The Outsider Art Fair is coming to New York on January 29, bringing 50 international galleries of folk, self-taught, and outsider art to Center 548 for four glorious days. The fair offers the rare opportunity for artists operating far outside the regulations of the art world — whether marginalized, isolated, incarcerated, institutionalized or psychologically compromised — a space to show the vibrant and singular artworks that don’t just reflect their worlds, but constitute them. In anticipation of one of our favorite art events of the year, we’re spotlighting a different outsider artist every day.
Paul Laffoley, Pickmans Mephitic, 2004. Courtesy Kent Fine Art
Paul Laffoley was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1940. His father was a lawyer, his mother a strict Roman Catholic. He has a degree from Brown and another from Harvard. With such an intellectual upbringing and prestigious education, among outsider artists, Laffoley’s an outsider.
Actually, in comparison to others, Laffoley is almost another beast entirely. His transdisciplinary canvases appear to be the product of a computer, despite the fact that their entirely handmade using ink, paint and stick-on letters. The multicolored mandala-inspired works, land somewhere between a mystical altar and a conspiracy theory pamphlet. Laffoley, a student of classical literature and architectural studies, channeled his thirst for knowledge into paint, crafting infinitely complex diagrams that weave together aspects of philosophy, science, architecture and spirituality with dizzying flat maps of image and text.
After graduating from college Laffoley moved to New York, to work as a studio assistant to architect Frederick Kiesler, known for his Endless Theatre design. He was also recruited by Pop visionary Andy Warhol to watch a stream of televisions set up in Warhol’s Harlem studio, from 2 a.m. until dawn. He then spent 18 months working with architect Minoru Yamasaki on designing the World Trade Center towers.
Paul Laffoley, Pistis Sophia, 2004-06. Courtesy Kent Fine Art
In 1965 Laffoley finished his first painting, made in his parents’ basement. It was titled “The Kali-Yuga: The End of the Universe at 424826 A.D. (The Cosmos Falls into the Chaos as the Shakti Ouroboros Leads to the Elimination of all Value Systems by Spectrum Analysis).” The piece took on the (mighty ambitious) task of illustrating the end of the universe. As you may have ascertained from the title, Laffoley’s paintings are not easy to digest. Each took the artist approximately a year to complete. As for the viewers, they need even more time on their hands. “People who have…