It turns out that Scott, who loves Halloween, made them.
Milliken gives me a whirlwind tour of Creative Growth, showing me Stanley Rexwinkle's narratively complicated yet spare work, Chuck Nagle's big sculptures, some dessert-themed art by the witty Terri Bowden, a T-shirt featuring John Martin's drawing of a fly ("It might represent wildlife in his landscape"), and William Tyler's '50s-sensibility interiors. All of these people are featured in One Is Adam, One Is Superman: The Outsider Artists of Creative Growth (Chronicle Books), which pairs their pieces with deeply candid photo portraits by Leon Borensztein, but to see their art in person is something else entirely. I'm momentarily hypnotized by stacks and stacks of Mackintosh's and Mitchell's drawings. Then Milliken opens a drawer filled with the NECCO-shaded, gender-bending glam dandies of Aurie Ramirez, and I'm wowed once more.
"If we considered alcoholism a disability, there would be no more distinction between artists and artists with disabilities," Milliken says as we once again cross from the gallery back to the studio and check in with Nick Pagan as he works in Creative Growth's ceramic space. That type of thought is one I've entertained often in recent years, after making art with many of the same materials found at Creative Growth played a huge role in digging me out of the depressive side of manic depression. Within the art world and the academy there has been a lot of writing about definitions of and responses to outsider art, but much of it usually makes me want to simply go straight to the source the art itself and to early texts such as Roger Cardinal's sadly out-of-print 1972 book Outsider Art (Praeger), which engages with Jean Dubuffet and art brut while presenting pieces by Adolf Wölfli and others that cry out for color-plate treatment. Who is outside and who is inside, anyway?
Outside Creative Growth, many if not all of the space's artists are treated like outsiders; inside Creative Growth they're in touch with their selves in a manner that exposes the ignorance of increasingly automated urban ways of being. "Matthew Higgs has said something [in an article by Buckwalter] that stuck with me," O'Neal relates at the end of our conversation. "Creative Growth serves a 24-mile radius of persons with disabilities around the East Bay. If you were to take a compass and trace a similar circle around any urban center, you'd find that talent."
Get out your compass and start tracing.