The world’s largest outsider art exhibition was held in New York City in February 2011. The outsider art, which is created by the artists with no formal artistic training, generally represents the style of art that does not fall under any particular school or trend of art. The outsider art first attracted attention in 1920s when it came to command high prices. The outsider art includes those created by people with disabilities.
Encountering Augustin Lesage
When I first saw the artworks by a French outsider artist named Augustin Lesage, I felt like I was hit by a lightening for their tremendous creative honesty that exposes the artist’s emotions without any reservation. Lesage’s artworks I saw seemed to ignore all the conventional rules of art as well as moral sense that hinders human actions. After graduating from college, I saved enough money to travel to Europe just see Lesage’s works with my own eyes. That was the beginning of my obsession with the outsider art.
Later, I went to work for the School for Student with Disabilities where I taught painting and drawing. The school had many students with extraordinary artistic talents yet most of them ended up working for low wage jobs that earned them barely enough money to survive in the real world. When I found out about the harsh reality in which these students are forced to live in after the graduation, I wondered, “Is there a way to support these artistically talented people with disabilities so that they can make a living by being artists?”
After gaining experiences in the field of artist support and art curation in Japan, I moved to the U.S. in 2008 and visited galleries in different parts of the country – starting from West Coast – before settling down in New York City to establish Altruart, Inc. instead of enrolling in a school to study English and business management. With no experience in running a business, I stumbled along the way yet I feel it was the right decision to select the path I took.
Meeting Masashi Hattori (Curator for Hyogo Prefectural Museum)
While still in college, I read a book written by Masashi Hattori, one of the foremost experts of outsider art in Japan, called “Outsider Art.” The book took me through the history of outsider art with abundance of useful, important information with humor. It’s a kind of reading that can be enjoyed and appreciated not only by people in art but also by non-art readers as well.
In October 2009, I had a chance to meet Mr. Hattori. A philosopher with neutral yet profoundly keen, perceptive viewpoints, Mr. Hattori has greatly influenced my current thinking towards the outsider art.
Meeting Yukiko Koide (President of YUKIKO KOIDE PRESENTS)
When you go to Japanese internet search sites for outsider art, the name Yukiko Koide can be found everywhere. She is also the most well-known Japanese outsider art expert in the U.S. My ultimate goal is to become an internationally-recognized expert in outsider art in the mold of Ms. Koide. I’ve met her on 3 separate occasions. The last time we met (at the Outsider Art Fair), she came up to me and said, “Bjork dropped by at our booth today.” I’m honored to get to know Ms. Koide well enough to have such a casual conversation. >
My job is to connect the artists with disabilities as well as the galleries that carry their artworks with corporations and government organizations. More specifically, I propose to these businesses and organizations the idea of setting up business schemes to help promote the outsider artists and sell/commercialize their artworks. I’ve gotten substantial support from many businesses that place CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as an important part of their corporate philosophy.
There are several non-profit organizations, both in the U.S. and Japan, whose goal is to help commercialize the outsider art. Working with outsider artists is a 2-step process – caring for the artists & promoting them. I concentrate on the latter because it helps the outsider art to be recognized by a wider audience. Today, there are variety of products such as eco-bags, accessories and interior items that feature the outsider art available in the U.S. I hope to help farther solidifying such trend to establish an environment that brings people closer to the outsider art and its artists.
I am currently working to commoditize artworks by Keith Pavia, an outsider artist belonging to the Fountain Gallery in New York City, which specializes in supporting artists with mental illness. A manic depressive patient who has been in and out of the hospital 7 times in the past, Keith is an artist with an extraordinary talent. Pop and stylish, his paintings, with unique color schemes and composition, feature imaginative characters in a fantasy world.
Last summer, when I stumbled across a sales booth for Dinomighty Design in Bryant Park, I immediately fell in love with one of their products called Mighty Wallet, prompting me to conduct an extended research to find out where they are being sold (I visited at least 50 different stores in Manhattan alone). As the result of this research, I became a Mighty Wallet expert that I maybe the only person in the world who knows every store that sells the Mighty Wallets and at what price. Dynomighty Design is currently manufacturing custom design Mighty Wallets that feature Keith’s artworks.
Words from Hitomi Ota (Writer for a magazine “I-Woman”)
In recent years, the outsider art and its artists are getting better recognized in Japan as the result of collaboration projects with such well-known non-outsider artists as Marc Jacobs yet the country still lacks galleries, organizations and individuals that exhibit and/or collect the outsider artworks. Thus the continued efforts by art curators such as Ms. Morii to introduce and promote the outsider art in Japan would be very important and highly meaningful.
I truly respect Ms. Morii’s pure passion for the outsider art to create an environment that would benefit both its artists as well as its audience. I fully support Ms. Morii’s efforts to establish the outsider art as one of the mainstream art genres in Japan (and elsewhere) in the future.
January 01, 2011
Spotlighting the Shining Talents of Outsider Artists – Asuka Morii
“Last year was the year of changes. It was the year my ideas became reality,” says Ms. Asuka Morii who in 2010 launched a business that specializes in licensing of artworks by outsider artists. The company proposes the ideas of utilizing outsider art as a design element for a variety of commercial products.
“It was free. It was incredibly honest. It exposed what many of us are hiding, from both others and ourselves, in life, I was totally captivated,” looks back Ms. Morii about the time when she first encountered the outsider art as a college student in Japan. Wanting to see more outsider artworks, she traveled to Europe, the birthplace of outsider art, to visit museums and mental hospitals known for their understanding and promotion of outsider art.
After graduating from the college, Ms. Morii taught painting at School for Student with Disabilities. As an art teacher, she saw firsthand the reality in which artists with disabilities – despite their obvious creative talents – are forced to take up low-wage jobs just to make ends meet. Determined to change that, Ms. Morii came to New York in search of the ways to help outsider artists make living by being what they are – artists. “In Japan, we are trapped in thinking how to help people with disabilities adjust to the society,” says Ms. Morii, “If these people have talents that we can benefit from, then why not we adjust? That allows artists to flourish their true talents.”
Ms. Morii, as a part of her networking efforts, visited the museums, galleries, mental hospitals, etc. throughout the U.S. that support outsider art and its artists. The experience convinced her that the best way to benefit outsider artists would be to start her own business. The words of Florence Nightingale, “Contribution based solely on self-sacrifice lacks permanence. It is powerless without firm financial base,” also played a role in prompting her to the decision.
Ms. Morii who says she feels no burden of running a business seemed genuinely content when she said, “I’m doing what I enjoy so I have no pressure. Meeting people in the field of outsider art is truly engaging. For 2011, my main goal is to make more people aware of the art genre called Outsider Art, which is still relatively unknown.”
Message from Asuka
I want to shine the light on outsider art and its artists. Let’s look at their talents, not disabilities.
I hope more people will join me in finding out the true beauty of human creativity through the outsider art.
Download .PDF (Japanese)