Interview: Art collector Henry Boxer on Madge Gill and his other ‘art brut’ passions

Henry Boxer

Henry Boxer – art collector, art dealer, director of Henry Boxer Gallery and former celebrity photographer – is lending some of his Madge Gill works to the co-commission exhibition at Pallant House Gallery later this year.

Here, he talks to Laura Miles about his hopes for the exhibition, recalls his first encounter with Madge Gill’s work and why he thinks appreciation for ‘outsider art’ is changing.

How would you describe your relationship with art?

Integral to how I live day to day, but not the most important thing in my life, which is my family. I enjoy looking at the art on my walls day to day, and dealing with the many inquiries and questions from both collectors and artists themselves.

I feel that I am extremely fortunate making a living, and doing that through something I love and am passionate about.

What do you think of the term ‘Outsider art’?

It’s really just a label, for ease of conveying ‘what it is’ or ‘what it means’, it’s a signpost, not the thing itself. Like a finger pointing at the moon.

There are terms or classifications which I feel come closer to the substance, as in Dubuffet’s term ‘Art Brut’, literally Raw Art, also self-taught, marginal art or possibly ‘visionary art’. But non of these are able to illicit the true nature of the beast, you need to feel, see, and experience the Art itself, that is the beauty and magic, and enigma of what we are trying to communicate, or what is being communicated.

Madge Gill postcard heads ink c.1940’s

Do you think the appreciation for such art has changed? If so, how? And how would you like it to change further?

I do, people and collectors have become much more knowledgeable and understanding over the last 25 yrs or so, through the display of work at specialist art fairs, museum shows and exhibitions, through social media and literary publications.

Although this field was discussed, appreciated and was hugely influential to art movements, such as the Expressionists and Surrealists, in the 1920’s and earlyy 30’s, through Hans Prinzhorn’s publication ‘The Artistry of The Mentally Ill’ and Morgenthaler’s book ‘Madness & Art’, about Adolf Wolfli, which was also published in that period, and of course there was Dubuffet’s huge influence, and the subsequent opening of The Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, and groundbreaking ‘Outsiders’ exhibition at the Hayward in 1979.

I feel that all these things have laid down the roots for ongoing appreciation.

What governs which pieces you add to your collection?

Purely personal taste. I, of course do have favourites, amongst whom are artists that I was fortunate to discover myself, notably –  Malcolm McKesson, Nick Blinko, Vonn  Stropp, George Widener, Donald Pass, William A Hall, Richard C Smith and Margot, and then there are the classic art brut artists – Edmund Monsiel, Henry Darger, Martin Ramirez, Scottie Wilson and of course Madge Gill.

Four anomalies in my collection/group are Louis Wain, whose work I have loved and collected since I was a teenager, the occultist Austin Spare, the visionaries Richard Dadd and Charles Sims, and Joe Coleman, who is also a dear friend, but none whom I’d classify as ‘outsiders’.

Madge Gill images, postcard c.1940 ink and crayon – Henry’s favourite

Are there any works you wish you had brought or wish you hadn’t sold?

Of course, as a dealer and collector, this is the unfortunate by-product of trying to decide on what to hold on to, and what to allow out into the world! I was the under-bidder on a extraordinary and very large Wolfl, over 30 years ago, which still erks me, it’s probably worth 3/4 million today. 

When did you first come across Madge Gill’s work – and why were you drawn to it?

I first discovered Madge Gill’s work in an auction of the Estate at Christies, South Kensington, I believe in 1985. I already had an  interest in several artists who were connected to the occult, and mediumism, and when I was given this rare opportunity to actually purchase the extraordinary creations of this art brut master, I jumped at the chance. I bought large numbers of her drawings and large calicos, as well as hundreds of her exquisite pen and ink ‘self-portrait’ heads on postcard – all astounding, magical and communicating another realm/reality.

Can you tell us more about the work you are lending for the All Souls co-commission exhibition at Pallant House Gallery? How you came across them, any favourites?

These works, for the most part came from the Christie’s sale, My favourites are actually the drawings on postcard, of which she produced over 4000 in a 40 yr period, they contain the quintessential magic and mystery of her extraordinary work.

What are your hopes for the exhibition?

To disseminate and educate, and allow for the discovery of this truly unique English artist to a wider audience.

Please click here for more information about the Madge Gill co-commission: Madge Gill

Please click here for more information about the Christie’s auction:

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