Inside looking out

Who knew art would one day come down to a battle for "most alienated" status? As gallery owner Barbara Archer hastens to remind visitors, the term "outsider" has swelled outrageously.

Originally, it referred to the inmates in mental institutions and prisoners whose work painter Jean Dubuffet labeled "art brut." But in recent decades, the term "outsider" has become, ironically, as all-inclusive as a Celebrity cruise, a sketchy umbrella for the self-taught, the poor, minorities, Southerners and any artsy-craftsy type with a preference for angels and devils painted on board.

Archer clarifies that point because of her current exhibition of straight-up rebels, Artists of La Tinaia. The four artists in the show — Marco Raugei, Margherita Cinque, Giorgio Pagnini and Franca Settembrini — are all former patients at a psychiatric hospital in Florence, Italy.

The results suggest art not so much as an escape, but as a way to organize the world. Nowhere is that more true than in the charming, whimsical work of Raugei, whose work is as instantaneously pleasing and addictive as candy. Raugei does elegantly simple renditions of ordinary objects — umbrellas, valises, pistols, boxes of candy — that repeat across the entire surface of his paper, like uniform goods rolling off an assembly line. The clean lines and winsome character of the drawings recall Andy Warhol's early commercial work or Richard Scarry's children's books.

Painters Cinque and Pagnini prove more immediately recognizable as archetypal "outsider" artists. Cinque's madcap use of color — like a man the color of marmalade — mimics the vision of children unfettered by that crazy adult racket of realism. In Pagnini's lyrical landscapes, rows of groomed trees have the uniformity of lollipops and draw more from the artist's imagination than from terrestrial reality.

Knowing of the trouble these artists surely have seen, it's nearly impossible not to be moved, and to see through eyes that register both the world's uniqueness and its forbidding ability to be too intense. Artists of La Tinaia also evokes the more joyous feeling of the catharsis of art-making, of the salve that creativity can provide in the turbulent waters of living.

Artists of La Tinaia: The Center for Expressive Activity, Florence, Italy runs through Jan. 29. Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Barbara Archer Gallery, 280 Elizabeth St., #A012. 404-523-1845. www.barbaraarcher.com.

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