Self-Taught and Outsider Art


Self-Taught ad Outsider Art is art produced by people somehow excluded from ‘the art game’ – not by choice, but by circumstance. The field is made up of a mixture of socially and culturally marginal figures; almost inevitably embracing or inhabiting unconventional or eccentric views or the world, usually undereducated, and often with diagnosed mental health conditions. In Outsider Art we are witness to a conceptual space containing work by a varied group of practitioners marginalised from the ‘mainstream’. It is an international phenomenon, first described in France and Germany a hundred years ago. Self-Taught art was shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art before the Second World War. The French painter Jean Dubuffet coined the term ‘Art Brut’ in 1945 to describe the art he collected and championed, and in 1972, in the English-speaking world the term Outsider Art was coined by the British academic Roger Cardinal. In spite of its long history, Self-Taught and Outsider Art has until now been largely ignored by the academy.

Led by Professor Colin Rhodes, an internationally acknowledged expert in the field, the Self-Taught and Outsider Art Research Collection (STOARC) has been established at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. It is a Unique international centre for the academic study of, dissemination of knowledge about, and promotion to the wider community of Self-Taught and Outsider Art in Australia and internationally. It acts as a hub attracting scholars and others interested in the field, through its gallery, activities and online publication. Works of art and archival materials are at the core of STOARC. Recognising the importance of physical artefacts for study ad the often precarious future of work in the field, STOARC will collect internationally significant art, concentrating especially on those artists not already represented in existing public collections. Selected artists will be collected in depth, whilst a study collection is being formed that will consist of a broad range of examples of canonical and less well-known figures. STOARC aims to be trans-disciplinary. Its members will range across disciplinary specialisms, from art history through social sciences and medicine. Though international in its scope, in view of its location, STOARC will have a special mission to study and promote Outsider and Self-Taught Art from Australia and New Zealand. Both nations have a rich store of work, which deserves study and much higher visibility internationally.


STOARC came into being in mid-2008 with the acquisition of a highly significant and unique collection of work by the Portuguese artist, José dos Santos (1904-96) thanks to the philanthropy of Sydney curator and collector Peter Fay. The collection was assembled by Rogelio Vallejo and Hugh Adams from the artist and his heirs. Dos Santos spent his entire life close to Arega, the small village in which he lived and worked. He could neither read nor write and was completely self-taught as an artist. Yet, in the last years of his life he produced amazing, powerful sculptures. Vallejo has said: ‘I believe that José dos Santos teaches us all much about the nature of creativity, particularly when exercised in adversity. Although knowing nothing about art, he freely and inventively used found materials, giving his creatures expression in a way that is an example to everyone.’

Other artists represented in the STOARC collection include Leigh Blenkinsop, Slim Barrie, Colin Korovin, Albert Louden, Rosemarie Kocz├┐, Annemarie Grgich, and Gérard Sendrey.