Double Review: Face to Face with the Outsiders… and The Gravy Train

(Image Credit: Nick Blinko – not from exhibition)

Recently, I participated in a bit of a London exhibition marathon. I had been planning the day for a while, hoping to fit in a third visit to the Wellcome Collection’s fantastic ‘Souzou’ exhibition, as well as popping in to various other smaller shows whilst I had possession of a London Travel Card.

The first stop was ‘Face to face with the Outsiders’ at the Julian Hartnoll Gallery just by Green Park tube station. The Gallery, I found, is a tiny treasure amidst the corporate, expensive world of Old Bond Street and Jermyn Street; both just around the corner. The exhibition beautifully brought together a vast and varied range of portraits created by those considered to be on the ‘margins’ of the art world. Amazing matchstick men, carved and coloured by Pradeep Kumar, required a (thankfully supplied) magnifying glass to experience the intricacies, and Tim Holliman’s portraits of well-known celebrities and sports stars encouraged a who’s who guessing game. However, I was particularly taken with a piece by Nick Blinko: a monochrome ink drawing made up of hundreds and hundreds of tiny – but perfectly formed – faces.

Madge Gill (not from exhibition)

Madge Gill (not from exhibition)

There was also work from renowned ‘outsider artist’ Madge Gill, whose female faces peer pensively from the depths of the pen shrubbery, and up and coming ‘outsider’ superstar Kate Bradbury, as well as a colourful splash of Ben Wilson’s chewing gum pieces. The monochrome works by Blinko and Gill – amongst others – were set off perfectly against the bright, whimsical figures produced by Martha Grunenwaldt, whose ethereal people almost swim, or float, through an array of colours.

The gallery was so intimately tiny, but it seemed like the perfect place to be surrounded by these beautifully curious faces. The contrast of bright, electric colours (Wilson, Grunenwaldt, Holliman, and Shafique Uddin) and moody ink drawings (Blinko, Gill, and Bradbury), all depicting the same thing – the human face – perfectly highlighted the huge variety of work produced by ‘outsider artists.’

Martha Grunenwaldt (not in exhibition)

Martha Grunenwaldt (not in exhibition)

Next, I visited the ‘Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan’ at the Wellcome Collection for the third time. Still amazing. Still would like to have the twist-tie figure display cabinet as my dining table. You can read my previous review of this exhibition here.

The third – and final – exhibition on the day’s agenda was ‘The Gravy Train and Roads to Recovery’ in the Conference Centre at St. Pancras Hospital. This exhibition was an eclectic mix of work by Service Users at the Margarete Centre and Kate Bradbury’s dervishes (and, of course, some of her much-loved black and white inks). Organised by The Arts Project, the exhibition aimed to highlight the idea that whilst treatment for substance misuse historically focussed on harm reduction and substitute prescribing, other recovery methods emphasise equality, opportunity and equal access to society. The Arts Project say of the show:

“The artwork in this exhibition has been made by service users who, of their own volition, and without necessarily involving training or teaching, replace problematic substance use with creativity. This exhibition showcases outsider art work covering a range of years and artists reflecting a broad spectrum of style and creativity. This work combined with the visionary creativity of Kate Bradbury makes for a fascinating multi-layered experience.”

And that it certainly was. Bradbury’s Gravy Train was in situ, looking magical as it transported a selection her dervishes down towards the reception area. I actually got to meet Kate at the exhibition, which was fantastic. She spoke a bit about her work, telling me that The Gravy Train had recently been displayed in The Crypt Gallery, St. Pancras, where it had visually resembled a train travelling through a tunnel. In fact, The Gravy Train quite aptly symbolises the journey to recovery experienced by many of the artists from the Margarete Centre – “where art becomes a skill with which to embrace opportunity and achievement,” The Arts Project say. The resulting exhibition is a fascinating installation exploring the very nature of journey.

Kate Bradbury, 'The Gravy Train'

Kate Bradbury, ‘The Gravy Train’

These three exhibitions highlight the fact that 2013 is a big year for ‘outsider art.’ Of course, there’s the blockbuster Wellcome Collection show, but these smaller exhibitions were well worth a visit, highlighting the huge variety and overwhelming talent of ‘outsider artists.’ The tone seems to have been set for the rest of the year with two much anticipated solo shows coming up at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester to look forward to; Phil Baird in August and Kate Bradbury in November as well as a Madge Gill exhibition at Orleans House opening in October.

‘Face to Face with the Outsiders’ finished on 11 May, but you can visit the British Outsider Art website for more information. Click here.
‘Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan’ is on until 30 June 2013, for more information click here.
‘The Gravy Train and Roads to Recovery’ is on until 22 June 2013, for more information click here

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