Spotlight on Outsider Art: 27 Self-Taught Artists You Should Know About (Part 3)

We asked nine experts in the field to talk about their favorite self-taught artists.

With the 28th edition of the New York Outsider Art Fair in town, we asked nine experts in the field to talk about their favorite self-taught artists.

Director, Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, California

Latefa Noorzai has been working with Creative Growth now for three or four years. Originally from Kabul, she’s a refugee from the war in Afghanistan. She had never made art before coming to us, and she creates images of women she remembers from her previous life, as well as fantastic self-portraits.

Last fall we presented an exhibition that showed work by Creative Growth artists with disabilities alongside work being made by Aboriginal artists—some with disabilities and some without—at the Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency in Western Australia. This year we brought paintings by two Mangkaja artists, Sonia Kurarra and Tommy May, to the Outsider Art Fair. The piece by May below is a depiction of, and hope for, rain—which is very timely given what’s going on in Australia right now.

Another artist whose work I fell in love with when I saw it in Paris is the French artist Caroline Demangel, who began making art during a hospitalization in 2008. Her drawings are beautifully stylized and very compelling.

Latefa Noorzai (b. 1960), Untitled, 2018, ink and acrylic on paper copy, 15 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Creative Growth, Oakland, California.
Sonia Kurarra (1952), Untitled, n.d., acrylic on canvas, 59 x 59 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Creative Growth, Oakland, California.
Ngarralja Tommy May (b. 1935), Untitled, n.d., engraving on metal, 47 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Creative Growth, Oakland, California.
Caroline Demangel (b. 1982), Un poisson célèbre (triptych), 2018, acrylic, colored pencil, pastel on paper, 31 1/2 x 78 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York. Photo: Jurate Vecerate.


Curator and writer, Atlanta, Georgia

I recently saw an exhibition of 150 works by Dr. Charles Smith (b. 1940) at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Over the course of fifteen years in the 1980s and ’90s, Smith transformed his property in Aurora, Illinois into the African-American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archive, filling his house and yard with hundreds of figurative sculptures commemorating the African American experience. After Smith moved, the Kohler, which collects environments built by outsider and self-taught artists, acquired 218 of his statues. (Smith now lives in Hammond, Louisiana, where he continues to make art.) The show, which is up until May 17, was one of the most interesting I attended all year. The works are strange and beautiful.

Installation view of “Dr. Charles Smith: Aurora” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconson, July 14, 2019–May 17, 2020 (shown center, Haitian Priest). Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.


Director and Chief Curator, White Columns, New York

White Columns recently showed the work of Curtis Davis, and it got a fantastic response. Davis is a member of the studio program at the nonprofit organization Visionaries + Voices in Cincinnati, and he makes painted sculpture that is innovative in all kinds of ways. He is certainly someone whom I think that deserves greater recognition.

Another artist we worked with, who was associated with Fountain House here in New York, is Anthony Ballard. Ballard, who died in 2008, made remarkable black-and-white line drawings addressing his sexuality in ways that were quite complex.

Terry Williams, an artist from Australia who works with Arts Project Australia in Melbourne, makes beautiful soft sculptures. His show with us was organized by the Los Angeles–based artist Ricky Swallow. My interest in this field, initially at least, was driven by the enthusiasm of artists like Swallow.

And I’d like to say a word about Alyson Vega, whose work will be at Fountain House’s booth at the Outsider Art Fair. We did a project with her in 2016 and I continue to follow her work with interest.

Curtis Davis, Rock #8, 2019, acrylic on found materials, 13 x 16 1/4 x 9 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Visionaries + Voices, Cincinnati, Ohio, and White Columns, New York.
Anthony Ballard (1945 – 2008), July 13, 1980, 1980, pen & ink on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Courtesy of the Estate of Anthony Ballard, Fountain House Gallery, New York, and White Columns, New York.
Terry Williams (b. 1952), Not titled (Family of four), 2014, fabric, stuffing, wool, four parts, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist, Arts Project Australia, and White Columns, New York.
Alyson Vega, Rego Park Sleepover Grid, 2019, layered fabric and fiber, machine-sewn, 20 x 18 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Fountain House Gallery, New York.