Sunday, February 20, 2011

At the Outside, Looking In

Jean says: Last Saturday, February 12th, Valerie and I attended Sanford Smith's 19th Annual Outsider Art Fair here in New York City. Since the show is a gathering of artists, enthusiasts, collectors and curators, it is one of the most fun and most interesting ways to spend a chilly winter afternoon. The show features what is variously termed "outsider art", "art brut" and "contemporary folk art". Many of the artists are self-taught, some are long-dead and undiscovered until late in life or posthumously. Many are or were physically disabled, abused, impoverished, homeless, addicted, and/or incarcerated. I love how the character in this painting by Terry Turrell seems to be watching me get my picture taken by Valerie.

Jean says: I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised to encounter fellow "Ari's Girls" at an artistic event. While waiting by the elevators for Valerie's arrival, I met artist and curator, Sue Kreitzman. We recognized each other by sight. When I actually made her acquaintance, mention of her artistic and professional endeavors were a distant second to her description of her major accomplishment: the fact that she'd been featured three times in Advanced Style ( Sue works in NYC ( and in London( She was wearing a unique coat which is a wonderful combination of antique, Asian and South American textiles; a Panamanian mola; and American curtain fabric. She paired it with colorful eyeglasses, jewelry, clogs and tote.

Why was I not surprised to discover Sue Kreitzman not only knows but also collaborates with another of "Ari's Girls", Jean Betancourt? Longtime readers might remember we introduced Jean on the blog last year when we ran into her and designer Carol Horn at the 2010 Outsider Art Fair. Admittedly, with those oversized Mr. Magoo glasses; outsized earrings, rings, bracelets and necklace; purple hair and very colorful kimono jackets, she's most definitely larger than life. That her eyewear dwarfs that of another "Ari Girl", Iris Apfel, is no small feat! Above is a full length shot to give you a better idea of her look.

Both Sue Kreitzman and Jean Betancourt were sporting the super-sized (surprise) necklaces they'd designed and co-produced. Religious iconography on metal rectangles is combined with oversized jewels, gold colored chains and objects.

Jean says: Dealer Marion Harris is one of my favorite characters at the show. Her wardrobe is always fun and her red glasses (on the desk) are one of her trademarks. I was surprised to find out how incredibly shy she is on a personal level. Her Park Avenue gallery, MAR!ON HARR!S, always has some of the most interesting and arresting pieces. This time was no exception. Front and center in her booth were shiny hand-made vehicles about 2 to 3 feet long, constructed of aluminum coated paper, chicken wire, blister-pack, found items and "car parts". The artist, Andrei Palmer, was adopted in 1993 at the age of six from a Romanian orphanage and is recovering from post-institutionalism trauma, an autistic disorder.

Also represented by Marion Harris is Carlos DeMedeiros, who had been a monk for fourteen years in Brazil and Bolivia. In addition to constructing miniature scenes inside Altoid tins, he constructs small confessionals from found objects which contain confessions -- real or imagined -- in sealed envelopes. Here is one of his more arresting pieces which measured about 13" to 15" high.

Jean says: This is an example of the work of one of my favorite artists, Emitte Hych, who lived from 1909 to 2009. His paintings of animals are so wonderfully simple and colorful. I love their expressions, their posture and their nails!

Here I am auditioning my co-star for my return to Broadway in "The Wiz"! This Tin Man sculpture stands guard over the Guest Book in one of the galleries.

Valerie says: As a textile historian, I never get tired of the work of Ray Materson, none of whose works ever exceed three inches in height. Ray is a self-taught embroiderer, who works exclusively in sythetic fibers from unraveled socks. Natural fibers won't do. His stitches are of such high density that you can't see the background fiber at all. Ray started working in this tiny, highly detailed format while serving time in prison. Back then, a lot of his work was psychologically dark. Now his work reflects his much improved lifestyle, but the amazing attention to detail remains. Look how he has sewn tiny pupils into Jeter's eyes. Look how he changes colors - ever so slightly - on Jeter's face to indicate the shadow of his cap over his eyes. Look how the impossibly thin pin stripes follow the contours of Jeter's torso.

Valerie says: I've fallen in love with the work of French outsider Gerard Cambon. His work looks very dark and troubled, but a video of the artist seems to indicate that he's simply an inveterate tinkerer with a big sense of humor. His materials are often repurposed found objects. The odd figures shown here look as though they might be what's left of Elmo and Cookie Monster after a hundred years of exposure to the elements.

Jean and I perenially kick ourselves for not following one or another of our self-imposed rules. Here, I neglected to take down the name and gallery at which I saw this artist's work. There were several in this vein, and I liked them all. With my right hand out of commission, there are only so many things I can juggle at any given time. I can hold my camera or my pen or my notebook, but only one at a time. I never thought of note taking as multitasking, but with only one hand, it is! So I didn't take down the artist's name. (Write us if you know it!)Taking photos demands that I hold the camera in my left hand, and take the picture with my left thumb. (Using my right index finger moves the camera.) So I don't take too many photos these days. We also agreed that we should take at least one picture of the two of us together, but we forgot, so at the top of this posting are two separate photos of us.

I liked the paintings of "saints" by Elizabeth Clemons. They almost seem to hum with the sounds of Gregorian chants in their dark backgrounds. They have serious, contemplative faces. And who can resist their hats!

Jean says: If I had a favorite gallery, it was probably Olof Art Gallery from the Netherlands ( which represents not only Ross Brodar, who painted the unicorn painting that Valerie is posing in front of above, but also Candyce Brokaw, who made the 5-panel work shown below. Brodar, 38, learned as a teen to paint -- in a correctional facility. He made a splash as a true "outsider" in a Wall Street Journal article that covered his unoffical debut at the 2008 Outsider Art Fair in Soho when he hung his paintings inside a rental van parked outside the show's Puck Building entrance. Valerie says: Brodar paints in a style to some extent reminiscent of Jean-Michel Basquiat's. Here's the artist himself, who said he painted the unicorn after a trip to The Cloisters.

Above is the gallery's manager (owner?), Scarlett Haasnoot, wearing a pair of earrings designed by Phil Demise Smith, one of the gallery's artists.

Candyce Brokaw's quint is a 5-panel piece featuring the Golden Goddesses. Brokaw is one of the self-taught artists driven by inner necessity. In 1997, at age 38, the chronically depressed mother of three broke down, retreated to her bedroom and obsessively began to draw. She founded Survivors Art Foundation "to connect others in similar, silent worlds and give them a voice".

Sanford L. Smith and Associates, prime sponsor of the show, strongly promotes artists with disabilities. Fountain Gallery, the premier Nwe York City venue representing artists with mental illness is currently hosting a group exhibition called "Out of This World". Click here for details.

This woman caused quite a stir with her wonderful hair do. She downplayed the whole thing, saying she only had it up like that because she'd just washed it. But what a great idea! She twisted it into a hundred little dreads, then encircled it with a little crown. Fab!

Jean is wearing:
A vintage 1940's Macy's fur felt hat stamped "Made in Italy" on the inside (from the most recent Metropolitan Pavilion Vintage Clothing Show); a Costume National black patterned peplum jacket (purchased 3 years ago at the Howard Street store in Nolita); black rayon harem pants (from the summer outdoor flea market at St. Anthony's Church in Soho); Trippen short, flat leather elf boots (purchased four years ago at A Uno in Tribeca); eyeglass frames (from Fabulous Fanny's); vintage black and white bakelite bracelets and black bakelite cube ring; black resin Made Her Think skull ring; black and white striped globe Aiaka Nishi earrings (from Red).

Valerie is wearing whatever circumstances (like a huge cast) will permit. Great big black and white platic earrings, fresh from their recent triumph at Time Out New York, to help elevate my mood. Black and white jacket by Hiroko Koshino (the sleeve is big enough for the cast). Of course you could have guessed that NO SOONER HAD I PUT IT ON than one of its buttons fell off, and I can't possibly sew it back on without use of my incapacitated right hand. No one notices, but it underscores the many irritating ways this durn thing impacts me. Black H&M bustier, zipped up using a pair of pliers. (Fingers can't grip; pliers can.) Black and white cotton/lycra leggings doing double duty as a sling, from H&M. H&M shibori canvas bag. Black Caravicci pants. Black ankle boots by Arche.


  1. Having discovered the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas through the Advanced Style blog, I have become an ardent fan, following your adventures avidly. Where can I find a listing of the various art shows you both talk about? They sound like so much fun!
    Congratulations on your recent photos in Time Out New York as well as the fantastic videos and photos that Ari has taken for Advanced Style.

  2. You ladies are so lovely! I'm huge fans of both of you on Advanced Style, and was delighted to discover that you have your own blog. You two inspired me so much! I actually copied your piled-on bangle look when attending this month's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. (Although my collection of bangles is most regretably not bakelite...someday though!) I hope that you'll check out my blog too. Following you! =)

  3. above it says "I love how the character in this painting by Terry Turrell seems to be watching me get my picture taken by Valerie." Isn't it Ross Brodar's painting she is standing in front of, not Terry Turrell's?