Category Archives: outsider art

International Prisoner Art Exhibit

Given a world prison population of some 10m, this short-lived exhibition in Toronto (too distant for me to see in person) might well have deserved a tour, or at least a run that outlasted a conference.

The winning entry in their 2011 competition shows a powerful contrast between the finitude of captivity and the infinite reach of art. For some prisoners, clearly, painting provides an escape.

Michael Connelly’s piece shows a journey by brush, imaginative journeys being the best available to those in the penal system, and this starts off simply enough with an idyllic beach scene.

But the artist goes much further than this classic therapeutic image. He takes us beneath the waves where sharks swim along with dolphins, then takes us to a distant rocky shore.

Here sit three aboriginal figures round a campfire. This camp echoes the circular from which the whole work begins. Perhaps this detail allows Connelly to somehow commune with the outside world.

But it is difficult to speculate about someone else’s cosmology. What goes on upstream is not clear to me; that might be the purging fire of some kind of redemption. I hope so for everyone’s sake.

On a more pragmatic level, it must have surely been refreshing for the 130 artists in this show to be judged for their art and not for their crimes. And for society to do the same makes a nice change for the rest of us as well.

International Prisoner Art Exhibit was held at The Campbell House, Toronto, during the annual convocation of contest organisers the Prison Fellowship International.

House Festival 2010 offers city-wide gallery in Brighton and Hove

Cities without an established home for contemporary art might well look with interest at a solution found by artists in Brighton and Hove this May.

House Festival 2010 is a temporary gallery with nine rooms spread around the twin coastal resorts, in venues as diverse as a Regency townhouse, a day centre and a garden shed.

Organisers Judy Stevens and Chris Lord have drafted in a handful of the region’s best known curators to support the project, which was piloted last year.

“There are a lot of artists here with national or international reputations who never show in Brighton, because there’s no gallery,” said printmaker Stevens.

And yet the South Coast is not short of spaces for art. Eastbourne, Chichester and Bexhill-on-Sea all boast newly developed, restored or redeveloped spaces for art.

“This is really our response to that,” adds Stevens. “I think that is because they received a lot of regeneration money, whereas Brighton isn’t seen as needing it.”

Room one of this virtual gallery will be The Regency Townhouse in Hove. First time visitors to 13 Brunswick Square should be impressed by the Grade I Listed terrace.

Painstaking work is underway to recreate the fashionable look and feel of the 1820s, and this will be the context for a group exhibition on the theme of regeneration.

Refired ceramics, collage and found objects all figure in the show of 21 artists, chosen by a team which includes Nicola Coleby from Brighton and Hove Museums, Simon Martin from Pallant House in Chichester and Woodrow Kernohan from Brighton Photo Fringe.

Across town at Preston Manor, three more curators have commissioned 12 artists and designer-makers to respond to the furnishings and history of an Edwardian home.

60 moulded bulldogs explore issues of nationalism, a peacock feather dress hints at the barriers of class, and a pair of glass pipes question the utility of stately homes.

This time it is Polly Harknett, craft curator at Hove Museum, Matt Smith, independent curator and ceramicist, and Caitlin Heffernan, artist, who pull together the show, with Smith and Heffernan both contributing pieces.

Grand surroundings then give way to a smaller setting for a third room of House, as a garden shed at 46 Buller Road plays host to a mini cinema.

Highlight of the horticultural themed bill promises to be extracts from a 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland, the first movie adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s enduringly popular tale.

At the time Britain’s longest film, this version of Alice was almost lost for good. It survives thanks to an incomplete print found in Hove, now restored by the BFI.

Meanwhile, Brighton’s answer to the white cube spaces found in neighbouring South Coast towns has, for the duration of the Festival, been given a domestic makeover.

Dream Home at Phoenix Gallery constructs a warren of lived-in rooms within the gallery, and showcases sculpture, installations and photography from local talents such as Ben Thomson, Gary Barber and Kim L. Pace.

But lesser known, marginalised artists are on show at Wellington House, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Curation is by award-winning outsider artist Carlo Keshishian, with support from Pallant House Gallery.

The remaining locations for House include smaller, local, independent galleries Permanent, Grey Area and Blank, together with a residential address in the city centre.

Brighton and Hove may be lacking in the funds to create a purpose built art gallery, but as can be seen from this festival alone, the area has no shortage of alternatives. It is just a shame alternatives are needed.

Review: Billy Childish – Unknowable But Certain

Flags (in June's Pot) (2009). Oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and L-13, London

Exhibition: Billy Childish – Unknowable But Certain, The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, until May 2 2010

In a poem on the wall, we find that Billy Childish once wrote: “I am a desperate man who loves the simplicity of/painting/and hates gallarys [sic] and white walls.”

Now that his recent paintings hang on the white walls of the ICA, one wonders where Childish stands. For more than 30 years he has, after all, played the role of outsider.

The hallmark of his poetry, music and art has always been the rejection of fashion, so perhaps it was inevitable that a cutting-edge public institution should one day pick up on the results.

In painting, Childish is famed for sticking with tradition. His work is expressionistic and raw. He offers the viewer flowers in vases, landscapes and outdoor portraits but, this being him, two of the latter feature a dead man.
An oil painting of a dark figure walking up a snowy hill

The oils are laid on thick and, when it comes to colour, Childish favours the putrid end of the spectrum. Yet the palette can shift before your eyes. In Man on Snowy Street, bright shades of lime and blue override a first impression of sickly greens and greys.

Most of these brushstrokes carry the weight of long years of suffering, which are well documented in the copious poetry also found in this show. Chatham’s least favourite son still bears the scars of a brutal upbringing.

Childish also has dyslexia and will leave the misspellings in his written work. It gives to his poems a mixture of pathos and humour they might otherwise not have. When he writes of late night “kabbabs” instead of “kebabs”, it somehow seems fitting.

Music is perhaps this artist’s best-known art form, and one room is given over to his many recordings with about half a dozen band, including Pop Rivets, Thee Mighty Caesars and Thee Headcoates.

The sound never strays too far from garage rock – his bands are as rough around the edges as his art and his poetry. Call it the punk approach, but it translates better onto vinyl than canvas or the printed page.

Written for Culture24.