Outsiders on the Screen

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Edward M. Gomez

More than half a century after the French modernist artist Jean Dubuffet 'discovered' and classified the creations of outside-the-mainstream, self-taught artists as 'art brut' ('raw art'), an international establishment of museums, galleries, art fairs, publications and knowledgeable experts has evolved to promote and preserve the distinctly original paintings, sculptures and other concoctions that have been made by these remarkable autodidacts. In recent years, filmmakers have been focusing their cameras on these rare creative spirits too, to create valuable documentary records of their lives and achievements.

Some filmmakers have chosen to tell the stories of deceased artists who left behind their artworks, but little or no illuminating biographical material such as diaries, family photographs or letters. Other film producers have examined still-living artists, offering eye-witness accounts for posterity of these self-taught masters' approaches to the creative process and the nature of their art-making techniques. (Some films, such as Jessica Yu's In the Realms of the Unreal (2004), an examination of the Chicago recluse Henry Darger's life and work, have stirred up controversy by mixing certain unabashedly interpretive ingredients - notably, the on-screen animating of elements of the artist's collage drawings - with more straightforward documentary narrative.)

Often, these productions are labours of love, financed by the filmmakers themselves, with little or no funding from government agencies or private foundations. Some are realised over long periods of time, with successive infusions of a filmmaker's own cash - or costly credit-card charges - financing each new round of research, shooting or editing.

'It took us 10 years to produce our film, with most of the money coming from our own pockets, some from someone I once worked for and, toward the end, a small grant from the Foundation for Self-Taught American Artists, in Philadelphia,' notes Scott Ogden, an artist, art-gallery art handler and Outsider Art collector in New York. With Malcolm Hearn, a New York-based, experienced documentary filmmaker and editor, Ogden shot and edited Make (2009), a film that examines the lives and art-making techniques of Hawkins Bolden (1914-2005), Judith Scott (1943-2005), Prophet Royal Robertson (1930-1997) and Ike Morgan.

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Raw Vision #67