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17.12.03

Maison Picassiette and Other Oddities

From the ever industrious Plep today, I learned of another oddity to add to my list of art sites to visit, the Maison Picassiette (a tribute page from The Joy of Shards). Raymond Isidore built a house for himself and his family near the center of the town of Chartres. From 1938 to 1964, he covered most surfaces in the house and garden with mosaics made from glass and broken crockery. (There are other pictures and more information in this feature by Linda Goddard, for Raw Vision, and on Jane's Addictions.) In 1949, Isidore was detained in a psychiatric hospital in Bonneval, and after his release he accepted what he saw as the demeaning job of cemetery sweeper. The mania of his art brought him comfort and brings to my mind all sorts of questions about the relationship between art and madness. All artists are not necessarily madmen, and all madmen are not necessarily artists, but there is in both a similar sort of energy. Perhaps the authors of The Onion captured it best with this little news capsule from August 4, 1999 (Volume 35, Issue 27), a copy of which is on my office door:

Ritalin Cures Next Picasso
WORCESTER, MA—Area 7-year-old Douglas Castellano's unbridled energy and creativity are no longer a problem thanks to Ritalin, doctors for the child announced Friday. "After years of failed attempts to stop Douglas' uncontrollable bouts of self-expression, we have finally found success with Ritalin," Dr. Irwin Schraeger said. "For the first time in his life, Douglas can actually sit down and not think about lots of things at once." Castellano's parents reported that the cured child no longer tries to draw on everything in sight, calming down enough to show an interest in television.
You can add the Maison Picassiette to the list of such strange sites, including the Palais Idéal (built from 1879 to 1912) of Ferdinand Cheval in Hautesrives (more pictures here and here and here); the sculpted rocks of Abbé Fouéré on the Brittany coast (see my post Rock Sculptures, August 4); the Maison sculptée, currently being built by Jacques Lucas in l'Essart; Watts Towers in Los Angeles; and many others (see this feature on Outsider Art). You can also see a collection of unusual art at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, brought to my attention by artist Mark Barry; and at the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne.

In and of itself, the impulse toward comprehensive decoration is as much a monastic quality as it is a sign of obsessive compulsion. Monks, out of a reverence for their everyday surroundings taught by Saint Benedict in his Rule, encourage artistic skills in the community and put them to use in carving, painting, and other types of decoration.

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