The term “outsider art” has always been problematic for me because it just has to evoke circus folks, insane asylum inmates, punk rockers, and general weirdos. And while a lot of outsider artists are those things, I don’t think that identification should necessarily define their art. I guess I’d say that I prefer the term art brut in most cases.
That said, Madge Gill is a quintessential outsider artist. An eccentric English lady and prolific illustrator, Gill produced thousands of pen and ink drawings over the course of her life. She worked as a spiritual medium in her town, and would fall under a delirious sort of trance when she worked. According to Gill, her artistry was a result of her channeling Myrninerest, her personal spirit guide. She was said to turn down her one opportunity to show at a small exhibit, claiming that all of her drawings belonged to Myrninerest, and thus could not be sold.
In true outsider-artist-fashion, Gill grew more and more out of touch with reality and became a serious alcoholic in her later years. When she died at nearly 100 years old, she was virtually unknown as an artist. It wasn’t until 1968 when the Grosvenor Gallery showed a retrospective of her work that Gill finally received the recognition she deserved.
I wish I had a bedspread with her frantic patterns and lost women.