Outsider art is art created by, children, the poor and the mentally insane. In other words art by those untrained in the formal conventions of high art.Art like this is more primal, and by nature more expressive because the artists don’t try to conform to the foundations and standards of fine art of the time. These artists helped to break down the walls of conventional art. Adolf Wolfili, Henry Darger and Eugene von Bruenchenhein are artists that didn't care about galleries, or shows, or even the audience. The people painted and drew for themselves. The drew because they enjoyed it, and it helped them, and perhaps even because they needed to.

Adolf Wolfli

The first recognized outsider artist was Adolf Wölfli. He suffered much trauma as a child, and grew to be a disturbed adult, even described as violent. He was eventually institutionalized. At some point during his incarceration, he decided begin drawing. He was never trained, and never showed any interest inart as a career, but one day he simply decided that we wanted to draw, and he drew a lot. He would be given a new pencil and and two large sheets of newsprint. He used up the pencil in two days and and would save every little stub of lead he had. He would beg and batter with those in the asylum with him for more material, even trading smaller works for what ever he could get. Wolfli's work covered every inch of the paper we obtained. He drew compulsively creating extraordinary colors and rhythms out of waves of organic lines and shapes.

He made use of a technique know today as horror vacui, where every inch of the work is completely covered in illustration. This is probably due to the Those who observed Wolfli saw a noticeable improvement in his condition after he began to draw. He showed signs of decreased aggression and significantly less anxiety. This was a man who drew simply because he enjoyed it. It helped him and thats all he needed.

Henry Darger

A major factor in outsider art coming to America was Henry Darger. Relatively unknown prior to his death, he became famous after the posthumous discovery of his 15,145 page fantasy manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion shown below.


These were made up of heavily illustrated drawings and watercolor paintings made into story. Darger was a self taught writer and artist and this “epic” spread interest in outsider art to the american art community. His life's work was discovered after he died at the age of 81, the day after his birthday, by his landlords one of whom was a photographer for the New York Times. He recognized the artistic merit of Darger's work, and made it public.Darger is often referenced today in graphic novels, and cartoons. Despite lacking any notability in his life time, Darger produced an immense quantity of work, showing his dedication to his craft.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Another american artists influential on the world of the untrained was Eugene von Bruenchenhein. He began his career with intimate photos of his wife posed in exotic clothing, which he developed in a makeshift darkroom into which he converted his small bathroom. He explored many other medias including Oil paintings done with his fingers on scraps of masonite or cardboard, chicken bone sculptures, and ink drawings.

Chicken Chair.jpgBruenchenhein Painting.jpg

Bruenchenhein attempted to reproduce future and past realities in his work, be they post-apocolyptic, dystopian, or utopian. He did so because he enjoyed the notion of creating these fantastic environments in whatever media he could find.


  • Paul S. D’Ambrosio, “Eugene Von Bruenchenhein” Encyclopedia of American Folk Art, ed. Gerard C. Wertkin, New York: Routledge, 616
  • Polanski, G. Jurek (October 11, 2000). "Henry Darger: Realms of the Unreal". ArtScope.net.
  • Daniel Baumann, E. (2014). Adolf Wolfli: Home. [online] Adolfwoelfli.ch. Available at: http://www.adolfwoelfli.ch/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2014].