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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


Jayne County, the first openly transgender rock performer, is also an intuitive artist who has been drawing since childhood. Her art has largely served as a coping mechanism and is often spontaneously created. It also reflects her trans identity.

“I think that my art serves as a way of putting out the fuse before it ignites and becomes a ballistic bomb of some sort. Some people are at odds with the world and they become serial killers; others become artists,” she expressed.

Her current exhibit, BASTET, Goddess of Wet Dreams, reflects both her fascination with outsider, mysterious, eccentric creatures and her affinity towards cats. Bastet, the Cat Goddess of Ancient Egypt, is — states the artist — “the epitome of cat worship and concentration. She protects me and my cats from harm and hostility from ignorant humans.”

The alluringly mysterious Bastet — a representation of fertility of both sexes — seduces and intrigues. The image featured above, Untitled 51, was fashioned with acrylic and oil on canvas in 2019. Several more of Jayne County‘s recent paintings on view at Marlborough Gallery’s Viewing Room follow:

Femme Bastet #2, 2019, Acrylic and ink on canvas

Untitled, 2019, Acrylic and ink on canvas

Elam 432, 2019, Acrylic and ink on canvas

Really Gold Goddesses, 2019Acrylic and ink on canvas

View of wall with 49 paintings — the centerpiece of the exhibition

The exhibit continues through February 29 at 545 West 25th Street and can be viewed Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-6pm.

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


Opening at 7PM on Thursday, February 13 at CCE Miami — a non-profit space that fosters cultural cooperation, dialog and exchange — is “The Magic of the Outsider Object,” an exhibition of artworks fashioned with everyday objects by 16 artists who have lived with mental illness.

The upcoming exhibition is presented in collaboration with NAEMI (National Art Exhibitions of the Mentally Ill), a  Miami-based platform dedicated to “discovering, studying, promoting, exhibiting and preserving” the art of people around the globe whose sensibilities have been affected by emotional disorders.

The image featured above is the work of Cuban artist Julián Espinosa Rebollido aka Wayacón. Several more images of works on view in “The Magic of the Outsider Object” follow:

Havana, Cuba native Damian Valdes Dilla, Assemblage art with repurposed objects

Georgia-born, California-bred Patrick La Fon, Intervened photography on recycled wood

Texas-based Roger Sadler, Found object sculpture

Havana, Cuba native Hector Gallo Portieles, A selection of objects collected and assembled by the artist

Havana, Cuba-native Jorge Alberto Hernández Cadi aka El Buzo, Intervened photography and recycled wood

Also on view are works by: Isaac Crespo, Misleydis Castillo, Mario Mesa, Federico García Cortizas, Candice J. Avery, Eric Holmes, Adriam Horta, Milton Schwartz, Ramón Losa and Julián Guillermo Marcos Cazola (Rigo).

Curated by Claudia Taboada Churchman, the exhibition remains on view at CCE Miami, 1490 Biscayne Boulevard, until April 13 .

Photos courtesy CCE Miami


Among the many treasures on exhibit at the new MoMA is a diverse selection of artworks by self-taught artists. The image featured above,The Congo Queen, was fashioned with enamel, oil and pencil on cardboard by the late Haitian self-taught artist Hector Hyppolite. Several more images of artworks by self-taught artists that I captured during my recent visit to MoMA follow in this first of an ongoing series:

The late Poland-born American folk artist Morris Hirshfield, Tiger, 1940, Oil on canvas

The late Scotland-born American artist John Kane, Self Portrait, 1929, Oil on canvas over board

The late PA-born African American painter Horace Pippin, Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, Pardons the Sentry, 1942, Oil on canvas

The late French artist Séraphine Louis, Tree of Paradise, c. 1928, Oil on canvas

The late Oakland-based Creative Growth Art Center fiber artist Judith Scott, Untitled, 2002, Found objects assembled and wrapped in twine and yarn

Located at 11 West 53rd Street, MoMA opens every day at 10:30 and closes at 5:30 — except for Fridays and the first Thursday of each month when it stays open until 9:00 p.m.

Photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky


Featuring expressive works by four self-taught artists,Visionary Voices: Portrait Works by Chloe FimianoAnthony ColemanSusan Wallack, and Jaither West, continues through February 23 at Philadelphia Magic Gardens, a visionary art gallery and community arts center in South Philly. The image featured above, Fight Back, was fashioned on canvas by mixed-media artist Susan WallackWhat follows are several more images I captured while viewing the delightful exhibit on my recent visit to Philly:

Philadelphia-based Chloe Fimiano, Third Step, Ink and marker on paper 

Philadelphia-based Anthony Coleman, E.T., Colored pencil on paper

Another portrait by Susan Wallack, Tasting Rain, Mixed media on canvas

Philadelphia-based Jaither West, Rittenhouse Square, Acrylic on canvas

Located at 120 South Street, Philadelphia Magic Gardens is open six days a week, Wednesday-Monday: 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Admission also provides access to Isaiah Zagar’s uniquely intriguing mosaic art environment.

Photos by Lois Stavsky