I am a… We are…

October 27, 2011

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of meeting George Widener and his partner, Sophie, at his solo exhibition in Germany. Leaving aside the fact that we enjoyed his very interesting, intelligent and warm company, I later thought how similar his experiences in the art world have been to our own.

He told us that he considered himself, for a while, to have been an Outsider artist – when he lived without a fixed abode, carrying his drawings in a rucksack, sometimes forced to throw them away – but that for a good while now he has no longer fitted that category. It required a member from the same circle of art-world people, whom we also first met by chance in London, for his career to start. I have always denied being an Outsider because I had always had a desire, in some way or another, to sell my art. (To me, an Outsider is someone who is not a part of the art world in their lifetime, either because of mental health issues or other reasons, or due to their being unaware that what they created was actually art.) I just didn’t know how to do it, until I was ‘discovered’.

But looking back on those months before anyone but Alpha saw my new work (that is to say when I finally found a style and the discipline to create), I have begun to reappraise what happened. I haven’t exactly changed my mind, but imagining Widener – wandering the world working on his drawings – has made me want to revisit my own experience, when I was in very much the same way creating for myself, blissfully (you could say) unaware of a part I was playing in Art History.

For a start, although I have always been creative, I never suddenly had the intention to be serious about being An Artist. I merely fell into a style of drawing that broke through previously insurmountable barriers: no inclination to draw, no time to do it in, no enjoyment of the process… It has been written that my work looks like it has been made by someone aping Outsider art, but at the time I had no connection to the art world and was absolutely unaware of the Outsider genre. Thinking about it, the first time I became aware of Darger’s work was in the mid 2000s, such was my disinterest in actually looking at any art beyond the classics in the Tate. In a way, because of my intentions, I was appropriating a style before I even knew about it… but this was the briefest of phases in my life and career; this is why I must reject the label of Outsider for anything more than a very short period of time, which rules me out of the genre completely.

In other words, I see myself as neither an Outsider nor a ‘normal’ artist. Not a mixture of the two either, and definitely not a Sunday painter; a new, undefined ‘someone’, perhaps. It is important to me to find a new description other than ‘post-outsider’, some way to describe my work and the work of other artists, whom I believe continue to be wrongly categorised: Plny, Doi and Widener, in particular. This work is now in contemporary art discourse and needs to be exposed next to the current wave of artists appropriating the Outsider concept; however, it also needs to be clearly classified as distinct, because by our initial experiences we all have something in common, the result of which makes our art different and original.

Any ideas are, of course, welcome!

Chris Hipkiss

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