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.”
4 thoughts on “Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art”
Absolutely agree that it becomes meaningless when there are rules applied as if all these unique and wonderful individuals could be brought together as part of some cohesive and definable group. Yet an individual artist may make personal rules, only known to him or herself like a secret code, in striving to manifest the creative vision. There may be quirks in choice of materials, the kind of pen, the type of paper or support used. It is an involvement with a kind of magic. Certain materials “speak” to one artist but leave other artists dumb and cold. By combining those materials in a certain way, the artist to whom they speak makes them sing. Where this comes from is a mystery, not deducible to a rule that could be used generally by others because the alchemy took place in the particular artist. There are portals into the creative process, angles in, seen and felt by one artist, and not by others, and which may appear only at a particular time. One artist may only be able to create at night, another may do his or her best work at a particular table, unable to capture the magic feeling elsewhere. There may be a similarity to an addict seeking a rich vein into which to shoot the drug, but I’d also describe the need in positive terms. Sometimes one breaks free of cycles of obsessiveness and indeed has an epiphany, or a sparkling insight is revealed, some treasure is unearthed, and what before was obsessiveness transforms into joyous spontaneity. Outsider artists in addition to being obsessive are also ritualistic, idiosyncratically superstitious, all the way up to creating personal mythologies. Outsider art humor is peculiar too, nothing quite like it, in some of its essence not unlike the lifeforms still being discovered in the deepest parts of the ocean. But I think the most vital ingredient in outsider art is passion, the inner drive that won’t stop until the inner vision is realized and transferred outside, like an exorcism performed on oneself, or a high mass conducted. One passionately desires to see manifested outside of oneself what one feels inside so deeply. I left off on my last comment to you playing devil’s advocate. Every individual may possess the ability to create, but without passion, the inner drive, it remains as bland and ordinary as most chit-chat that goes on during daily life. And it must be real passion, the kind which inspires the individual to move out of conventional thinking. What separates an outsider artist from an average person may be only a matter of degree and intensity. Individuals who don’t have much skill can be incredible and compelling artists if the passion and inner drive is so overwhelming that it lifts them out of the conventional world and temporarily gives them the skill they need to realize their vision, as if their hand is being led by an invisible guide. When such individuals cool down they no longer have the skill, but when inspired the lines and forms seem to manifest by themselves. I couldn’t tell you where the passion comes from. It could come from sickness, neurosis, despair, emotions so powerful one needs to keep in motion for fear of being swallowed up and destroyed, or it could come from the energy in love striving to realize itself through one acting as a vehicle or a channel. Each artist would give a different answer, as peculiar to him or herself as the art which was born out of it, which is another reason why outsider art is so marvelous, so free, the ultimate celebration of being an individual like no other.
John, I agree with everything you say. And you say it so lyrically. Magic, ritual, strange humour, private mythologies: all of this makes Outsider Art almost unbearably exciting, both in the making and the viewing. It’s the passion that really puts it over the top. I will never tire of it.
Reblogged this on Art from the margins and commented:
A great interview by Kate Davey with artist and curator Sue Kreitzman, star of the recent ‘Fabulous Fashionistas’ programme on channel 4. This interview focuses on Sue’s upcoming Epiphanies exhibition in London opening on 25th October 2013. Further information on this exhibition can be found on my blog.