Outsider Art – out is the new in
Growing up in a house where it was normal to come home from school to a paddling pool filled with glittered rubber ducks floating on a fountain of bright pink bubbles and multicoloured water balloons, or a person in a hand knitted Gorilla suit knitting on a sun lounger in the garden, I have always been fascinated by what many call ‘Outsider art’. This term is applied to work that is created by the mentally ill and more generally those who have little or no connection with the traditional art world or formal training. It is usually made from unique materials and often illustrates mental states and strange fantasy worlds.
The Outsider artist in my childhood was my Prozac fuelled mother with time on her hands when she found herself written off from work for years by her prescription happy doctor. Her art was artistic expression in its rawest form, a kind of therapy to help her through the day. Outsider art has long been associated with words like raw, insane, brut, naive and primitive. However, as the world becomes more open to the so-called untrained or self-taught artists thanks to the Internet (and sites such as Bluethumb) these artists are no longer the outsiders they used to be.
The image traditionally conjured up by the term Outsider artist is of someone like Henry Darger. He was prolific (his work includes a 15,000 page manuscript), brilliantly original and undiscovered while he worked his day job as a hospital janitor. It was only after his landlord found his paintings, notebooks and manuscripts that he became recognised as one of the great self-taught artists. Unfortunately he was already dead.
Things have come a long way since Darger’s day. Outsider art is all the rage and Outsider artists are making a name for themselves… and a living. Last year saw Melbourne host an international conference, Contemporary Outsider Art – The Global Context, presented by Arts Project Australia and the University of Melbourne that showcased some of the leading Outsider artists from Australia and around the world. One of my favourite Australian artists exhibited during the conference was Terry Williams. His soft fabric sculptures of everyday items such as fridges, cameras and clocks reminded me of my mother’s playful work that makes the everyday strange.
If you’re interested in Outsider art, you can check out our very own Stephen Homeward. With influences ranging from graffiti to Brett Whiteley, this self-taught artist creates brilliantly original work painting with his fingers and using various mediums including charcoal, acrylics, oil crayons, oil paint sticks, ink and spray paint. The painting below is still for sale (25/02/2015) and many more of his art works are available to buy online now.