’s struggle and grit. Meanwhile, Ricco/Maresca (New York) is showing Gil Batle’s exquisitely carved ostrich eggs, on whose surfaces this self-taught artist of Filipino ancestry — and former California prison inmate — vividly depicts scenes of everyday life behind bars.
Hirschl & Adler Modern (New York) is offering David Zeldis’s neatly rendered — in pencil or colored pencil on paper — nature and fantasy scenes, while the Pardee Collection (Iowa City, Iowa) is featuring Jim Work’s drawings in pencil and crayon on paper of vernacular, Midwestern buildings — here, the focus is on barns — whose bright palettes and economical lines make them a favorite of architects and designers. Finally, Portrait Society Gallery (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is presenting collages by the African-American artist Della Wells, whose mixed-media compositions, which include snippets of photos clipped from assorted print sources, are inspired by stories her mother told her about growing up in North Carolina in the early 20th century. Here, Wells’s “Our Ancestors Remind Us That We Will Survive This America” (2020) powerfully evokes the spirit of our current historical moment.
—Edward M. Gómez