Friday, 26 July 2013

I'm looking in

Last Saturday saw the opening of 'Oustide In: West' at Taunton's Museum of Somerset.

 "Outside In: West celebrates the extraordinary creativity of 21 artists outside the mainstream.  It has been arranged in partnership with the Museum of Somerset in Taunton, and showcases artists who have remained at the margins either because of health issues, disability, or social circumstances.
In selecting the powerful and often exuberant work, the exhibition has centred on gesture, narrative, expression and vitality. On the surface the work seems wonderfully diverse, but delve deeper and two themes emerge."

So there's a little bit of context for you.


 I missed the opportunity to write about previous exhibitions at the Museum so I wasn't going to let this one pass me by and Tuesday this week decided to give 'Outside: In' a look-in! Not only that, but there was of course the usual personal reasons for going (what with Taunton being the epi-centre of cultural happenings and all...) of said art protagonists, Tim Martin and Stuart Rosamond selecting/curating the exhibition and artist Brian Gibson (whom I had the pleasure of sharing a residency with a few years ago as a part of 'Context') whose works are present in this exhibition. What I think was going to originally be two exhibitions shown simultaneously at the Museum of Somerset and The Brewhouse have now been condensed into one exhibition at the museum (in light of The Brewhouse's closure). Hence one half of the room is themed as 'Self and other portraits' (pretty self explanatory) and the other (more ambiguously) 'From within and from without' ("works that express personal thoughts and inner feelings as well as perceptions of the contemporary world"). Although none of that made really much difference at the time as I was more interested in the varied assortment of work on offer (of which I was pleasantly surprised).

Enough ado, what of the work?! Being an outsider art exhibition I was expecting a lots of angst and intensity and it was refreshing to see so many works that used humour, 'Bad start to the holiday' by Ideapathic and Regina Lafey's works (pictured below) as well as works that were greatly enjoyable and witty, such as, the jazzy and colourful painting 'Aenigma' and 'Brass'. What was also exciting was some of the diversity in both drawing/painting style in the 2D work and use of materials and inventiveness with the 3D pieces. 'Floral Tribute' by Joolz Cave-Berry (pictured) made of buttons and wire automatically reminded me of Jim Lambie and I liked thinking of how a process of threading/collecting the buttons onto wire could be meditative and maybe even cathartic in its repetitiveness. Similarly, Arron Kuiper's 'Gel paintings' (pictured) where oil paint is implanted into gel, as though the paint is suspended in space are simply like nothing I have ever seen before, they are really engaging and curious to look at. Though, like any good art exhibition, I'm pleased to say this one is not completely devoid of some darkness and mystery such as, 'Loosing my heart to dad' Steve Lydoon and Benjamin Fish's 'Masked' which had a really loose sketchy quality that reminded me fondly of the brilliant and edgy illustrations of Ralph Steadman.

Not pictured here are Vivi-Mari Carpelan's photo montages which have a great feeling of nostalgia and sort of Jan Svankmajer-feel of surrealism (familiar and yet very strange/carnivalesque) and underlying unsettledness. They are all a little surreal with even the more abstract works like Grade One's use of gloss paint and layering to create circular motif has a sense of purpose about it that sort-of charges it with a dream-like feeling of powerful symbolism or mysticism. And in a way that is the charm and strength of Outsider art generally, that it the work never feels 'half-hearted' but instead, whether the work is laboured or spontaneous it projects a sense of meaning something, of relevance and importance-that it has been made because it needed to be made, to be expressed. You may argue that all art functions that way, but I suppose what I'm saying is that there often seems to be a more raw, perhaps more genuine reason/need for that creativity present in the work of Outsider art than that of work which is more preconceived/conceptual. Or is it the often child-like, naïve accessibility that characterises a lot of Outsider art that creates a different expectation on the viewer forcing us to look at the work differently? I speculate because there is no definitive answer and I realise that some Outsider art is quite the opposite and can be incredibly complex and detailed, but either way the underlying quality is one of being-human, that there is always a strong sense of the artist being present in the work and in turn it making its own connection with you as the viewer.

Overall an exhibition that was a great follower to seeing 'Souzou Outsider Art from Japan' at The Wellcome Collection, London in May. Souzou translating as either creation or imagination in Japanese, which is fitting as this exhibition also has both.

Not only that but the Museum of Somerset also gets bonus points for allowing photography and being genuinely helpful, good stuff! As far as exhibition spaces go, it is in my view, unquestionably Taunton's best exhibiting space at present and although fairly small is a really smart, clean, light gallery space that has so far demonstrated great potential if it continues to exhibit work, like this exhibition, that is local, technically accomplished, interesting, fun and thought provoking.

That and there's some really weird and wonderful things in the actual museum itself!

Roger Davison 'Stooping Figure'
Regina Lafay 'Crutches'
Brian Gibson 'The Red Deer'
Joolz Cave-Berry 'Floral tribute'
Arron Kuiper 'Rowan'

'Outside In: West' is on at The Museum of Somerset until the 28th September. Tuesday-Saturday (10:00 -05:00)

It's FREE entry (so no excuses!)

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