Posts Tagged 'outsider art'

Women and the Mind Doctors: Upcoming exhibitions

Two exciting exhibitions open early next month, one of which features a number of items from the Bethlem Collection. The Freud Museum’s Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, runs from 10 October until 2 February 2014. A mix of historical objects and contemporary art  highlights the experience of women and their relationships to those who confined, cared for and listened to them.  The exhibition also shows how women today conduct their own explorations of mind and imagination in challenging works of art. Items from Bethlem include ECT machines, strong clothing and restraints and Richard Dadd’s A Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane. Bethlem Gallery artist Jane Fradgley will also have several artworks on display, from her recent show at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Meanwhile, a major retrospective exhibition devoted to another creative woman opens this weekend: Madge Gill: Medium & Visionary runs from 5 October 2013 until 26 January 2014 at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham. With no training and no aspirations to fame, Madge Gill produced thousands of ink drawings during her lifetime. Her work remains an enigma: is it true she was inspired by an ethereal spirit guide? Was she genuinely in touch with ‘the beyond’, or was art-making a form of self therapy?

Featuring over 100 original artworks – including the ten metre calico The Crucifixion of the Soul, which has not been on display in the UK since 1979, and contextual photographs and documents, this exhibition is the first of its kind. Madge Gill was championed and collected by Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term ‘art brut’ (raw art), the precursor to the term ‘Outsider Art’. Those interested in Outsider Art might also want to visit an exhibition at St Pancras Hospital, which is on until 28 November. Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art showcases up to twenty artists, from London, Australia and the USA.

Richard Dadd - Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane

Richard Dadd – Sketch for an Idea of Crazy Jane


In the Frame for March 2013

In the Frame usually showcases a work of art from the Archives & Museum’s own collections each month, but the list of places to which it has occasionally gone ‘on holiday’ to highlight something held elsewhere is growing. To Flanders, Ontario and Northern Ireland, we now add Lille, the 2004 European Capital of Culture. There a work of street art by Yayoi Kusama, entitled Tulipes de Shangri-La, sprouts incongruously from a concrete esplanade near the international railway station.

An exhibition of Kusama’s work at Tate Modern was the point of departure for a series of posts on this blog in March and April last year. Her story – one of a battle since childhood against nightmares of obliteration, hallucinations of polka-dot patterns pervading and threatening to destroy not only her, but also her family, her home and her world – is profoundly moving, not least because she has chosen to fight this battle by deploying her artistic talents to depict these very patterns. This decision is reminiscent of the one made by Vincent van Gogh, as communicated by him to his sister in a letter of 1888: “We need good cheer and happiness, hope and love. The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant colour, well-arranged, resplendent”.1

This is not the place to resume the ongoing discussion of the hackneyed ‘myth of the mad artist’, as if the significance of Kusama’s artistic output (let alone that of Van Gogh’s output) was reducible to that discussion. Yet the word ‘resplendent’ well describes Tulipes de Shangri-La. The scale and colour of the work is suggestive of something actually poisonous or otherwise dangerous. To those of a certain generation who, in their teenage years, imbibed British science fiction writing of the 1950s and 60s, there is something slightly Wyndhamesque about it. In any event, there is no doubt that the work brims with vitality. It is tempting to detect a further layer of meaning in its concrete, ostensibly inhospitable setting, as if it were representative of the artist’s own flowering in the face of adversity. Whatever else may be the case, Tulipes de Shangra-La has certainly become emblematic of Lille’s urban regeneration.

1 L. Jansen, H. Luijten, and N. Bakker, N. (eds.), Vincent Van Gogh: The Complete Letters (London: Thames and Hudson, 2009), vol. 4, p. 265, as cited by Colin Gale in ‘Will the Real Van Gogh please stand up?’, March 2010.

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In the Frame for October 2012

Von Ströpp’s The Five has been on display in our British Outsider Art exhibition, which ends early next month. It frequently draws the attention of school groups, whose regular refrain is, “I wish I could do something like that!” The intricate detail of the piece draws the viewer in, forcing the eye on a journey around the loops and swirls of the image rather than offering easy access to a conventional scene. The complexity of the work is awe-inspiring: small wonder the artist described the process of creation as both painful and compelling. Both of these emotions are easily invoked in the viewer.

At first glance, the picture appears old-fashioned, resembling an etching, perhaps from an antique religious text or one of the Old Masters his work is often said to resemble. The group of figures in their flowing clothing, blurring into their environment and the surrounding furniture and beasts, also suggests the idea of a textile: perhaps akin to the fifteenth century French Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Yet the overpowering detail of the image might also suggest more modern concerns: the surrealist concern with dream representation, or even the conflicts between science and nature so evocatively described in many science fiction settings. The lack of distinction between objects and background means that one of the many things this picture brings to mind for me is the creeping progress of the red weed in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, covering and obscuring detail.

A self-taught artist, Von Ströpp recalls doodling from an early age, but was never encouraged to paint or draw. Despite the pain he describes while creating, the artist feels compelled to paint as a means of imposing order on the chaos of the visionary experience.

British Outsider Art is on until 3 November in the Bethlem Museum.

Von Stropp

Outside In: Bethlem – New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery

We have already blogged about the recently opened Outside In: London show at the CGP Gallery. In conjunction with this scheme, a new show at The Bethlem Gallery opens next week. The exhibition is a solo show, by artist Ronald, whose highly unusual style sheds an x-ray vision onto the world he sees. Whether Ronald is drawing animals, planes, boats or people he draws them from the inside out, incorporating usually unseen dimensions and often embellishing the images with written messages and symbolic meanings.

Ronald is 73 years old and was a resident of both Maudsley and Bethlem hospitals for approximately 2 years. He now lives in a low and medium secure unit in Berkshire. He began drawing when he arrived at Maudsley, honing his central motifs of planes and boats.

“I like to draw aeroplanes as they can fly with my drawings” says Ron.

When he reached Bethlem Ronald worked intensively with the Art Technician on his ward and was prolific in his output. He began to expand on his subjects, meticulously drawing and redrawing repetitive symbols which hold particular meanings for him. He believes that the hearts which he draws can be put in a human being to make them better. He says he does not know if he is foolish to believe this but says: “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform”. He says when he is drawing he is trying to help himself, and hopes that when he is dead and gone they will go on working.

The exhibition is part of the wider programme of Outside In events providing a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or because their work does not conform to what is normally considered as ‘art.’ The project was set up in 2006 at Pallant House Gallery to showcase and give opportunities to artists facing barriers to their inclusion in the art world. The aim is to challenge the many barriers inherent in the art world that prevent non-traditional artists having their work seen or valued.

Ronald was selected from over 30 Bethlem artists by Deputy Director of Pallant House Gallery Marc Steene. “It was difficult to make my final selection as there are so many wonderful works produced by the artists working with the Bethlem Gallery. Ronald’s drawings really stood out for me, I love this work, the forms Ronald realises for his work; his reimaginings of planes and animals and the use of text make for extremely interesting and original art.”

Opening Event: 29th August, 3 – 6pm

Exhibition continues: 30th August– 21st September

Opening times: Wed, Thurs, Friday, 11am – 6pm

Gallery and Museum open Saturday 1st Sept, 11am – 6pm


Madge Gill, Spiritualism and Outsider Art

Our current exhibition British Outsider Art (which runs until 3 November), includes three works by Madge Gill, an artist whose drawings are also currently on display at the Nunnery Gallery. This Madge Gill Retrospective takes the form of three exhibitions, each one co-curated by a contemporary artist, with works drawn from the huge – and rarely seen – collection of drawings held by the London Borough of Newham (where Madge lived for much of her life).

The exhibition catalogue includes new research into Gill’s life and work byDeanna Petherbridge, Sara Ayad and Gary Haines. This includes information on her exhibitions at the East End Academies (her works were present in all but one show between 1932 and 1947), and reflections on her position in British Outsider Art, in addition to a chronology of her life personalised by details from letters. Her prolific creations, which she felt emerged under the influence of a spirit guide name Myrninerest, seem to have been an ongoing puzzle to herself and others. Thirty-five years after beginning drawing and painting, Madge wrote that “here I am with it still unsolved, & I seem to be losing my hold on life.” She died seven years later, aged 79, her house filled with the artworks she refused to sell, claiming them to belong to Myrninerest. This is reflected in the design of the exhibition itself, in which the centre-piece (pictured below) is a large bed: pull-out drawers in the frame filled with intricately patterned postcards.

Historians have often suggested a connection between spiritualism and feminism: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mediumship was one of the few fields in which women could gain considerable power. Many mediums, both on the public circuit and working with scientists and psychologists in an effort to document the phenomena (and mental states) arising, were female and often achieved considerable acclaim, something well-documented in Alex Owen’s The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (1989). The wistful quotation from Gill at the beginning of the exhibition catalogue certainly strikes a chord in this respect: “If I had been a man I would have gone abroad & studied botany.” While spiritualism is a notion that frequently receives derision today, in its heyday many people found the concepts comforting and liberating.

The Madge Gill Retrospective at the Nunnery Gallery takes place in three stages:

Friday 15 June – Thursday 16 August

Friday 24 August – Thursday 1 November

Friday 9 November – Thursday 17 January

For more information, visit the Bow Arts website.


Outside In: London (exhibition opens 16 August)

On 16th August, this years Outside In: London exhibition opens at the CGP London Cafe Gallery in Bermondsey, and will run until 9 September (Wednesday – Sunday, 12 – 6pm). This exhibition of the work of eight non-traditional artists was selected from over 790 submissions to the Outside In: London competition. Outside In is organised by the award-winning Pallant House Gallery, home to one of the best Collections of modern British art in the country and widely recognised for its exemplary learning and community programme. The innovative project Outside In provides a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world because of mental health or other health issues, disability, social circumstance or because their work does not conform to traditional art norms. There are no set creative criteria for the artists that choose to align themselves with the project.

Alan Ramdhan is a student of the City Lit College in Covent Garden where he studies drawing, etching and painting. Alan’s work often depicts places that he has been to, and they contain a huge amount of detail in a very small space, often in graphite pencil.

Alan Streets was a Plein Air artist in New York City for 10 years. While in America a documentary was made about Alan titled, My name’s Alan and I paint pictures. Alan is now based in the UK, where he paints landscapes and imaginary scenes.

Albert began to draw during his years spent in hospital, working mainly in simple accessible mediums such as pen and pencil. He has said that these drawings act as a kind of meditation and a means of escaping boredom.

David Byrne creates multi-layered artworks by writing and rewriting his thoughts, often combining collage with pen and paint. He uses text from song lyrics, T.V programme titles, names of sitcom characters and pop stars within his works.

Kate Bradbury has received little acclaim from the mainstream art world. Some years ago, she began intuitively making pictures and assemblages from the abandoned belongings of previous unknown tenants and continues to this day.

Kim Noble feels, as an untrained artist, that her work comes from her heart not her head, and that she has learnt a lot about her other personalities through their artistic styles. Kim’s autobiography All of Me was published in October 2011 about her life with a personality disorder.

Linda Bell makes interactive artwork and mainly works in sculpture and installation. She frequently makes work which can be played with and whilst making she will experiment with ways of moving and engaging with a piece.

Phil Baird’s art career started when he first entered art school 40 years ago. He has exhibited and worked at art whenever he could, inter spaced by hospital admissions. Phil has focused on drawing for three years now, recently publishing the book Simple Complex Drawings.


Alan Streets – Watching Wolf

In the Frame for July 2012

This month’s In the Frame was written by a work experience student at the Archives & Museum. The picture chosen will be on display in our new exhibition British Outsider Art, which runs until 3 November. Readers may also be interested in a major Madge Gill retrospective, curated by Bow Arts and on display at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow until 23 August. For more information on the exhibition, visit Bow Arts. The student writes as follows:

This picture using pen and ink on cardboard depicts what it says on the tin, a ‘Woman in Elaborate Clothes and Bonnet.’ It is completely in black and grey/cardboard colour and kind of disturbing. The woman’s elaborate clothing is made up of patterns and shapes thrown chaotically together. Also, despite the diversity of the patterns and shapes on the clothing, the woman’s face is incredibly plain and petite in comparison.

I think the reason I find this picture disturbing and confusing is because it doesn’t make much sense. It’s all mangled together and has no order or structure.

I think this style could possibly reflect back onto Madge Gill’s own life, as she went through many tragic and chaotic events in her lifetime such as being an illegitimate child, sent to an orphanage when she was nine, loss of one of her three sons, giving birth to her still-born daughter and loss of the sight in one eye.

This drawing is just one of hundreds Madge Gill drew throughout her life. When she died her son found hundreds of drawings in the boxes underneath her bed, all drawn on things like postcards and cardboard because they were cheap. She spent most of her time after she lost the sight in the left eye in bed just endlessly drawing, knitting and embroidering. She most likely did this as an escape from the hard and tragic life she had lived.

 Madge Gill

Woman in Elaborate Clothes and Bonnet – Madge Gill (1884 – 1961)