Less than two weeks after he was released from prison, murder exoneree Valentino Dixon fulfilled a commission to draw a picture of Le National Golf Club for U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk. That first sale for a free man getting back on his feet meant a lot, but you might say Dixon’s true arrival into the professional art scene occurs this week. January 17-20, doors open to the 27th Outsider Art Fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York. Alongside 67 exhibitors representing 37 cities from 7 countries, will hang the golf landscapes whose creation subsisted the soul of an innocent artist locked inside a cell.
“To have my drawings showcased in New York City, the art capital of the world, it’s a dream come true,” Dixon says. “I feel like this is redemption for my teachers at the Buffalo Performing Arts High School. For so long I had let them down.”
What is “outsider” art? The term was coined in 1972 by an art critic to describe work created by people outside the mainstream art world. This art was raw, brutish and made by people without formal training, who perhaps were in mental institutions, or even children. Whatever their situation, they toiled without career aspirations or the audience being a central motivation.
Or as Dixon says, “My art was my survival tool.”
While “outsider” has become an established marketing category, the allure of a certain authenticity undeniable, its definition refuses to sit still. Dixon is in very firm control of his mental faculties—you don’t survive 27 years inside a maximum security prison by luck—he trained at an art high school, and for long periods viewed his art as a functional tool to attract attention to the injustice being carried out against him. Yet, he might satisfy the term more fully and profoundly than any artist whose work is on sale at the Met Pavilion this week. For another way of considering outsider art is that which “illustrates extreme mental states.” And what burns hotter than the long-term wrongful conviction of a sane man?
Another artist at this year’s fair who shakes the definition of outsider is Jim Carrey. The actor’s “scabrous” political cartoons that he posted on social media during the mid-term elections have inspired a series of larger works. “While Carrey is certainly a self-taught artist, nobody would say that Carrey is a culturally isolated figure like some other outsider artists are,” Andrew Edlin, the director of the fair, told artnet News.
The Andrew Edlin Gallery of Lower Manhattan will be representing Valentino Dixon at the fair. Thursday the 17th is for V.I.P viewing, and public admission runs from 11am to 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and 11am to 6pm on Sunday.