Above Image: Kate Bradbury (courtesy of julianhartnoll.com)
“Outsider Art is a movement of untrained artists with a burning desire and passion for expression that features art of an obsessive nature. Often this involves collecting debris shaped to express the inner thoughts and feelings of the creator. Some artists may suffer from mental health issues, others simply have no interest in conventional art practice.”
Sue Kreitzman, a self-proclaimed ‘Outsider Curator’, and an Outsider Artist in her own right, is the co-creator of a very refreshing new Outsider Art exhibition; ‘Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art’ opening at The Conference Centre at St Pancras Hospital on 25 September. Sue calls herself a ‘Typhoid Mary’: “People meet me and they catch the art virus. If they are established artists, they meet me and their work gets stranger.” She wants people to be inspired by her exhibitions, and for them to see what art can be – or what it really is.
The exhibition aims to be an educational tool. For those who have not experienced Outsider Art, Sue wants to illustrate the scope of this genre. The show will include works covering a considerable range of content, media and style by almost 25 artists, all of whom Sue has personally befriended. “I love the art and I love the artists,” she says. There will be 3D pieces, drawings, paintings, and installations; a cornucopia of passionate works. The exhibition’s theme, as Sue puts it, is “art, the exhibition is about art.” It is possibly the first exhibition of Sue’s that has had such an open criteria – WOW was for ‘Wild Old Women’, and ‘Flashier and Trashier’ expanded on this to include ‘Wild Old Men’. However, all of the artists involved in ‘Epiphanies!’ have not had a formal art training.
One of the artists taking part is Valerie Potter. Valerie’s work is, Sue says, “like that of an angst ridden teenage boy, but then she comes in with the Jane Austen cross stitching. It’s very emotional to look at.” Liz Parkinson’s works are obsessive, repetitive, symmetrical depictions of faces with snakes and reptiles. “She sits at my kitchen table and she draws and draws.” Art critics have previously disregarded Liz’s snakes as ‘Freudian’ – in fact, Liz has suffered with eczema for many years, creating an emotional attachment to the image of a snake shedding its skin. Other artists involved in the show include Claudia Benassai, Kate Bradbury, Manuel Bonifacio, and Judith McNicol – plus many more.
Talking about the – very topical – debate surrounding Outsider Art, Sue says that the subject is simultaneously complicated and uncomplicated. Originally, it best described work that was completely outside of the mainstream; it described artists with mental ill health, those who were isolated or not aware of the bigger, wider art world. Although there are hints of this today, it is not nearly as extreme. “When you discover an Outsider Artist,” Sue says, “suddenly they’re not outside anymore – they are not as naïve as they used to be.”
Sue is keen on anything that gives a voice to Outsider Art – the recent spate of mainstream Outsider Art exhibitions, for example; Souzou at the Wellcome Collection and the Alternative Guide to the Universe. However, she warns us of the involvement of academics or curators, people who are likely to make rules: “I don’t like people saying ‘this is what it is’. It becomes meaningless when there are rules.”
The mainstream art world, to Sue, is – and should remain – completely disparate to the world of Outsider Art. The conventional art world revolves around money, around prestige, and around the commercial, or commodity. Outsider Artists are driven to create – not for money, but for sanity; it comes “from their gut.” They create as a way of expressing their angst. “Creating art for Outsider Artists is self-medication,” says Sue, “just in the same way that alcoholics and drug addicts self-medicate.”
“If you hang out with us, you may experience epiphanies, revelations and visions. Visit us and you might burst into art, aflame with colour, exaltation and obsessive creativity. We are Outsider Artists, working far beyond the margins of the conventional art world. Untutored, obsessive, producing art for our own pleasure and therapy, inventing techniques, scavenging for unexpected materials, we are united in our need to express beliefs, angst, political and spiritual views, through art.”
Sue’s ultimate concern is that Outsider Art, the only ‘real’ art, will be engulfed by the ‘rule-setting’ conventional art world. “I want to stay outside. I want to find people who are obsessive, who have to do it. I will remain outside.”