Project Onward presents a virtual discussion on the connections we have found between works by classical outsider artists and Project Onward artists.
This panel is part of Project Onward's exhibit Outsider Connections.
Nancy currently serves as the Executive Director of Project Onward (2017 to present).
Robyn is an artist. She is currently the Studio Manager and Curator for Project Onward (2017 to present); previously certified A.B.A. Tutor at Behavioral Consultation Services (2006-2010).
Robert is an artist and currently serves as a Board Member for Intuit: The Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art. He is a Project Onward co-founder, serving previously as Executive Director, and Curator for Project Onward (2004- 2015).
Faheem is a practicing artist, and has served as Associate Director and Faculty of UIC’s School of Art and Art History (2013-2015); Artist in Residence Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (2015); Artist in Residence MANA Contemporary Chicago (2014); Inaugural Artist in Residence for University of Chicago’s Art’s in Art’s in Public Life Initiative (2012); and the Executive Director and Curator for the South Side Community Arts Center (2005-2011).
Randy M. Vick
Randy is a Registered/Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. He is a SAIC Professor of Art Therapy and serves on the Education Committee for Intuit: The Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art. He has articles published in Art Therapy and Outsider Art: Raw Vision, The Outsider, The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Art, and Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.
ON CURATING OUTSIDER CONNECTIONS
by Project Onward Studio Manager, Robyn Jablonski
At the January 2019 Outsider Art Fair, the booths representing the participating disability studio programs primarily formed an L-shape along two outer walls of the Metropolitan Pavilion. The majority of the central space was occupied by established galleries showing contemporary or historic outsider/art brut artists. In the back of my mind I wondered, “is this disability arts row?” In practice however, I found the gallery staff and collectors equally interested in artworks from both the galleries and artist studios. The art from participating disability studios such as Creative Growth, Land, Pure Vision, and Sage—along with Project Onward—stood on par with the established participating galleries.
In January 2020, Project Onward again participated in the New York fair. As Studio Manager and Curator, I observed a visual and spatial shift from the previous year. The Disability Arts Studios were now dispersed among the established galleries. From my perspective, I saw this as an important statement of equity. To this day, I do not know if that was the intention of the fair’s organizers, however I hope this is the case. As an advocate for the artists I represent, I felt a deep pride that their work was shown alongside amazing works of art by classic “outsiders” like Madge Gill, Martín Ramírez, J.J. Cromer, and Bill Traylor. After an illuminating visual experience, I came back to Chicago thinking about this physical, spatial, and visual shift toward inclusion.
While I’m not an academic expert in the history of Outsider Art, I am connected to this genre as a fellow artist and advocate for artists with disabilities, who too often find themselves on the outskirts of the mainstream, neurotypical art world. In my daily exposure to the artists at Project Onward and similar studios, I frequently sense a deep kinship between their work and other artists, particularly those historically associated with the outsider art category. Reflecting on these sorts of connections helps expand my knowledge and appreciation of this rich genre.
A month after I returned from the fair, I stumbled across the work of Swiss artist and healer Emma Kunz, and I began thinking how closely her technique and composition paralleled one particular body of work by Project Onward artist William Douglas. It was more than just a similar style though, it was a connection to the essence of what the art proposed about life. Realizing this parallel lead me down that dangerous artist rabbit-hole of looking for other connections and correlations between the work of Project Onward artists and makers from the larger world of visionary, art brut, and outsider art.
With such affinities in mind, my thinking as a facilitator was to help bring some of these connections to light, by introducing our artists to other artists who, to my mind at least, shared some kind of creative kinship. The connection might be in form (line, composition, etc.) or in, subject matter, or in some less tangible quality at the heart of the art. The results of these “introductions” were varied. Some artists really absorbed the artists’ biographies while others looked on with suspicion. Others tried to find the connection and could not, perhaps an indication that the essence I saw was not always apparent. One artist, who is extremely meticulous in his own process, didn’t feel his work made in response was good enough to present. Although, I assured him it was.
Overall, the results of the perceived connections between these artists can only be evaluated (as with any sort of creative experiment) by what the artists take away from the experience. For many of the participating artists, the experience seemed to instill a further sense of pride in their work that they could be compared to these admired and collected artists, or enabled them to better comprehend some dimension of their own work through that connection. Through this endeavor, the artists of Project Onward had the opportunity to find inspiration through an encounter with the work of fellow artists, grow as artists, and to move onward in development as artists.
Before you go: