Best Outsider Art 2010 | Unsung Gallery | People & Places | Phoenix
Outsider art, for those of you who may not know, is art made by an untrained person for no other reason than to exercise creativity. In fact, that may even be too much explanation. Outsider art comes straight from the heart without concern for gallery shows, critics, or patrons. Much as a child would, some people are simply moved to take pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or, in the case of a recent anonymous artist who showed at the Unsung Gallery, a model sailboat to the wood shell of a vintage radio. We stumbled on the gallery, housed in the vintage and antique store Universal Furnishings and Offerings (UFO), and have since been blown away by the stream of raw, unpretentious art that owner Leonardo Ramirez has found. Often, his artists prefer to remain anonymous. Ramirez features work by individuals who live on the fringe of normal society — one artist is disabled and spends his hours making diorama light sculptures. Another is diagnosed with schizophrenia and lives at the Arizona State Hospital. If you think the stories are intriguing, just wait until you see the art.
We don't want to get over-the-top corny, but when folks do good in the world, they should be recognized for it. With this award, we're not talking about someone who did something ultra-hip or nice-looking; we're talking about helping other human beings in need. This basic tenet of do-goodery is met with the "Arts Engagement" series at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In this program, Banner Health teamed up with the museum to help folks living with Alzheimer's. Participants are invited to join specially designed tours and hands-on art activities. In spring 2010, SMoCA docents went the extra mile and donated funds, out of their own pockets, to waive the fees for the majority of the class participants. Now that deserves some serious praise — even if we have to get corny.
The Lost Leaf
On the second Tuesday of each month, you'll find aspiring artists (21 and over only, please) bent over the tables at The Lost Leaf in downtown Phoenix, drawing their hearts out, at the behest of local Artists (yes, with a capital A) Rachel Bess and Matt Dickson, who've turned a lark into a full-fledged happening. For just $7, for three hours once a month, you can draw live models, sip a beverage, and live the boho life. Who knows? Maybe one day, those sketches will be worth something.
We like our baristas snarky. Occasionally, though, baristas are too busy filling coffee orders to lay on the snark. That's why the cardboard signs at Cartel are so subtly brilliant. "Get off your phone or we'll release the raptors," one sign displays in black and red Sharpie with tiny teeth in the "o" of "raptors." Another sign urges you to "bitch all you want, but cappuccinos are for here." We can't take our cappuccinos to go? Normally we'd be furious with an insatiable anger, but your cutesy sign of cardboard affixed to your back wall makes us want to smile instead. Bless your cardboard snark, Cartel.
Phoenix-based artist Spencer Hibert makes all kinds of art. He paints and sculpts; his latest creature is called Goo Goo Ghandi, and it looks like sort of a cross between the Incredible Hulk and a super-drippy, see-through candle. Cool. But our favorite Hibert creation is the Miigii, an opaque little plastic guy that comes with a set of stickers with which to customize him. Hibert makes 'em big, but he also made 'em super-small — small enough to fit in a vending machine. Make that thousands of vending machines around the world. You can buy a set of mini Miigiis on Hibert's website, but it's more fun to see if you can spot them in a vending machine at the grocery store. Happy hunting!
Lots of great art came out of the movement against Senate Bill 1070, and among our favorites is a set of postcards produced by local artist Irma Sanchez. They are simple and accessible, priced at about $5 — and you can send them to friends and family! (Though we're keeping our set to ourselves.)The cards come in packages of three; each scene has a photo captioned, "Viviendo a Arizona," "Trabajando en Arizona" or "La Vida en Arizona" ("coming to Arizona," "working in Arizona, and "living in Arizona"). Respectively, they depict a Latina woman walking across the desert, cleaning the floor, and wearing black-and-white jail stripes. That pretty much says it all.
When she died in June at 89, the French-born, American-based Louise Bourgeois left behind a link between the art of the 21st century and belle epoque Paris' cubism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism. She also left Phoenicians with an enormous example of her best work at our downtown Convention Center. Art Is a Guaranty of Sanity is a 90-foot-tall sculpture of a vanity mirror that rises out of the atrium there. Stamped with its own title (the phrase on which Bourgeois based her life and career, she always claimed), the piece is a coy commentary on vanity in art and fashion as well as a gorgeous gift to our city, of which Bourgeois was reportedly very fond.
Bokeh didn't waste any time messing around when it opened in January. First, the gallery, located inside of the monOrchid building, displayed soft-focused, black-and-white awesomeness by John Wagner. The next exhibition featured Bob Carey's large-scale self-portraits of the artist posing in a pink tutu. Wayne Rainey, an accomplished shutterbug himself, opened this photography-only spot to showcase heavy-hitting artists such as Carey, who's a pretty big-deal commercial photographer in NYC. When you're not drooling over the photographic eye candy, you can stroll through monOrchid Gallery itself on First and Third Fridays to check out multiple high-quality exhibits in the beautiful Roosevelt Street space.

Best Gallery to See Artists Both Famous and Amateur Hanging Side by Side

The Trunk Space

A recent First Friday visit to this teeny Grand Avenue gallery/music space made for an exciting and rather shocking surprise: There, among the mail-art and tempura portraits by amateurs, were two giant pieces by renowned local artist Janet DeBerge Lange. Part of a series of metal quilts she's working on, each panel is made from tin boxes, old signage, and enamel-plated containers arranged in bright, whimsical designs. The pair displayed at The Trunk Space looked from a distance as though Grandma had sewn them, but up close, they revealed layers of peeling paint and shiny, hard surfaces. We were wowed to find Lange's stuff on display at a space known for giving newbies a chance to shine, and it made us like this groovy gallery all the more.
The city spends a bunch of money on a huge piece of public art. What happens next? The masses hate it and complain like crazy about the waste of funds on the hideous eyesore. Before you know it, the image is smeared on bumper stickers, stamps, and T-shirts. Ta-da! It has become a defining symbol of the city. Though this is how the life of public art usually plays out, we really don't have time for all that tomfoolery when it comes to the Seventh Avenue Streetscape Panels. The collaborative piece currently features art by Suzanne Falk, Colton Brock, and Catie Raya, with poetry by Catherine Hammond, Ryan Holden, and Kathleen Winter. The images and text share double-sided, translucent, illuminated panels. This installation stays up until spring 2011, after which the city will replace it with work by a new crop of local artists. So push the fast-forward button and rush through the hate-turning-to-love part; you have only a little while to enjoy this.

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