Orpheus playing to the animals – oil on panel – 76 x 100 cm
In this blog I want to talk about my relationship with ‘outsider art’ and to be honest it’s a relationship that I’ve only become aware of in recent years. Outsider art is a term first coined back in 1972 as a synonym for the French expression ‘rough art’ a name used by Jean Dubuffet to describe art that is created outside of any official culture or established art scene, such as paintings and drawings made by patients in psychiatric institutions and the art of children. The English understanding of ‘outsider art’ has been expanded to include the work of some self-taught and naïve artists who have never been institutionalized. Leading English outsider artists would include L S Lowry and Richard Dadd. Dadd lived in the Victorian era and he was already very technically gifted when a series of sad events led to his confinement in Bedlam. His masterpiece the ‘Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke’ is beautifully painted and so intricate that it surpasses every painting in this genre that I have seen. The marvelous detail makes the strange scene very real as the spectator surveys the curious drama unfolding in a meadow between several blades of grass.
As I have grown older I have found myself identifying with outsider artists more and more for the following reasons. Outsider artists often produce very detailed work – I’ve been doing this for years. An outsider artist often develops a particular technique or method of working – I am largely self-taught although my oil painting technique is not dissimilar to ways of painting known for centuries. Outsider artists live outside of the contemporary art scene – I am known to a small circle of collectors and have received little recognition from the art world as it exists in London today…but who cares, most of the time I’m painting for myself and that is exactly what outsider artists like to do. Outsider artists are often outsiders living on their own and obsessively creating art – that’s what I do. Outsider artists often have mental health issues – I’m prone to feelings of melancholia or depression. These feelings began early in life and I’ve found that drawing and painting helps to contain them so my art has a therapeutic aspect to it.
The picture featured today was painted more than twenty years ago and at that time I would never have thought of it as being outsider art. The subject is taken from Greek mythology. According to legend the music of Orpheus was so beautiful that animals would stop there usual pursuits and gather round to listen. In some ways this corresponds to the idea that man’s base nature can be brought to a higher level of consciousness through contact with music and art. In my painting the creatures are scarcely aware of each other it’s as if they’ve been magically transported to an other worldly realm by the power of music. This is one reason for not having them in scale with each other. I made this picture because I love animals and I wanted the excuse to paint a lot of them. If you look closely you will see that some of them are in family groups and there are mothers carrying their young. I wanted to paint a picture that would appeal to children and I thought that a picture such as this would make a good jigsaw and be educational. I did have a jigsaw puzzle company interested a long time ago but then the deal fell through. Part of the problem might have been to do with size as the complex detail in this picture is best seen life size and most jigsaw puzzles are not that large.