Thursday, 14 December 2017

Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West

Alternative Visions. Undiscovered Art in the South West.

'Abattoir ' by Steve Burden

Falmouth Art Gallery, closed 9th December 2017

This show was first at Bristol. After Falmouth it is going to Cheltenham and then Poole. The inside back cover of the nicely produced catalogue reveals eleven logos of sponsoring bodies, including the Arts Council and Arts and Health.
Nine support days were organised and 310 artists submitted work, from which 20 were selected by four people , one an 'Outside  In' artist  award winner and three arts administrators, with each chosen artist having one work on the wall plus a rather lengthy caption and a video statement to be viewed in the gallery. In addition a group of artists with learning disabilities in Bristol had given responses to the works which  could be heard if you could work out how to work the audio system, which involved putting on headphones and inserting a microphone shaped audio device into a circular activating switch next to each painting. I think each device had one person's reactions to every piece. As I chose a very slow speaking respondent who didn't really grab my attention I gave up on this extra, which I had to get a member of the art gallery staff to explain to me.

'Wish Pond' by Pinn

All this detail about how it was presented I give because it shows that a lot of time, care and money was put into giving a lucky twenty an exposure in a mainstream municipal art gallery that maybe most would otherwise never have obtained. Seeing them on video some of the artists had a rough, battered by life quality. Many had no art education and used art as a therapeutic activity to relieve depression or other distress. Quite a few only gave their first names.  Some spoke of art being an easy thing to do  - something I felt most artists outside their sphere of mental or physical need would never say because it was so at odds with the narrative of effort and difficulty of which  artists usually speak. Some encouraged others to take up a brush or marker to try making art themselves, another thing you don't find artists who think they've achieved some status doing unless it's in a class they are being paid to teach.

If I tried to assess the work as if it had been in any mixed show say at the RWA in Bristol or the Newlyn Society I think no one would have seen it as unusual without the accompanying information about the artist's ill health or difficult life circumstances.

'Critical Mass' by Jeremy James Lovely

Some of the information would have simply been interesting but much of it spoke of problems, exclusion, mental stress.

'Pink rain and rain' by George J Harding

So, I am left with a mixture of feelings about the whole thing. It's as interesting as many shows. It wouldn't be there as it is if the health and art organisations didn't exist. It's in a way preserving a ghetto for outsiders but then again it's giving a few a treat of being seen, written about, encouraged.
'An Assortment of Characters' by Alex

What of the 290 not selected, left much as the refused of any group show, disappointed, told to try again?

'A Distant Echo over the Atlantic Ocean ' by Peter Matthews

Could the organisers have shown all the refused ones in a slide show? Should they have had a larger exhibition and been inclusive rather than reproducing the art world circumstances of some being chosen and no one knowing what criteria other than personal taste prevailed?

I took photos of some of the work. More selection and exclusion.
'Trip to National Portrait Gallery' by Peter Sutton

I was interested in the show and it made me think about the craziness of how anyone gets a break to show the world something they make. 

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