Outsider art, sometimes referred to as naïve art, covers a broad range of media, incorporating everything from photography, painting and illustration, to larger-scale works involving sculpture, the decoration of homes and landscaping of outdoor environments. The term outsider art, which was coined by the art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972, is often used synonymously with that of folk art, and art brut, but there is a difference.
Whereas folk art is often associated with a particular cultural group, and art brut with the works created by juveniles or those who are institutionalised, outsider art refers to the often controversial works created by dedicated, if not obsessive artists, who are untrained, and who have not been influenced by any schools, galleries or museums.
The hallmarks of outsider artists often involve spontaneity, influenced by the world around them, and often involving the incorporation of found materials, such as broken ceramics, glass, wire and cement. The execution of the works often include a high degree of stylisation of form, and an unconventional conceptualisation of theme and application of media. Outsider artists are mostly self-taught individuals, who in many instances often remain obscure until their deaths.
Apart from Helen Martins’ Owl House, another example of South African outsider art includes Nukain Mabuza’s rock paintings on a farm in Revolver Creek near Barberton, Mpumalanga. Examples from further afield include Buddha Park in Laos; the illustrations of Henry Darger; Watts Towers in Los Angeles, California; Nek Chand’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India; and Le Palais Idéal in Hauterives, France, among many others.