Outsider Art

George Wilson Outsider Art refers to art created outside the boundaries of official culture, outside the established art scene. I first heard the term Outsider Art about a month ago when I saw an interview on facebook.

The Outsider Art Fair is this week in New York City (January 21-24) at the Metropolitan Pavilion.

In a New York Times Magazine article, I learned about the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, where artists who have not had formal art education come to create. The work is considered more pure, raw, than mainstream art. Not always, but sometimes, the artists are physically or emotionally impaired.

George Wilson

In a Huffington Post article, Priscilla Frank discusses how a policeman learned to embrace his creative side.

Charles Sabba

I love this idea of self-taught art, art without academia.

Maybe it’s because in the eighties, I was accepted to the art program at NYU and things didn’t go well for me there.

In order to get in, I had to show a portfolio. I had to sit through a nerve-wracking interview. And when I got in, I was thrilled to be part of the New York City art community.

Until I wasn’t.

It didn’t go badly at first. In fact, during my first semester in the program, my drawing teacher appreciated and encouraged my style, which was heavily textured, strong contrast, little grey. And lots of white space. She didn’t judge the things I drew: a carrot peeler, an eggbeater, half a grapefruit.

You see I was 19, and newly married. That’s what I had in my apartment. That domesticity was my life.

My photography teacher showed black and white slides (with lots of grey) of a woman wearing a housecoat. This housewife was slumped on the couch, a broom near her side, a cigarette dangled from her lips. My teacher compared these photographs to my own, which told a different story of homemaking. In my photographs, my young son stood smiling and bottomless near a stacked dishwasher; and in a self-portrait, I proudly pushed out my pregnant belly.

The following semester, I had a male teacher. He was a prominent and respected figure in the school. He had a specific belief about art and artists. I didn’t fit into his schema. I was married with a child and I was economically well off, not a starving artist.

Soon enough I felt that I didn’t belong. I can’t tell you why he had such an influence over me but he did. And I learned years later, that he was fired because I wasn’t the only female student he’d bullied and shamed.

After I left the art program, I didn’t draw or paint for a long time. But years later, I made a few collages.

Corie Adjmi


Corie Adjmi

I’ve been thinking about drawing again, inspired by outsider art.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Mirror, Mirror I was born Celia Corie Sutton.

There are many stories attached to my name; but the one that I recently discovered not to be true is the one in which my not then married father flirted on a beach with an attractive girl and asked for her name. She said, Corie.

In the real version, he was at work, and no flirting was involved.

A true story is that my father’s mother’s name was Celia; and it is Syrian tradition to name a first-born daughter and son after the father’s parents.

My parents broke tradition in naming me Corie. They simply used the “C” from Celia. (It was the 60’s.)

No one ever called me Celia. Not once.

And no one ever spelled my name right. No, I mean, NEVER. Cory, Corey, Cori, Corrie- are just a few among many variations.

This drove my mother crazy. I don’t know why, but I didn’t care.

On top of all the misspellings, Corie is sometimes a boy’s name; and in sixth grade when my hair was cut short, very short, at a Broadway show, while visiting Manhattan, the usher called me Sir.

When I was fifteen, I went for my driver’s license. I presented my birth certificate as identification and so my license was issued, Celia Corie Sutton.

This was an identity crisis in the making. I then had I.D. with a name I’d never used.

A few years later, I got married. My marriage license said, Corie Adjmi. My passport said, Corie Adjmi. My American Express card said, Corie Adjmi. (Actually, it says, Corrie Adjmi.)

And so of course, spelling continued to be an issue. (Go spell ADJMI correctly.)

“There are no vowels,” I heard over and over again in regards to my new last name. And “What an unusual name. Where is that from?”

“Syria,” I’d answer, my identity shaky once again because I didn’t feel connected to my Middle Eastern heritage. No one ever questioned Sutton.

I got into a routine. I simply spelled out my first and last name before giving anyone a chance, or offered to write it myself; and the fact that all my identification didn’t match didn’t matter for the next quarter of a century; but everything changed after 9-11.

Soon after 9-11, at the airport, because my ticket was issued Corie and my license said, Celia, I was frisked as if were a national security risk, violated from head to toe. My carry-on was dusted with white powder and then unpacked on a metal table in front of everyone, bras and all. They detained me for half an hour and I had to beg to be let through. Thankfully, security relented, although I wouldn’t take that chance again today. Now, I issue my tickets accordingly. For domestic travel, I use my license and I am Celia. International, a passport, and I’m Corie.

But my airport problems still linger. My husband and I recently applied for TSA PreCheck.

He was approved. I was rejected.

And the reason given was that the names on my I.D.s didn’t match and apparently that appeared suspicious. While my husband breezes through security, I wait in long lines and get felt up, barefooted. He smirks on the other side, relaxed and drinking coffee, reading the newspaper; or he browses in Hudson News deciding if he should buy raw almonds or cashews.

Fed up, I went to motor vehicles. (And I resist going to motor vehicles as most people resist being brutally beaten and interrogated.) Armed with my social security card, my passport and my marriage license, I thought I could change the name on my driver’s license to Corie. I was informed that unless my birth certificate and passport matched, there was nothing they could do.

I applied for a name change. Even though I didn’t want to change my name, I convinced myself it didn’t really matter if I was Celia Corie or Corie Celia. I guess the heavens (and possibly the spirit of my dead grandmother) disagreed because the paperwork, which I completed, was over an inch thick; and at least four court appearances were required. I gave up thinking I’d rather be strip-searched.

Not too long ago, I submitted a short story, That’s How It Was With Howie. And it was published in Verdad. The story has a male protagonist and, as requested, I submitted my bio in third person. The editors at the magazine assumed I was male, and the bio printed at the end of my story, reflected that assumption. Again, I didn’t care. I took it as a compliment. I’d nailed the voice of the main character. (But that’s me, I guess, whoever that is- always looking on the bright side.)

But this is the craziest part- I did it again. (The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.)

About two years ago, for writing purposes, I started using my maiden name. I went from Corie Adjmi to Corie Sutton Adjmi and in the age of the computer these might as well be two different people.

And so the trouble with my name continues because I’ve tested out different names like I’ve tested out different hairstyles, which is to say, without much forethought. But I’m figuring out, okay slowly and the hard way, things get complicated when you change your name like day of the week panties.

According to tradition, when either one of my married sons has a daughter, her name will be Corie.

One name. One identity.

And for a moment, I am happy for her, thinking this is a good thing.

But really, if I’m honest, I like being more than one person. Or at least, pretending I am. Maybe this is the sign of a personality disorder but I prefer believing it’s because I’m Aquarian.

Like a butterfly, I flit from project to project, always changing jobs.

I moved four times in the last four years, constantly changing my home zip code.

Why not my name?