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The image featured above, “Oh My Goodness, We’re Leaving Again,” was fashioned with acrylic and oil by the late Arkansas-born, African-American self-taught artist Reverend Albert Wagner. It is one of his many images that has been on view at the — now temporarily closed — American Visionary Art Museum. Several more images of folks on the move by largely self-taught artists that I came upon in varied spaces follow:

82-year-old West Coast-based self-taught artist Helen Rae, “February 22, 2019,” 2019, Colored pencil and graphite on paper — as seen last summer at the Andrew Edlin Gallery; the artist who lives with developmental challenges and a severe hearing impairment has been developing her skills at the progressive Tierra del Sol for the past 30 years.

The late Tennessee-native, African-American self-taught artist Joe Light, Little Hobo, c. 1986, house paint and enamel on found wood — as seen in 2018 at Shrine

A small segment of a collaborative community-based mural — as seen in the largely Arab town of Jaffa in Israel in 2018

The late Bahamas-native, African-American self-taught artist Amos Ferguson, “Man and Children with Horse,” 1987, Enamel on paperboard — as seen earlier this year at Christies

Images of artworks photographed by Lois Stavsky


The image featured above, “The Kingdom,” is the work of the late self-taught Canadian artist Matthew Wong. Fashioned with oil on paper in 2017, it is one of his many seductive landscapes that was on view in his solo exhibition at Karma in the East Village back in spring, 2018 — just months before his tragic death at age 35. Several more images of landscapes, both real and imaginary — all by self-taught artists — follow:

The following untitled landscape — seen last year in his solo exhibition at Shrine on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — was painted by the late self-taught artist Sanford Darling. The former engineer began painting at age 68, and at the time of his death — five years later — he had already painted over 1,000 paintings, covering both the interior and exterior of his Santa Barbara home.

The late Miami-based, self-taught African-American artist Purvis Young, “Cityscape with Cars,” 1987, Oil on found wood — as seen last year in Vernacular Voices at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans

The late Poland-born, New York-based self-taught artist Harry Lieberman, who began painting at age 76, “Two Dreamers,” c. 1966, Oil on canvas — as seen earlier this year in American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum at The American Folk Art Museum

The late Alabama-native, African-American self-taught artist Sister Gertrude Morgan, “New Jerusalem,” c. 1970, Acrylic and tempera on cardboardas seen earlier this year in American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum at The American Folk Art Museum

Artworks photographed by Lois Stavsky


The alluring image pictured above — seen last year at her solo exhibition at Virdian Artists in Chelsea — was fashioned by the largely self-taught textile artist Mary Tooley Parker. It was one of several of the the artist’s rug-hooking works on display exuding a distinctly warm, domestic tranquility.  Several more images focusing on the notion of Home and interior spaces by a diverse range of largely self-taught artists follow:

Self-taught, legally blind artist Michael Levell, “Untitled,” Graphite and color pencil on paper — presented by the LA-based Tierra del Sol Foundation at the 2019 Outsider Art Fair and now on view in his first solo exhibition at the Tierra del Sol Gallery

The late Toronto-born, self-taught artist Matthew Wong, “Daybreak Blue,” 2018, watercolor on paper — as seen in his 2018 solo exhibition at KARMA in the East Village

New Orleans-based self-taught folk artist Andrew Lamar Hopkins, “The Creole Cottage of John James Audubon,” — as seen earlier this year at The Winter Show NYC at the Park Avenue Armory with Elle Shushan

Brooklyn-based, self-taught multidisciplinary artist Sara Erenthal, “Indifference,” Acrylic on canvas, 2017 — as seen in her solo exhibition at FiveMyles in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky


Born in 1942 in central China, Guo Fengyi, a former factory worker and mother of four, started to create art in her late forties. To ease her debilitating arthritis, she had begun practicing qi-gong, an ancient Asian mind-body-spirit form of meditation. In 1989, she started to experience visions, which she went on to translate into vivid, mesmerizing drawings on a range of materials — from the backs of calendar pages to rice paper scrolls. By the time of her death in 2010, she had created over 500 artworks.

Shortly before the world, as we knew it, shuttered, I visited her solo exhibition, Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, at The Drawing Center in Soho. Organized by Rosario Güiraldes, Assistant Curator, and Laura Hoptman, Executive Director, it features over 30 of Guo Fengyi’s works — all created in a heightened state of consciousness. Featured above is “Natural Superpower Black Mudra,” fashioned in 1990 with ink on rice paper that was mounted onto a cloth.  Several more images from the artist’s first major institutional presentation in the United States follow:

The Grave of Lao Jun, 1990, Color ink on glazed printing paper

Ear, 1990, Color ink on calendar paper

Organization Diagram of Human Numeric, 2006, Color ink on blueprint paper

Four Diagrams of the Divination Procedures of Zhu Xi’s The Basics of I Ching, 1990, Color ink on rice paper 

You can view a selection of images from this exhibit, along with a video, Introduction to Guo Fengyi, on The Drawing Center Digital Guide, part of the free Bloomberg Connects app that you can download from your mobile phone.

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky


The curious character featured above was fashioned by the reclusive, self-taught Japanese artist Issei Nishimura, whose expressive work I first came upon at the 2019 Outsider Art Fair. Several more images of curious characters crafted by self-taught artists follow:

Japanese visionary, self-taught artist M’onma,“Untitled,” colored pencils — as seen in “Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler,” at the American Folk Art Museum in fall, 2019

The late Southern African-American self-taught artist Minnie Evans, “Design Made at Airlie Gardens,” Oil and mixed media on canvas — as seen this past fall at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC

The late Midwestern self-taught artist Bernard Gilardi, “Dogma,” oil on masonite panel — one of his many wonderfully weird artworks that I discovered last year at Shrine Gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side

The late Southern self-taught visionary artist Reverend Howard Finster, “Elephant Woman,” mixed media — as seen last year in “Vernacular Voices” at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans

The late self-taught Syrian artist Peter Charlie Besharo, “Lady Liberty of 1953-1962,” Mixed media on paperboard —  as seen this past fall at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky


I discovered Sasha P.W.‘s elegantly gritty aesthetic at Fountain House Open Studio earlier this year.  Last month — just before NYC all but shut down — we met up, and I had the opportunity to see more of Sasha’s distinctly intriguing artwork, both on canvas and in his sketchbooks. We also had the chance to speak:

When did you first start drawing?  

I was about five or six years old, and in school at the time. I don’t think I would have without a prompt.

Do any particular early artworks stand out? 

Yes. My self-portrait. It was my favorite one. A mixed-media collage. I also remember doing some kind of sculpture in school. But, as a child, I was far more into sports than I was into art. I was a soccer player. I didn’t begin to take art seriously until I dropped out of college in 2011.

What happened then to turn you on to visual art? 

I saw the film The Radiant Child, the documentary about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life. That was a turning point in my life.

These days you are quite prolific. I loved discovering your work at Fountain House Open Studio. And your sketchbooks are a treasure trove of creativity. What inspires you to create art?

My friends, my sister and my entire family, pop music, long walks, nature, other artists…Basquiat still inspires me. And change inspires me!

You mention pop music. Have you any favorite musicians who particularly inspire you?

Among my favorites are: the Detroit native singer/rapper Lizzo, Jay-Z and Rihanna.

What about visual artists? Who are some of your favorite ones?

There are many. Among them are: the American painter Lisa Yuskavage; the British painter Glenn Brown; the Georgian artist David Pataraia; the late Belgian artist René Magritte.

Have you any particular cultural influences? 

My Mid-Western upbringing; books — The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel is a particular influence; music videos and the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How has your aesthetic evolved within the past few years?

It is more expressive, often less colorful and, generally, smaller in scale. I also used to work on lots of found materials, like wood. I now tend to paint more on canvas.

How much time do you usually spend on a piece?

Anywhere up to 12 hours.

Have you a favorite piece that you’ve created?

My favorite piece was a dark charcoal painting that I lost.

Are you generally satisfied when you complete a piece? 

Not always. But if I find myself feeling upset about it, I try to reassess it.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?        

Between visual art, music and dance — just about all of it.

Have you exhibited your work?

Yes! I’ve exhibited at Fountain House Gallery and in several pop-up shows in a range of spaces.

How important to you is the viewers’ response?

I don’t care whether they like my work or not. They can hate it. But it’s important to me that they see it.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

I can work anywhere.

Have you a favorite media?

These days I like to work with oil paint.

How has your family responded to your art?

They like it. Their response has been positive.

Have you any kind of formal art education?

No. I had always been great at math and had planned to major in math in college. As an artist, I am self-taught.

Where are you headed?

I have no idea. I don’t want to think about it too much.

What do you see as the artist’s role in society?

To share their story with others.

Note:Sasha P.W. will be exhibiting with Don’aë Tate at — the temporarily closed — Fountain House Gallery later this year.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with City-as-School interns Basil Lyons and Alyssa Torres; photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky


On our recent visit to the Living Museum, we — once again — marveled at this wondrous oasis of creativity. The work featured above is a segment from a large mixed-media work created by the wonderfully talented Frank Boccio. What follows are several more images we captured on our visit last week. Some were created decades ago, others within the past several weeks. And while most of the artists are largely self-taught, a few have been formally trained.

Unidentified artist

Issa Ibrahim

Rob Chin

Rushane Brown

Paula Brooks

At one time the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center’s cafeteria, the Living Museum now features works by dozens of artists — some  current or past Creedmoor residents, and others outpatients or volunteers.

Thank you, City-as-School interns Basil Lyons and Alyssa Torres, for contributing to this post. Photos by Lois Stavsky, Alyssa Torres and Basil Lyons.


Continuing through April 8 at Fountain House Gallery is “Artists Looking at Art,” a group exhibition featuring original artworks by close to 40 artists, whose works were largely inspired by other artists. Featured above is “Painted City” by Korean-American artist Jayce Kim, inspired by the legendary graffiti artist Dondi White. Several more images from this alluring exhibit, curated by Joyce Siegel and Jonathan Rider, follow:

Manhattan-based multimedia artist Dubblex, Xist in the Moment, 2020, Spray paint and marker on canvas; inspired by Retna, Base and Faust

Westchester-based Bryan Michael Greene, Singing Flaming, 2020, Digital painting on aluminum; inspired by Alice in Wonderland and The Wedding Singer

NYC-based self-taught multidisciplinary artist, Alyson Vega, Squares, 2020, Acrylic on canvas; inspired by Gustav Klimt and Chuck Close

Queens-based Issa Ibrahim, The Fall of Superman, 2015, Oil on canvas; inspired by Michelangelo 

Brooklyn-native Raymond Lopez, Me and Van Gogh, 2018, Watercolor on paper; inspired by Vincent Van Gogh

Christine AlbaneTourbillons de Couleurs, 2020, Needle felt painting; inspired by Vincent Van Gogh

Founded in 2000, Fountain House Gallery showcases the works of artists living with emotional challenges, providing them with opportunities to share their creative expressions with others. Located at 702 Ninth Avenue at 48th Street, Fountain House Gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday: 11am-7pm and Sunday: 1-5pm.

Thank you, City-as-School interns Basil Lyons and Alyssa Torres for  contributing to this post; photos by Lois Stavsky and Alyssa Torres


Showcasing a range of artworks in different media by ten largely self-taught contemporary African-American artists, Souls Grown Diaspora continues through March 7 at Apex Gallery in Tribeca. Featured above is Meditation, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, fashioned in 2019 by Bronx-born, self-taught multidisciplinary artist Raynes Birkbeck. Several more images from this thoroughly engaging exhibition, curated by Brooklyn-based artist and curator Sam Gordon, follow:

An installation of  textiles, fabric fragments and custom bags sourced by the recently-deceased Sara Penn, who ran the former Tribeca-based Knobkerry, a treasure trove of African and Asian art and artifacts

Memphis-native multimedia artist Frederick Weston, Body Map 2, 2015, Mixed media on paper

Brooklyn-based Reverend Joyce McDonald, Beaded in Strength, 1998, Clay, paint, fake pearls and beads

New Orleans-based Dapper Bruce Lafitte, Do Not Go to the Superdome, 2017, Archival ink on acid free paper

The late South Carolina-native assemblage artist Curtis Cuffie, who made his mark on NYC streets in the 1990’s– Found object art, Rabbit toy and ceramic

The late Chicago-based artist and underground musician Wesley Willis, Chicago Shoreline, 1996, Pen and ink on board

Photos: 1-5 & 7 Lois Stavsky;Fawn Phillips; thank you, City-as-School intern Basil Lyons and Fawn Phillips for contributing to this post


I first met self-taught artist Don’aë Tate last year at the Fountain House Gallery Open Studio in Long Island City. I was struck at once by her expressive, authentic aesthetic. Recently, we spoke:

What is your earliest art memory?

I was ten years old and at my foster mother’s daughter’s house in the Bronx. Her husband gave me a coloring book and crayons, and he told me to draw within the lines. I was angry because I wanted to watch TV. I didn’t feel like drawing. And so my first art memory was not a good one! But I did look forward to my art classes in elementary school. Only there did I feel free. I was always in trouble in elementary school. I was like a mix of Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson. I remember having to write, ‘”I will not disrupt the class” dozens of times. My Friday art class was the only class that didn’t get me into trouble.

When did you start getting serious about art?

When I was living in Fortune Society’s transitional housing, I met Guy Woodard. When I saw his artwork and the attention it was receiving, I was motivated to create art. I discovered that it was a great way to distract myself from my surroundings.

What inspires you these days?

My environment. I’m particularly influenced by signs that I see.

Who are some of you favorite artists?

Basquiat, Picasso, and Klimt. I love everything about Picasso, and I love the way Klimt works with gold.

What are some of your cultural influences?

My principal cultural influences are Latino and African-American. I was also influenced by the predominant ‘white’ culture and West Indian one, as I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods with West Indian foster families.

How has your aesthetic evolved through the years?

At first, I just did my own thing, but after I joined Fountain House, Miguel Colon – one of the artists I met there — encouraged me to learn about different artists, art movements, and art terms. During my second residency here, Fountain House Gallery Studio coordinator Karen Gormandy urged me to develop my own style. She told me to go inside myself and paint what I see and feel and become more fluent. I’m learning to trust my process.

Are you generally satisfied with your completed work?

When I finish a piece, I’m extremely happy. I feel like I’m waking up on Christmas morning to a bunch of presents.

How long do you usually spend on a piece?

About a month.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

About 25%.

What are some of your other interests?

I love singing, writing, cooking; I love doing anything creative.

Have you ever exhibited your artwork?  

I exhibited at The Bridge in Harlem and at Fountain House Gallery in Manhattan.

What is your favorite setting to work? 

I don’t have one yet. My favorite setting would be a permanent place. These days I mostly paint at the Fountain House studio space and my bedroom floor.

What are your favorite media?

Acrylic paint, paint sticks and chalk.

How important is the viewer’s response to you? 

It’s not important at all. What matters is that I like it.

Have you any kind of formal art education? 

No. I’m entirely self-taught.

Where are you headed?

Creating more art, of course! And I have a show coming up on April 16th with Sasha P.W. at Fountain House Gallery.

Congratulations! We are certainly looking forward to it! What do you see as the artist’s role in society?

To present the truth as he or she sees it.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky and edited for brevity by Lois Stavsky and City-as-School intern Basil Lyons

Photo credits:  1, 3, 5 & 6 Courtesy of the artist; 2 Courtesy of Fountain House Gallery and 4 & 7 (in collaboration with Sasha PW) Lois Stavsky