Melvin Way, Outsider Artist Who Depicted Inner Mysteries, Dies at 70

Melvin Way, whose hallucinatory diagrams, composed with ballpoint pens and markers on scraps of paper in New York City homeless shelters, were collected by prominent art museums around the world, died on Feb. 4 in a hospital near his family’s home in Smoaks, S.C., a rural town northwest of Charleston. He was 70.

His mother, Flossie Lee Hubbard, said the cause was complications of a stroke.

Mr. Way, who was found to be schizophrenic in his 20s, emerged in the world of outsider art — a label for works originating beyond the boundaries of the mainstream — from the basement of a notorious and violent homeless shelter on Wards Island.

There, in 1989, he began working with an instructor from a nonprofit that taught art in jails and homeless shelters.

“When I first met him, he had over 200 drawings on him,” the instructor, Andrew Castrucci, said in an interview. “He would always buy clothes that had pockets. So he is carrying around 200, 300 drawings all wrapped up in rubber bands in his pockets. They’re small, they’re all covered with Scotch tape for protection. You had to see it.”

The works defied explanation — especially by Mr. Way, who was on and off schizophrenia medication and also struggled with cocaine abuse. Some drawings, he said, depicted the prevention of cancer. Others were recipes for cocaine, LSD and caffeine. There were even cures for herpes, rabies, pneumonia and scabies.

A Melvin Way work from 1989. Some of Mr. Way’s drawings depicted cures for various ailments. Others were recipes for cocaine, LSD and caffeine.Credit…Melvin Way Estate/ARS, New York, via Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
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