January 13, 2015

Francesco Berta, Replica's and miniature village scenes

picture from the website Il Salice

Above picture shows a nativity scene, part of a indoor art environment in Viú, a hamlet of the community of Cantoira, north of Torino (Turin) in Italy (prov. Piemonte).

Life and works

The miniature village has been made by Francesco Berta (1924-2001), who was born in Viú and lived there all his life. Known as Cichin, he worked at the cable car of the regional mining company and he also was active as farmer, mainly for his own food.

In 1962, in a classroom of the no longer used village school, he began creating a nativity scene. sculpting the various characters from wood. His sister Onorina assisted him by making the dresses. The ensemble became known as Il presepe di Vrú, or as Betlemme delle Valli di Lanze.

In the course of the next twenty years the nativity scene would grow into a miniature village of some forty characters, who all together represent life in former days in the countryside, with the miller, the blacksmith, the laundress, and so on.

Both the dresses and the architecture of the cabins and houses truly reflect the style as usual in the region.

A special feature of the miniature ensemble is that (some of) the depicted characters can make movements, an effect Berta realized by means of the engine of an old washing machine.

Berta also builded some structures inspired upon regional architecture. such as a mill, the sanctuary at the Rocciamelone montain and other structures

Best known became his replica's of two famous Italian constructions, i.e. the leaning Tower of Pisa and the Mole Antonelliana, a building 167 m (548 ft) high, located in Torino (Turin)

These replica's, both some four meter (13 ft) high, are faithful copies of the original.

Actual situation

Thanks to the attentive care of Berta's son, both the miniature village and the replica's are currently extant and can be visisted,

* Video shot in 1998, published in 2013 (by Roberta Gallina, Youtube, 0'45")

Francesco Berta
Il presepe di Vrú (miniature vilage/replica's)
Hamlet of Vrú, Cantoira, Piemonte, IT
extant, can be visited

December 29, 2014

Félix Sanpériz Gistau, La Casa de Cristál/The Glass House

pictures are screenprints from the Serflac video
(see documentation)

At the time of publication of this post (dec 2014) above pictured house in the community of Monesma de San Juan is for sale, being advertised as Casa de Cristál.

With its about a hundred inhabitants, Monesma de San Juan-located in the northern Spanish countryside- is a very small village where everyone knows each other.

Life and works

The Casa de Cristál is the creation of an inhabitant of the village named Félix Sanpériz Gistau*.

Born in Monesma in the early nineteen-thirties in a family of farmers, Sanpériz grew up and went to school in the village and when mature probably had a job as a construction worker, active in the area around the village.

Around age fifty, in the nineteen-eighties, when his parents had died and the other two children had left the village, Sanpériz lived alone in the house. He was nicknamed the bohemian, which probably had to do with his artistic and other than average lifestyle.

Around 1989 he began decorating his house, in particular using green wine bottles he collected at the local restaurant and got from locals.

the entrance of the house

Bottles, bottles, bottles....

These bottles, stronger than the usual ones for wine, typically contained cava, a sparkling wine, with a second fermentation in the bottle. Filled with cement they can be used as construction material, without cement the bottles in whole or in parts can be used as decorative elements.

Sanpériz applied a plurality of operations with the bottles.

The entrance gate (pictured above) has a half round arch. lavishly decorated with bottle bottoms. On the fascia above the arch an inscription reads: Casa Felix y su linea Sanperiane (Félix's house from the Sanper lineage).  

interior patio

The interior patio, pictured above. has a door to the house's interior with a face-like decoration, a picturial element that returns a number of times in this art environment.

To the right of this door an ornament made of bottles hangs above a bassin.

interior patio, detail

The house has a number of these hanging or standing ornamental structures, made of green bottles and iron rods.

The pictures just give a limited impression of the various parts of the two-storey house, which apart from the decorated facade, the entrance door and the interior patio, has a carport, a garage, a garden, a rooftop terrace and indoor livingrooms, all more or less decorated.

decorative highrising structure from iron rods and bottles

For about nine years Sanpériz worked very intensively to transform his house into an art environment. Maybe he had the dream that once he could start a restaurant at the premises, but probably we will never know, because there are no reports available of people who talked with him about his motivations.

Anyhow, having done such a lot of work, Sanpériz decided to sell the house, and once more it is unknown for what reason this was done. The house was bought by a farmer from the area, who used it to house seasonal farmhands from other countries.

According to locals Sanpériz went to live in Barcelona, but further information about him is lacking.

Actual situation

As said above, currently the house is for sale again. It has been advertised as: Casa única y original, adornada con cristal como elemento innovador. Ha salido publicada en TV, prensa, libros , internet… como casa de especial interés (inspirada en Gaudí)......Unique and original house, adorned with crystal as innovative element. It got publicity on TV, in newspapers, in books, on the internet ... as house of special interest (inspired by Gaudi)

* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, p.132-139.  Seatlle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. ISBN 978-0-615-78565-3. An abridged version on the website of SPACES.
* Video by Serflac (3'28", Youtube, uploaded july 2014, screenprints from this video published here in agreement with its maker)

* Video by Pateando Espana (5'41", Youtube, uploaded july 2014)

* To my knowledge Jo Farb Hernandez (see documentation) is the only one who has published articles about this site and its author, so I gladly acknowledge that this post is based upon Jo's research.

Félix Sanpériz Gistau
La Casa de Cristál
Monesma de San Juan, Huesca, Aragón, ES
can be seen from the street

December 19, 2014

José Foncillas Ribera, Decorated house and garden

the house as seen from the street
this picture and the next ones: stills from the
Serflac video (see documentation)

On the western side of Barbastro, a city in the Aragón area in the north of Spain, located along the A1232 road one can see a decorated house with an adjoining garden that includes various decorative structures *.

Life and works

This art environment has been created by José Foncillas Ribera (b. 1928), who began making it around 1990 when he retired.

Born in the small community of Bespén, not far from Barbastro,  in a family of farmers, Foncillas after attending the local primary school, at age eleven began helping his parents at the farm, untill at age twenty he had to fulfill his military service. 

He remained in the army untill he was almost thirty years old and then returrned to his native region, settling in Barbastro, where he in the early nineteen-sixties started a firm engaged in transporting construction materials.

view of the garden, facing the side of the house 

He bought a plot of land along the A1232 road and late 1961 he builded there a two-storey house, completing its contruction in some three months. Foncillas married in 1962 and the couple would live in this house untill 1973, when they moved to an apartment in town in order that their two children would live closer to school.

The house outside town would be used as residence for the weekends and to grow vegetables in its garden.

facility for Foncillas' collection of special stones

Already as a youngster Foncillas showed great interest in fossils and geologically interesting rocks he uncovered when plowing, but which he also gathered in river beds. His art environment has a specially constructed facility where his collection is stored.

Although during his professional life he occasionaly was creative with these rocks, once retired -around 1990- Foncillas developed an artistic approach on a much larger scale by decorating interior and exterior of the property, a project that would keep him active for over twenty years.

At first engaged in the interior, he embellished walls, ceilings and floors meticulously. leaving no square inch unused. A ceiling is decorated with egg cartons painted in many colors, another one with mussel shells. And then the adornment includes many different attributes, such as wooden slabs, tiles, rocks, shells, glassware, but also bas-reliefs and painted scenes (No pictures of the interior available).

The exterior walls of the house have been fully decorated with wooden slabs, which originate from olive trees, cut out on demand by the local carpenter. The picture below shows this decoration in detail.

decorated exterior wall, detail

The garden at the left side of the house as seen from the street has a variety of structures.

One of the most impressive creations is a 9 meter high complex sculpture with a man on top with tools and a dove, protected from the sun by a higher situated parasol or sombrero, a self-portrait, sculpted from a single block of stone. 

The structure on which the man is standing has a variety of details, one of these features Columbus' discovery of America with images of the three ships of Columbus' fleet and outlines of North and South America. 

sculpture (self-portrait) on a highrising decorated structure


At the side of this large structure stands a quite different creation, which represents a space shuttle. The upper part has been made from aluminum and the bottom side consists of recycled wood. Apart from the spanish flag which can be seen on below picture, the shuttle originally also had the flags of the USA and the EU in top.

space shuttle

Among the various other structures that decorate the garden, there is kind of a tiger with curled forlegs, sculpted in stone, a geisha with a sandy face and clothes decorated with glass beads and small shells, and then there also is a somewhat leaning three meter high Eiffel Tower.

kind of a tiger, sculpted in stone


a three meters high Eiffel Tower

These few examples of Foncillas's creative activity demonstrate his varied use of materials to make his creations,

What stands out in particular is his use of stone blocks, which is an extremely hard material, difficult to work with in making sculptures.

Actual situation

Foncillas, who at the time of writing this post (dec 2014) is in his eighties, currently is no longer active in creating large structures, but he still is making smaller ones.

The garden and the decorated exterior of the house can be seen from the road. Due to Foncillas' age, the opportunity to visit the interior is extremely limited.

* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seatlle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. ISBN 978-0-615-78565-3. It is summarized in an illustrated entry in the website of SPACES.
* note
To my knowledge the only description of this site both on the internet and in print has been published by Jo Farb Hernandez (see documentation), so I would like to mention that the information in this post is derived from Jo's work

José Foncillas Ribera
Decorated house and garden
along the A 1232, west of the city
Barbastro, Naváro, ES
can be seen from the road

December 06, 2014

María Ángeles Fernández, "La Pinturitas"

view from the street, around 2013

Located on a busy road that crosses the community of Arguedas in the Navarra area, Spain, an abandoned building attracts the attention of passing motorists because of its exterior that has been abundantly decorated with colorful drawings and texts.

This is the art environment created by María Àngeles Fernández, known as La Pinturitas.

unknown photographer, 

Life and works

Born in Toledo in 1950, in the early nineteen-sixties Fernándezs moved with her father to Arguedas. In 1973 she married a young man from this community and the couple would have four children.

Maybe due to some traumatic experiences at a young age, Fernandez could be agitated and so occasionaly her children were cared for by the social service and it so happened that her youngest child at some moment was housed elsewhere, Fernández never knowing about her whereabouts.

Around 2000, some fifty years old, Fernández got the idea to relieve her emotions by finding an outlet in making paintings, whereby she dit not opt to working indoors on canvas, but rather decided to manifest herself outdoors by fabricating her creations on the wall of abandoned building. 

Indeed, Marìa slept better after she had begun this artistic adventure.

above and below: stills from the Kdreitanav video (2008),
one of the first showing Fernández' work (see documentation)

The outer side of this building, an abandoned restaurant with annexes, stretching along the street, has a surface of some fifty meters long and six meters high, which currently is completely covered with her creations.

The owners of the building gave their permission and the local authorities up to now made no problems either.

A fully autodidact, Fernandéz would use simple brushes and paint,  mainly work with primary colors and find her themes in human faces, people and animals, added with exclamations in text.

The first years she only worked on the exterior wall facing the street, painting as high as she could reach. If no more space was available, she covered a part with white paint and redecorated it.

Fernández, who on photographs and in video's always appears tastefully dressed, is a dynamic personality, who can endlesssly talk about her creations and who likes to support her argument with dance steps and elegant moves.

In recent years, now that the bars in the windows somehow have disappeared, Fernández also invaded the inside of the building, making her decorations on the interior walls. Currently she is mainly working inside and she also began making paintings on canvas.

Around 2010 she became known in the world of outsider art

When in the early years of the new century social media began to flourish, news about Fernández' artwork began to spread across the internet (pictures on Flickr, video's on Youtube, the first one in 2008).

This may have contributed also to a change in the attitude to Fernández of the inhabitants of Arguedas, which generally has become more favorable.

Fernández herself began a Facebookpage in 2010.

An important contribution to spreading news about this outsider artist was made by french photographer Hervé Couton in 2010. That year his pictures of and texts about her work have been published in Raw Vision nr 69 (summer 2010). in the french weblogs/websites of Laurent Danchin Joe Ryczko and Bruno Montpied and in the Swiss website of the Collection d'Art Brut. 

Later, in 2014 Couton contributed an entry to the SPACES website.

Documentation/more pictures
* Video by Kdreitanav (2'47", Youtube, uploaded october 2008), one of the first publications on the social media about Fernández. In later years various videos about her were added to Youtube

* Illustrated text in english by Hervé Couton on SPACES website (added 2014)
* Various publications by Hervé Couton, see narrative for links
* A video shot in the summer of 2012 by Hervé Couton, edited by Mycelium, showing Fernández at work in the interior of the building (5'58", Youtube, uploaded febr 2013)

* Fernández dancing, singing and explaining her artwork in a video by Caroline Gimenez and Geronimo Saurigny (5'12", Vimeo, 2013, subtitles in French)

María Àngeles Fernández
"La Pinturitas"
Arguedas, Navarra, Spain
can be seen from the street

November 25, 2014

Salvatore Trombatore & Caterina Greco, Casa delle conchiglie/Shell decorated house

 front of the house as seen from the street (around 2009)

Scoglitti, a village on the south-east coast of Sicily, Italy, is a small fishing town, that has become an important touristic resort.

The internet has a lot of referrals to touristic items, but -according to my experience- it has just one link to an outsider environment that can be seen in the village.

This art environment, a shell decorated house, a casa delle conchiglie in Italian, has been created by Salvatore Trombatore and his wife Caterina Greco, about whom no biographic data are available.

detail (top front)

The exterior of their (summer) house near the Costa Fenicia has been fully covered with shells the couple collected on nearby beaches. It took them three years to complete this decoration, but then, in 2011 when interviewed for the article listed in the documentation, they had also begun decorating the interior walls, the lighting ornaments and who knows what else......

The exterior decorations have a quite color scheme with simple patterns, that display human figures, sea animals and geometric motives.

Since the only available documentation about this site has been published in 2011, I cannot report about its current situation.

Documentation/more pictures
* Article in Vaol.it, august 2011 with a photogallery on a separate page

Salvatore Trombatore &
Caterina Greco
Casa delle conchiglie
Via Veneto
Scoglitti (Ragusa), Sicily IT
can be seen from the street

November 19, 2014

Jeannine Lejeune, Musée art brut et naif/Museum of art brut and naive art

this picture and the next three

Ouffet is is a small community of some 2500 inhabitants, located south of Liège in the east of Belgium

Life and works

At the outskirts of this community, along the Chaussée de Huy, Jeannine Lejeune (b. 1952) in 1994 acquired the stables of a former equestrian center. She went to live there and in the course of the years she transformed the site into an art environment.

the corridor/entrance of the museum

A versatile self-taught artist, Lejeune decorated the walls of the corridors and the interior with her paintings, she made all kinds of assemblages and her mosaic structues and sculptures from polyethurane embellish the interior and the garden outside.

In her paintings on the walls Lejeune, who sometimes calls herself princess Jeannine du Thier del Creux, has evoked dreams she had as a child and she has expressed her passions. 

She has said that her house is a realm of dreams and its interior has been described as "a baroque univers tinged with mysticism".

Deeply religious and endowed with a strong sense of mysticm as she is, Lejeune's scenes on the walls show angels, Adam and Eve in the paradise or depict the seven deadly sins.

The garden has been decorated with mosaic structures and various bric à brac items.

From the outset it was Lejeunes' intention to share her art with the people from the village, especially with the children, so she announced her art environment as a museum, which could be visited during some days of the week.

Lejeune herself however liked to stay at home and she would not frequent Ouffet's public facilities, so as far as I understand her art environment did not enjoy so much the interest of the villagers, but rather was visited by lovers of outsider art from further afield.

Discussing the future of the site

In 2010 on the initiative of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Liège and the MAD Musée a commitee was formed to study the best way to ascertain the future of the site. One of the reasons to do this was the fact that the use of the buildings as a place of living and a museum had taken place without any authorization of the local authorities, an issue which had to be resolved.

The commitee worked enthusiastically for some eighteen months, but ultimately a solution was not found, since  Lejeune could not accept the legal construct that for a symbolic sum she would sell the site to a foundation (that would ensure its future) in exchange for a continuous usufruct.

The various aspects of this issue have been discussed in an article by Brigitte van den Bossche in the Rivista dell' Osservatorio Outsider Art (see documentation).

Since the publication of this article in 2012 the internet hasn't any information about further developments around Lejeune's art environment and up to now (2014) I couldn't trace the site's currrent situation.


November 11, 2014

Sixth anniversary of this blog

Bonjour aux promeneurs, Hello walkers
picture of Chatelain's sculpture 
courtesy of Marcello 13 (Flickr)

On november 11, 2008, I entered the blogosphere by publishing the first entry of a blog I entitled Outsider Environments Europe. 

So today this blog has its sixth anniversary and as in previous years, I will relate here some data (as of november 10) from the weblog statistics as provided the blog's "behind the scenes".

Number of visitors

On november 10, 2013 the all time number of page views was 209550. on november 10, 2014 it was 312596, an increase of 103046 last year, or on the average 282 visitors a day.

All time pageviews by country

As in previous years here is the all time rank of top ten countries as regards page views:

1,  United States 64076 (rank 2013: idem)
2.  Netherlands 43570 (rank 2013: idem)
3.  France 38016 (rank 2013: idem)
4.  United Kingdom 24220 (rank 2013: idem)
5.  Germany 18828 (rank 2013: idem)
6.  Italy 9548 (rank 2013 idem)
7.  Ukraine 8854 (rank 2013: not in top ten)
8,  Spain 8158 (rank 2013: 7th)
9.  Russia 6134 (rank 2013: 9th)
10. Poland 3777 (rank 2013: 8th)

It's interesting to see how the stabilty of the top persists: the first six places are taken by the same six countries, even in the same order.

Spain, Russia and Poland in 2013 already had a place in the top ten. Belgium has left the top ten and Ukraine entered it.

I am happy with the growing interest from Russia, Ukraine and Poland.

Most viewed sites all time

 1. Robert Garcet, Tour Eben-Ezer 3671
 2. Robert Tatin, Musée 3557
 3. Joseph Ferdinand Cheval, Palais 3432
 4. Bodan Litnianski, Jardin 3152
 5. Chomo, Preludian art 2668
 6. Adolphe-Julien (Abbé) Fouré, Rochers sculptés 2581
 7. Karl Junker, Junkerhaus 2580
 8. Josep Pujiula i Vila, Labyrinth 2512
 9. Willem van Genk, Bus station 2466
10. Yves Floc'h, Girouettes 2426

Although this year I used a different set of data (i.e. the number of times a specific entry has been viewed, updates included), the list shows a rather stable cohort of top sites, formed by Garcet (from Belgium), Tatin, Cheval, Litnianski, Chomo, Abbé Fouré, Floc'h (all from France) and van Genk (Netherlands).

Pujiula (Spain) and Junker (Germany) entered and Mercier left the top ten.

Other creators of sites that rank high in terms of number of times viewed are: Robert Vasseur (2335), Ensio Tuppurainen (1987), Elis Sinistö (1908),  Oreste Fernando Nannetti (1864), Viktor IV (1804), Euclide da Costa (1647),  Raymond Isidore (Picassiette) (1581), Bonaria Manca (1495) and Manfred Gnädinger (1439).