top of page



Screen Shot 2020-11-03 at 11.37.09

John Ignatius Salemi was an outsider artist who produced hundreds of paintings, prints and murals during the 40+ years he spent painting in Waterville, Maine. Despite their eclectic subjects, his works betray an unmistakable and developed style, revealing a highly idiosyncratic religious world view, drawing inspiration from local Maine landscapes and wildlife as well as traditional Japanese and Hindu iconography.

Born in Washington DC in 1952, his family moved to Pittsburgh shortly afterwards, and this is where Salemi spent his youth painting murals in Roman Catholic churches in Pittsburgh, PA. Salemi served in the US Navy for two years during the Vietnam War, where he developed heart problems and intense post-traumatic stress disorder.

After returning from Vietnam, John became a conscientious objector and began hitchhiking his way North to Canada, eventually settling in Waterville, Maine around 1972. For the rest of his life, John would operate a small painting company under the name of Roadrunner Painter, and spend his days creating his paintings on the porch of his small apartment on Gray Street in Waterville’s South End. He would sometimes sell these paintings to supplement his income, though more often than not he would simply give them to friends and acquaintances.

Due to questions surrounding Salemi's discharge from the military, John was estranged from much of his family and lived a very private and quiet life. It is suspected that John suffered from prolonged schizophrenic episodes, and much of his personal life remains a mystery to this day. After his death in May of 2015, the contents of Salemi's estate was cleared into the local Goodwill in Waterville, Maine. Over the following year, hundreds of John's paintings were scattered all over Maine, and in the Spring of 2016, I happened upon a few of them. Over the next four years, I set about collecting, investigating, and chronicling the life and work of John Ignatius Salemi. On this page you will find the fruits of my labor. 

- Thomas Crisp   


Salemi Archive

An index of  known works by the late John Ignatius Salemi.

View Project >

The Salemi Chapel

A public art proposal honoring the legacy of Maine's outsider artists.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 10.15.10

For You, At Least

An anti-documentary focusing on the life and work of John Ignatius Salemi. 


Conscientious Objections to the American Artist

An experimental film installation interrogating the role of American artists.

bottom of page