This exhibition is made up of selected works by ‘outsider’ artists. Some of the participating artists have no verbal means of communication, their artwork has become a way of expressing themselves. Many of the artworks in this exhibition have been selected and funded by arts organisations. Other included artists have no formal artistic training or see themselves as “facing barriers to the art world” (for reasons of health, disability, isolation, etc).
Textile specialist, Helen Walsh, gave a small group of us a guided tour of the exhibition. We had an overview of the work and themes, with more in-depth discussion of certain pieces.
Various themes emerged from the artwork on display: exuberant use of the chosen media; use of whatever materials were to hand; articulating feelings, interests and obsessions non-verbally; not ‘over-thinking’ the work, just purely making what the individual felt compelled to make. It was interesting to note that many of the artists had absolutely no interest in selling their work: it was the making process that was important to them. Numerous techniques had been employed, but I noticed a number of artists using ‘wrapping’ techniques, or assembling/transforming found objects. Other techniques included metalwork, wire work, soft sculpture, carving, model making and weaving.
This was the one artist whose work was, I knew, included in the exhibition, having heard an excerpt from an interview with her on Woman’s Hour. Pinkie Maclure is an artist and singer who was put off from pursuing her early drawn artwork, because of negative comments made by an art teacher. She only returned to art in her forties, and is self-taught. She is influenced by medieval ecclesiastical stained glass, in particular the story-telling elements, rather than the purely decorative aspect of modern architectural stained glass.
Pinkie Maclure, Landfill Tantrum, stained glass
This piece ‘points the finger’ at humans and the waste they create and send to landfill, and highlights the damage it causes to wildlife. I found this to have a powerful narrative as well as being beautifully made and full of arresting images. I like the fact that she has taken an issue that she feels strongly about and has integrated it with her chosen medium and has updated the imagery while retaining something of the work that inspired her.
Lasmin Salmon works with yarn, textiles and other materials. Her work is highly textured and often consists of smaller elements combined into a larger artwork.
Lasmin Salmon, Rug, textile collage, and detail of Rug
This large, wall-hung piece included many types of textile, some hand knitted by the artist, each decorated with rings cut from pipe insulation and attached with yarn. Each ‘patch’ was carefully arranged and stitched to a blanket. The same elements were repeated with many variations. It reminded me of a hardware store or plants in flower beds. A very lively and texture-filled composition. It was hard to adhere to the ‘no touching’ rule with this piece.
Pascal Tassini is a Belgian artist who initially worked with clay, drawing and painting, before choosing to make his own ‘studio within a studio’ from acquired furniture and clothing. He greets visitors in his alter ego of ‘Doctor Tassini’ and allows them to visit within, after they undergo a ‘check-up’! Pascal now works exclusively with textiles and makes numerous iterations of wrapped objects, and bridal wear.
Pascal Tassini, Untitled Chair, mixed media (left) Bridal Headress II, mixed media (right)
This artist’s work reminded me a little of Anton Alvarez‘s machine-wrapped works, yet Tassini’s pieces seem more knotted in construction. They seem to arise from the need to create something that the artist is fascinated by, using whatever materials are to hand and in whatever way produces the desired outcome.
Michael Smith is a British artist. He is a non-verbalising individual, and therefore little is known about his reasons for making his artwork.
Michael Smith, Jeans I and Jeans II, denim jeans, masking tape, PVA
These pieces seem to hint at constraint, feelings of suffocation and enclosure. I found them rather disturbing and eerie hanging in the gallery, throwing strange and distorted human-like shadows.
Ian Sherman is a UK artist who makes paintings and assemblages. Better images of his artwork can be found on this website. He does not sell many of the assemblages (now numbering over 80), as he likes to work on them for many years at a time. (The piece below has been evolving for twenty years, as new and appropriate additions are found and incorporated).
Ian Sherman, A Comedian, assemblage, mixed media
This piece has the feeling of a grotto or a shrine. It made me think of the sea creatures’ unworldly jewellery in The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H P Lovecraft. The title of the artwork draws your attention to the shell, used here as a mouth, with red line accentuating the feature and a small bow tie beneath. Other items suggest the ‘bling’ of showbiz. I found it interesting that the artist keeps adding to the works, begging the question, ‘When is a piece of art finished?’ I guess that only the artist themselves can decide that one!
Marie-Rose Lortet is a French artist. She was inspired by the knitting and textile crafts of her female relatives. She initially made textile pictures but eventually moved to making three-dimensional pieces with loosely-worked lace, stiffened with sugar water (later, resin). These small sculptures take the form of houses, rooms, windows etc, or can be more abstract in nature.
Marie-Rose Lortet (no title given)
The pieces that I saw at the exhibition by Marie-Rose (we were not allowed to photograph them) included unexpected elements such as the figure of a lady, and were in the forms of houses. They were a complex, irregular network of threads with small motifs or fragments of more traditional lace worked in. The voids took on the shapes of fields and houses as seen from the air, or on a map (to me, anyway!), and cast intricate shadows. Her work also includes mask-like faces and very colourful works, as well as the white pieces shown here. She seems to have an interest in many topics: people, the domestic scene, clothing and traditional techniques. The pieces I saw suggested that the viewer was getting a secret view into a (semi-transparent) house and the events taking place in it.
I was not quite sure what to expect at this exhibition, and was surprised by the variety of media and techniques on display. It opens up debate about what art is and who is ‘qualified’ to make it. Our speaker mentioned that many of the artists make work only for their own fulfillment, indicating that it has a therapeutic context. However, I feel that if a viewer can also gain something from seeing and contemplating the work, it should certainly be classed as art. There were some works that I might class more as ‘craft’, as the title of the show suggests. For example:
Erkki Pekkarinen, Tiny Shoes, birch bark, thread.
These skillfully woven pieces use a traditional Finnish technique. They varied in size from smaller than a match head, to life-size figures.
There were many more pieces of interest to see and digest, and I thought that the exhibition was well curated.
What can I learn from these artists and craft makers?
- use whatever materials you can find, and that appeal to you
- use whatever technique or method of construction feels right
- don’t feel constrained by tradition or what is expected and accepted in the art world
- express feelings and tell stories through your art
- build on tradition, but give the work contemporary relevance
- feel free to indulge your ‘obsessions’, and make multiple versions of the same subject
http://actionspace.org/artists/lasmin-salmon/ Accessed 12/03/17
http://www.antonalvarez.com/ Accessed 12/03/17
http://craftspace.co.uk/radicalcraft/ Accessed 12/03/17
https://www.delicatestitches.co.uk/gallery Accessed 12/03/17
http://www.et-alors.org/dossier-les-Artistes/M-R-Lortet-2008.html (text in French) Accessed 12/03/17
http://www.outsidein.org.uk/ian-sherman+%5Bcopy%5D Accessed 12/03/17
http://outsidein.org.uk/outsider-craft Accessed 12/03/17
http://www.outsiderartnow.com/pascal-tassini/ Accessed 12/03/17
http://www.outsiderartnow.com/marie-rose-lortet/ Accessed 12/03/17
http://www.pinkiemaclure.net/ Accessed 12/03/17