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Exhibit features ‘outsider’ art from permanent collection

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Cathy Dobson

Each is little more than a square foot in size. The animals are out of proportion and the perspective is off.

Yet the two folk art paintings by Maud Lewis, on exhibit now in downtown Sarnia, evoke real warmth and good cheer.  They’re an ideal anecdote for the cold winter months.

And they are the respected work of a beloved Canadian icon.

This is the first time they have been on public display, says Sonya Blazek, assistant curator at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery (JNAAG). The two Maud Lewis’ are part of the public gallery’s permanent collection and were selected by Blazek for the current “Outsider” exhibition.

An outsider in the art world tends to be someone who is known for extreme individuality and inventiveness.

Blazek said the definition of ‘outsider’ is debatable, which was part of the fun and the challenge of selecting works for the show.

London artist James Kirkpatrick currently has another exhibition on JNAAG’s third floor called “To the Unseen Future.”  He works in multimedia and studied at the College of Art & Design in Halifax. It was Kirkpatrick who suggested the outsider theme for an exhibition from the permanent collection to complement his show.

“James was helping me choose what would be in the outsider exhibit and then he left for a musical tour,” said Blazek. “I formulated an argument that perhaps it means the artist had no academic training and was socially isolated.”

Both apply to Lewis, who was self-taught and suffered from severe arthritis most of her life. She also lived in Halifax, a connection that Blazek knew would appeal to Kirkpatrick.

“She’s also an outsider because of how she applies the paint,” Blazek said.  “There’s a lack of proper perspective and no regard for proportion or correct colour.

“It’s her style. It’s very joyous.”

Eight artists, some with multiple pieces, are represented in Outsider.

Two are by Canadian artist Scottie Wilson, who began painting in his Toronto junk shop while listening to classical music. The results were intricate designs that offer the viewer a glimpse inside the artist’s mind.

“Scottie Wilson was the grandfather of outsider art,” said Blazek.  “It’s some of my favourite work in this exhibition. I know James (Kirkpatrick) is very influenced by Scottie Wilson.”

Also on display are two large pieces by Louis de Niverville. One is “A Long View” that occupies half of one wall and has a dreamlike feel. The other, “Little Me,” is a disturbingly dark painting with nightmarish figures including a hairless dog and discarded teddy bear.

De Niverville’s isolation as a child, his multimedia approach to his art, and its surreal quality qualify him as an outsider, said Blazek.

Outsider opened Dec. 7 and continues until Feb. 17. Admission is free.

The JNAAG is located at the corner of Lochiel and Christina streets.  See for more.

The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s vibrant cultural life.  Send your ideas to [email protected].




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