Costumes by Vahad Poladian. Photo by Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times
Some gems from Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels. Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a bit of O/outsider attitude.
“What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade of career intellectuals? It’s obligatory. From one capital to another they perfectly ape one another, practising an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigably recopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it have anything to do with art?” Jean Dubuffet in L’Art brut préferé aux arts culturels, 1946.
This was in 1946 and it’s still just as true seventy years later. Very, very depressing. This tale of masterful gallery fucking-uppery is much more comforting:
“Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)… had been a junk dealer, making a living by salvaging what he could from the bits and pieces that fell into his hands. To this end he collected the old nibs from gold fountain pens. One day he found in his possession a particuarly fine pen, large and free-flowing, so good to handle that he was somehow led to use it playfully to draw outlines and forms…
Signed simply ‘Scottie’, the drawings became a source of livelihood for Wilson, who held his own exhibitions in music halls and pier booths around Britain. He was even taken up by a London gallery, Gimpel Fils, who were forced to rescind their agreement when he set up his own stall outside the gallery, selling his work for a fraction of the price of those exhibited within.”
The American artist who made this prizewinning work is 37 years old (nearly too old to be an “emerging artist”!) and he’s based in Keithville, Louisiana. He has developed a unique canvas-based practice in which he uses his tongue to apply pigment with a methodical understanding of seriality that leads to a rich columnar vocabulary of mark-making. His name is Brent and he looks like this:
Brent recently won first prize in the Chimpanzee Art Competition run by the Humane Society of the United States and voted for by the public. The entrants have all formerly been used for medical research, kept in unsuitable zoos, or rescued from abusive “acting” or “performing” situations. They now live out their retirements in various sanctuaries, where some of them paint better than a number of Debut Contemporary’s clients. Their paintings will soon be auctioned on eBay to raise money for charity. The chimp paintings, I mean, not paintings by Debut Contemporary’s clients. No sane person wants to buy their paintings.
Great “serious artist” photo posing, Brent. Intense, grizzled, macho, very Picasso.
Cheetah won second prize. For his portrait he decided to go for more of a jobbing painter crazy hair and covered in paint bohemian look. It seems like Cheetah’s been trying out Brent’s mouth-painting technique. Either that or he idolises Van Gogh so much that he decided to go bonkers and eat paint like his hero. I advise keeping Cheetah away from razors to prevent the occurence of some hideous mashup of Lust for Life and Murders in the Rue Morgue.
A member of my family recently visited a sleep clinic. The machine she was given to take home in order to monitor her oxygen levels and so on during the night included an instruction sheet. The first side is fairly straightforward, albeit messy. I like that all the “other options” are there for you to see but they’re all crossed out; it’s the NHS in a nutshell.
The reverse side, though, includes these… shall we say… vernacular… additions. Yes, we all know it’s difficult to draw fingers that don’t look like sausages, but it looks like a serial killer has been doodling here. The dismembered hands. The dehumanised, puppet-like people. The cryptic, unexplained diagrams. It puts the tape and lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again…
The Wellcome Trust, London, 28th March–30th June 2013
Shoichi Koga, Seitenmodoki (Ganesha (Nandikeshvara)-oid), 2006.
Having seen this great exhibition of so-called Outsider Art– i.e. art by untrained people in care– I’m more convinced than ever that there’s either an absolutely massive number of respected contemporary artists running around with serious but undiagnosed mental illnesses and learning disabilities… or going to art school, having an MA or a PhD, knowing the right people in the art world, being shown in the “right” [sic] galleries, and being spoken of and approved of in high level critical discourses around contemporary art all signify absolutely bugger all about an artist’s talent or ability in most cases. Because there’s basically no difference between much of the work in Souzou and much of the work to be seen in contemporary art galleries and art fairs all over the developed world. Except possibly there’s a slight difference in the sense that some of the Outsider Art is much better because it completely lacks the cynicism, arid conceptualism, dated Modernist concerns, condescension and sneering pretensions of the Frieze brigade.
Some of the artists in Souzou don’t know, don’t care or perhaps even can’t comprehend how their work is received and understood outside of its original and intensely personal therapeutic context. It doesn’t effect in the slightest their ability to make art that connects with people; art that it beautiful, art that is well-crafted, art that in some way says something to us about our own lives, feelings and thoughts, art that expresses something of the artist’s soul for other people to share, art that is special and desirable enough for somebody to want it on their wall. Continue reading