Hello World: An apt title for our first post.

November 30, 2009

This blog is the result of months (nay, years) of discussions between us. We’re not sure where it’s going to go, or what subjects it will eventually encompass, but where it’s come from is something we’d like to record here for posterity.

From the outset of his artistic career back in 1992, Chris Hipkiss has been almost consistently referred to as an ‘Outsider’ artist. This came about mainly due to our first encounters in the art world — or, rather, on the peripheries of it; the nature of our contacts was inevitably shaped by our lack of the kind of training which generally grounds artists as much in how to get on in the mainstream milieu as it does in any kind of technical or creative sense. In this respect, we were outsiders — small ‘o’; we’d never heard of the capitalised version of the word. I think there are many people in the same boat.

In the years since that time, we’ve assimilated a great deal about the politics of the arena in which we found ourselves. For my own part, working as an agent for an artist was never on my list of potential careers; and whilst Chris dreamt of being a professional throughout his childhood, he wasn’t prepared for the reality. We’ve both learnt on our feet. It’s been a path filled with much enjoyment, rich encounters and — finally, in recent years — fulfillment at seeing the work, which means so much to us, reach a larger audience. Chris is one of the few living ‘Outsiders’ to feature prominently in artfacts.net rankings, for example — and current Hipkiss collectors, apparently, think less about some perceived biography than the complexities of the work itself, and how great it looks on their wall. Apart from our own graft, we have been very fortunate to have fallen in with certain galleries who have helped us a great deal.

This level of achievement has not come easily, however, and there remain barriers to overcome. Meanwhile, we see others, of our age, in the same obscurity as Hipkiss was almost twenty years ago, despite their having continually produced unique and exciting creations. We are all-too-aware of how difficult it is to gain respect — and a living — as an artist who hasn’t jumped through the right ‘hoops’ to get to this stage, no matter how acclaimed the work, or how often mainstream artists draw from the wealth of ideas and styles created outside the constraints of their education.

There needs, perhaps, to be a descriptor for this kind of art in order to help shape a credible profile for it in the wider world; what we refute, adamantly and loudly, is that that descriptor should relate to the artist’s personal life in any way more than its mainstream equivalents do. There are, of course, as many differences between the artists who fit this ‘genre’ as there are artists — and, certainly, many exhibitions that are curated purely on that basis tend to have the air of a bazaar, so different are the styles to be found. As such, we’re not campaigning for anything more than an adjective — one without negative implications — as a starting point, and to satisfy the human desire to pigeonhole. We can’t disagree that Chris’ work, for example, is the way that it is almost entirely because he avoided formal teaching beyond the age of sixteen — even rejecting the possibility of an art college place — though that is where the similarity between he and other self-taught artists ends. There are academics, journalists and dealers who are genuine lovers of the art — those who see great value in the very fact of not having been shaped by formal teaching — and their goals are often the same as ours.

Unfortunately, however, many of the players in the ‘Outsider’ realm have different agendas. We know the score all too well: Chris himself was encouraged, by certain parties, to guard his fictional ‘Outsider’ credentials carefully — not to seek to expose his own work or have it printed/published, not to ‘evolve’ too much, not to have his own website; it was once even suggested that he should seek ‘drudge’ employment for the sake of his ‘reputation’. Written biographies are frequently cherry-picked (often plain fabricated) ‘facts’, made up, without our input, to paint a picture of The Crazy, The Simpleton or The Obsessive, and published without our approval.

Attempts we’ve made to change his categorization to ‘self-taught’ have been stymied by commentators from the mainstream art world, once again, using the label as a euphemism for ‘Outsider’ – i.e. to portray the artists as socially — if not mentally — ‘deficient’, primitive… We are weary of the absence of meaningful press out there, featuring insightful interviews with the many, varied individuals as opposed to the same tired clichés about the genre as a whole. These affronts go unchallenged by much of the ‘Outsider’ fraternity, even as they enjoy their relationships with the artists as perfectly normal, well-adjusted human beings. It is, frankly, duplicitous.

In short, living artists without an art college background are still expected to put up and shut up — be grateful for any crumbs that happen to fall.

We’ve decided it’s high time that (our) alternative voices are heard.

Alpha Mason

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