I have for some time become fascinated by ‘Outsider Art’. Outsider art is work created outside of an artistic knowledge or community but rather an innate drive to create work for personal reasons. I started to become interested after discovering the artist Judith Scott. Judith was born in 1943 with Down Syndrome as well as being profoundly deaf. At the age of just 7 she was sent away from the family and institutionalized in isolation for 30 years, regarded as seriously ‘retarded’ with no hope of learning.
After 30 years her twin sister Joyce had a time of realisation and endeavoured to become Judith’s carer and arranged for her to move to California with her. Joyce arranged for her to attend Creative Growth the first centre in the world for artists with disabilities. After two years of attending the centre she was introduced to fibre and textiles and she began to created amazing sculptural structures from what ever materials she could find.
Her pieces begin with an internal skeletal structure around which she would then begin to weave and bind yarns and fabric scraps. Some of her pieces are small, some huge but what was apparent was that she was very sure when she considered something finished. Her sculptures have a real sense of her exploration of being a twin. often two items have been bound together, clearly visible as two separate objects. But some of her work also seems to explore her years of isolation with in the institution.
What fascinates me most is this drive and ability to release what is within. Without any real training or even any understanding of what art is, this language is still available when the traditional languages of speech and the written word is not.
I was extraordinarily lucky to be able to visit the exhibition she had with The Museum of Everything in London’s Selfridge’s Hotel. The exhibition catalogue is still available and is a beautifully produced item which if interested is well worth getting!
There are many other amazing Outsider Artists all with different stories desperate to come out. Agnes Richter was a seamstress who was committed to an asylum during the 1890’s. She embroidered texts and illustrations all over her jacket, mostly indecipherable, but almost like a diary about her experience of the asylum. There is a real sense of frustration and anger almost like the words have been punched into the fabric rather than carefully embroidered. Agnes’s jacket was acquired by Hans Prinzhorn a psychiatrist who was also a trained art historian. Prinzhorn began to build a collection of art created by asylum patients and went on to produce the book Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) the first attempt to explore the art of mentally ill patients. Jean Debuffet became very interested in the work of Prinzhorn and later coined the name ‘Art Brut’ a term now used to describe art created outside the artistic community.
Another interesting artist is Arthur Bispo do Rosario, a Psychiatric patient admitted after believing he was a saint who had seen Jesus with blue angels. He believed his work was a calling from god in preparation for the last judgement.
In 2013 The Wellcome Collection had an exhibition of Japanese ousider art called Souzou. The exhibition included work from 46 artists working in different media, all from social welfare institutions across Japan.