‘You do not need to be taught to create’
Outside In started in 2007 as an art competition for outsider and marginalised artists in Sussex, for which we had around 100 artists taking part and 200 artworks entered. In 2009 we expanded the project to cover the South of England from Lands End to Margate and had predicted 400 entries and by the closing date we had received over 800, with over 500 artists registering for the project. We have had artists entering work from far outside the region, such as Cumbria and Newcastle, making huge efforts to get their work to the competition.
This overwhelming response has proven the need and relevance of Outside In to many artists and organisations. I am aware that we are only just scratching the surface. There are many artists in the region who we have not reached who I have since heard from or about. This is one of our enduring challenges, how do we reach artists who by their nature are hard to reach? One of our aims is to create a database so that we can be directly in touch with artists, supporting them to have a degree of control over their creative lives, rather than working through third parties, arts organisations, prisons, social services, hospitals etc. What has become clear though is the importance of these organisations and individuals in supporting many of the artists taking part. There are many exemplary art projects in the region all furthering the work of marginalised artists and I am extremely grateful to them for all their support.
In valuing and respecting the creativity of marginalised artists, Outside In is breaking down the barriers that exist in art galleries, where the educated, informed and articulate hold sway and make decisions about who enters their collections or gets exhibited. Outside In is a gentle revolution, bringing the outside in and enabling artists to be hung on the walls of a prestigious gallery alongside famous artists. This is not an apologetic or well meaning act, the work produced by these artists I feel ranks as some of the strongest and most interesting work that I have seen.
One image has stood out for me during the last six months, acting almost as a talisman for Outside In. It is a photograph I discovered by chance, taken by the British artist Christopher Wood in 1928, of his friend and fellow artist Ben Nicholson, meeting the self taught Cornish artist Alfred Wallis. Though obviously recreated after their first meeting, it is a powerful image. It shows starkly the two contrasting personalities, the tall well dressed Nicholson dwarfing the locally dressed Wallis, reaching out, sketchbook under arm. Is Nicholson about to enter Wallis’s house or touch him on the shoulder? Why is Wallis keeping one hand behind his back, is he hiding a picture? But the real question I ask myself is why did Wood take the photograph? They must have realised the good fortune that had put this unique talent in their path, this artist who was to have such a profound impact on their own art and wished to document it. I am firmly convinced that, but for this chance encounter, Alfred Wallis would have died in obscurity, his work lost forever, but instead he now hangs among the great in many collections around the world, as at Pallant House Gallery. But even though Alfred Wallis’s work is displayed in galleries with the likes of Nicholson and Wood, the inherent prejudice in art galleries is all too clear when he is labelled as a primitive, naïve or self–taught artist, whereas they are seen as part of an art lineage and described as modernist or abstract artists. I firmly believe, as my art tutor the British artist Jeffery Camp, once said to me ‘You don’t need to be taught to create’.
Outside In shares the same opportunity that Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson had on that day in St. Ives when they discovered Alfred Wallis, acting as an opportunity for artists to be seen and valued who might not otherwise have the good fortune of being discovered.
I would like to say thank you to: Kate Hadley, the Outside In Coordinator, for her hard work and belief in the project; Peter Pavement, the web site designer, for his extremely generous support; the interns Olivia Stevens, Yumi Okuda and Berit Kingod for their many hours of unpaid work; the Outside In steering group; especially Jackie and Steve Street without whose financial support this would not be happening; Mandie Saw, Stephen White, Gail Silver, Sonia Rasbery and Kate Buxton, who gave us valuable guidance; and Rose Knox-Peebles, who diligently helped select and judge the entries and also loaned work for the exhibition; the judges La Collection Bretanique and Stefan van Raay; Régis Cochefert and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for having faith in the project, Jon Adams for designing the badges and being such a good advocate, and finally to Emily and my family for their support and for putting up with the many hours I have been away from home working on the project.
Marc Steene, Head of Learning at Pallant House Gallery