Center For the Arts

Established 1992, Palatine IL, provided by Little City

A work from Luke Tauber's ongoing composer series (exterior)

A work from Luke Tauber's ongoing composer series (exterior)

The Center For the Arts (or CFA), which is part of the Little CIty Foundation is located in the Chicago suburb of Palatine. CFA was the first of three excellent, yet distinct programs we visited in Chicago, which has been a greater patron and champion of traditional Outsider Art than any other American city.

Prolific, well-known self-taught artists such as Henry Darger and Joseph Yoakum produced their large bodies of work while living in Chicago, and the appreciation for self-taught artists gained momentum during the 1960’s with the presence of the Chicago Imagists. Roger Brown and the other Imagists were heavily influenced by their work and advocated their validity; SAIC professors Ray Yoshida and Whitney Halstead were responsible for generating a lot of interest, encouraging students (including Brown) and colleagues to visit these artists and collect their work. The Roger Brown Study Collection features the personal collection of the late artist in his former Lincoln Park home, which includes work he purchased from many wonderful self-taught artists - Aldo Piacenza, Jesse Howard, Darger, and 36 Yoakum drawings.

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, a non-profit organization with programming dedicated to the fields of Outsider and Contemporary self-taught art, also has an extensive permanent collection. Intuit is an invaluable resource for scholars and artists interested in this field. Their space includes two galleries, the Robert A. Roth Study Center, and the Henry Darger Room, a permanent archive of various materials (tracings, clippings from newspapers, magazines, comic books, personal documents, architectural elements, and furnishings) from Darger’s original home.

Interior of the same work by Luke Tauber.

Interior of the same work by Luke Tauber.

CFA has its own rich history that provides important insight; it was founded as by three School of the Art Institute of Chicago students in 1992 with a progressive philosophy and Fine Arts focus (originally including a Pirate radio station and cable public-access tv show) that has been maintained since due to a fortunate series of quality leaders and staff in the program. CFA now supports a total of about 70 artists with usually 15 attending per day - at least 12 artists are producing high quality work on a professional level. There is no application or screening process, but instead attendance is based solely on desire.

The program is currently lead by the dedicated Frank Tumino, who is really responsible for directing studio operations (with the help of 2 to 3 fine art facilitators) in addition to all of the documentation and promotion of a large inventory of work. This includes at least one artist that was previously in the program, but is now deceased. He spent a great deal of time showing us bodies of work and relating each artist’s process in great detail.

"We Are the World" by Harold Jeffries

Frank also spoke openly about his personal appreciation for and knowledge of Outsider Art, which he had long before his involvement with this studio. Whether or not the work produced in Progressive Art Studios should be categorized as Outsider Art is a point of controversy addressed in our FAQs (link), which has only become more contentious since that FAQ was written. Tumino’s perspective, however, is that this work is as much in agreement with the ideals of Outsider Art as anything else, and points out that Adolf Wölfli, one of the first artists to be assigned this label, created work with the intention of selling it. The line between Outsider and mainstream art has also become increasingly blurred as a result of many contemporary artists borrowing heavily from this aesthetic. An important insight to be gained from this is that whether it is or isn’t, at the very least, this work shares certain qualities associated with Outsider Art, such as the significance of biography to the work. Frank’s writing about the artists provides a great example of how biographical elements can be included in a respectful and appropriate manner. About the work of Harold Jeffries Tumino writes:

Nearly every piece has as its basis a gridwork of lines, forming squares, rectangles, circles and other forms which resemble an isolated section of a vast blueprint outlining some lost Minoan palace.  If asked, Jeffries will tell you that these are indeed blueprints.  They are part of his lifelong obsession to create blueprinted plans for Heaven. This project has no beginning, middle or end. The portion of the plans that Jeffries draws at any one time simply reflects his thoughts at that moment, and do not advance the project along any conceivable time line, a fitting solution for planning what is infinite and eternal.    

Biography isn’t presented as as a struggle that was overcome, but as deeper truths about a man, his life, and his ideas that are uncovered through the examination of his artwork. Biography becomes important in Outsider work not necessarily because these artists led particularly compelling or difficult lives, but because being free from outside influence allows their work to be a more genuine expression of their humanity, ideas, and lives. During our visit, Tumino demonstrated this as he showed us an archive of works by the late Charles Beinhoff; he affectionately discussed Charles’ tendencies and ideas as though he knew him personally, although he has come to know him only through the process of cataloguing his work.

Frank Tumino with the work of Charles Beinhoff

Frank Tumino with the work of Charles Beinhoff

CFA’s deeper appreciation for Outsider Art permits a broader understanding of what Outsider work can be, informing the nature of the studio facilitation, which ultimately leads to more effectively empowered artists. For example, Luke Tauber is supported to create digital collages and videos, which other studios may fear isn’t Outsider enough or is introducing an idea that’s too new. In Luke’s case, though, it’s necessary to facilitate a more complete and genuine creative practice. The 2013 documentary Share My Kingdom, which was included in the Athens International Film and Video Festival, provides a more comprehensive profile (in both biography and artistic process) of CFA artists Tauber, Harold Jeffries (discussed above) and Wayne Mazurek.

Above all else, there is an atmosphere in the CFA studio of reverence for the creative process and the artists who engage in it there. Artists from CFA have shown previously at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, the Museum of Everything’s Exhibition #4 in London, and the Rockford Art Museum, in addition to other venues.