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“Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.”1
It was these words from the novel Steppenwolf that reverberated around the walls of the Copper-house gallery as I lingered between each work of art. Each work perhaps it’s own Steppenwolf, to a certain sense disconnected and alienated from the traditional art system and yet energetically transcending the conformity and mundanity of our trivial realities. Beyond: Irish Outsider Art, Is an exhibition of the work of Irish Outsider artists curated by rugby analyst and Outsider Art enthusiast, Brent Pope, whom through this exhibition realised his ambition to promote and make visible the work of Irish outsider artists.
Outsider Art, originally called L’art Brut or Raw Art originated in 1948 when painter Jeanne Debuffet and the founder of surrealism, Andre Breton, established Compagnie de l’art brut, which sought out art of extreme individuality created by artists whom had developed beyond the formalities of traditional art education, or whom existed on the fringes of our society, both physically or mentally.
Previously in Ireland, Outsider Art has taken a prominent place within the interests of the art world with the Musgrave-Kinley collection; which had grown from one of the largest exhibitions of outsider art entitled from Outsiders: An Art Without Precedent Or Tradition(1979) being exhibited at IMMA for ten years from 1990. Unfortunately, no Irish outsider artists were among this collection, which is a facet that through Beyond Irish Outsider Art, Pope wishes to rectify. The artists featured in the exhibition hail from various artistic and non-artistic backgrounds. Some utilise their passion for art to eclipse the realities of mental illness and depression, such as Donal Geheran, who’s portfolio within the exhibition displays a multitude of geometric lines exploring ideas of pattern and repetition which are created, by his own acknowledgement “for the escape.”2
Like Geheran, Lisa Butterly utilises various distinct techniques including the use of pattern and lines to investigate a multiplicity of self and personality. Her piece Becoming Other particularly draws viewers in. A face emerges from a swirling multitude of elegantly written, descriptive words. This art is created as a considered reflection of the chaos that is a regular facet of the artists private worlds. Michelle Dalton develops these motivations in her piece I Hear Asylums, which is part portrait, part mixed media. It collages the integrity of the human face with both the beginning and the ongoing struggles of mental illness. Pasted pill-box labels adorn the canvas, their now familiar directions “take four twice a day” reminding us of the reality of controlling of various long-term mental illness. By purposely recognising this through art, Dalton utilises her work as a “concious weapon against any force that threatens to deny us from connecting with our true selves”3
Eoghan O’Drisceoil produced perhaps my favourite pieces within the exhibition. Three large-scale canvasses adorned with wide-eyed faces, challenged viewers to meet their gaze and demanded attention; akin perhaps to the abstract expressionist work of William De Kooning, which the critic Harold Rosenburg once described as the focus of “desire frustration and inner conflict.” All these are evident in O’Drisceal’s haunting images.
In addition to the use of art as a process for the conscious consideration of various adversities, the exhibition is also an acknowledgement that within Outsider Art “ordinary artistic expression takes on an exploratory air of extreme openness and revelation.”4 Artists such as Sinead Fahey and Lorna Corrigan both hail from KCAT, a collective studio in Callan Co. Kilkenny, which provides life-long learning opportunities for artists of various ability and capacity. In both artists’ work I recognised a determination to transcend reality through colourful expressive representation. Fahey’s piece It’s me presents a self-portrait, in bold colour and energetic pattern. Fahey’s personality seems to explode on the canvas encapsulated by a joyful sense of self. Lorna Corrigan works in a similar bold colourful style, but in contrast to Fahey her featured piece, Girls of Camphill is representative of those around her. The bright pink washed piece illustrates unnamed acquaintances of Corrigan, immortalised by Corrigan’s memory rather than physical presence.
Alan Tarpey also utilised memory to transform reality. Tarpy’s cycling journeys provide him with inspiration for his work, transforming the everyday into fantastical land and streetscapes. Through his use of colour in conjunction with intimate detailing, relieves the everyday of its mediocrity and embeds it with humour and depth.
The exhibition provides an insight into the shadows of marginality, but also illuminates a joyful sincerity in equal measure. Victor Musgrave first used the term ‘outsider art ’ in 1979 to describe the art made within the shared circumstances of artists featured within this exhibition. He noted, however, that perhaps this term was inaccurate, that in fact these artists and their art are more accurately to be described as ‘insiders’ producing insightful examinations of the inner mind,” at the very verge of the sources of creativity.”5 Beyond Irish Outsider Art visualises this liminal creative point in a both accessible and emotive way.
Beyond: Outsider Art is currently showing at the Copper House Gallery, Dublin
From 7th – 25th October 2015
St Kevin’s Cottages, Synge Street, Dublin 8
Open every day including weekends.
9:30am – 5:30pm
All images provided by the author.
1 Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolfe, 1929.
2 Donal Geheran, Catalogue, Beyond Irish Outsider art, Key Capital, 2015 p30
3 Michelle Dalton, Catalogue, Beyond Irish Outsider art, Key Capital, 2015 p28
4 Vann, P. Outsider Visions, Flashart International, 2006 p39.
5 Victor Musgrave, Catalogue for Outsiders: An Art Without Precedent Or Tradition (1979)