the folk outsider naive craft painting revival?
12 August 2010 § Leave a comment
A previous post on Harry Hill the Idea Generation Gallery briefly discussed the term outsider art. This was mainly in respect to some basic ‘outsider’ credentials of Hill’s work. In retrospect however the term is rather difficult to use so briefly and I have been itching to expand on this brief mention, but focusing on contemporary art and adding traditional crafts into the mix.
This is not an overview of ‘outsider’ art since the terms attached to it are so broad, have been so widely misused and applied in a casual manner. Outsider, Naive, Folk, Visionary, Neuve Invention, Art Brut, Marginal, Intuitive are all variously used in connection with it, and have been used in varying ways in different places. Raw Vision has done a good job of definition on their website, even if the terms are frequently misused elsewhere.
Most interesting to me is the steady resurgence in interest not only in the more ‘traditional’ definition of this art but its latest incarnation within recent contemporary art. The deeply unfashionable nature of the naive/folk/craft tradition within the post-war art scene was especially attractive as a basis for rebellion for some British artists of the 1990’s. The award of the Turner Prize to Grayson Perry in 2003 brought this theme to the fore and, despite her disgust at the award to Perry, Tracey Emin’s wall-hangings and tent also betray the same craft origins.
Harry Hill has already been discussed and there are many other artists that could be added to the list of those who draw on, or are inspired by the same traditions. In particular are those painters of ‘amateurish’ style whose star has been on the ascendant in recent years. Coming to mind immediately is Alice Neel (above) with her current retrospective at the Whitechapel. Neel uses a casual style to portray the famous as well as marginalised and vulnerable of society – immigrants, children and the elderly. The title of the exhibition, Painted Truths, demonstarates the widely held view that this more natural ‘folksy’ style somehow allows Neel a deeper psychological insight in to he mind of the sitter. The portraits cerainly reveal a fragility and the paintings are delicate and sensitive. Interestingly Neel herself led a troubled life which included mental breakdown and attempted suicide.
Karen Kilimnik’s loose and ‘awkward’ style, is outwardly similar although she paints not from life but using appropriated images of celebrity. She is currently showing at Sprueth Magers, London. Elizabeth Peyton paints small, intense and colourful portraits of friends, celebrity and monarchy. Like Kilimnik and Neel she has found broader acceptance only since the 1990’s. More recently there are artists like Ryan Mosley who combines multiple traditions to create mysterious quasi-mystical worlds and Lynette Boakye who produces naive and dark portrait of imaginary characters, have also appeared on the scene amongst many more.
None of this adds up to a movement, and many of the artists have of course been successful and well established for many years. Nevertheless the trend is there for all to see – the Whitechapel has had major shows featuring Neel and Peyton in the last twelve months, Kilimnik was at the Serpentine a couple of years back and features in the current Saatchi imagazine, which also includes a substantial article entitled ‘The Folk Spirit in Contemporary Art’. Last but not least, the subject of the original posting, Harry Hill manages a few pages in the latest isue of Tate etc. I could mention many more artists and more exhibitions, but it is clear that the influence of these traditional and ‘outsider’ styles is here to stay – at least for a while yet with investment in this area less speculative and more reliable.
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- Alice Neel: Painted Truths at the Whitechapel Gallery, review (telegraph.co.uk)