Cardboard, chewing gum, celebrity spectres: outsider art at Sotheby’s

Exhibition at London auction house features ‘hugely inspiring’ work by artists creating outside the mainstream

The first exhibition of outsider art to be held at Sotheby’s will open at the London auction house next week, showing a lifesize cardboard sculpture of a runner, minutely detailed drawings by a former punk rocker, and works in embroidery, found materials and chewing gum.

The exhibition will feature pieces by artists working outside the traditional art world, including some who are self-taught and some who have social, physical or mental health problems. All are supported by the arts charity Outside In.

Frances Christie, the head of modern and postwar British art at Sotheby’s, said she found the works “hugely inspiring”.

Exhaust Dog by Jacob Rock.
Exhaust Dog by Jacob Rock. Photograph: Mark Heathcote/Sotheby's

“I think the work of this charity is very important – and perhaps showing this art in a venue in central London, which many of the artists would not otherwise come into, is also important,” she said. “The art world can be quite intimidating, and that too is a barrier to acceptance.

“I hope people will come and just look at this art as art, and be delighted.”

The exhibiting artists include James Lake, who makes large-scale sculptures entirely from cardboard – a medium he believes blurs the boundary between high and low art. He developed an interest in art while undergoing treatment in his teens for bone cancer, which included the amputation of his right leg.

Gold Run by James Lake.
Gold Run by James Lake. Photograph: Sotheby's

Some of the artists have won international recognition, such as the musician and writer Nick Blinko for his pen and ink drawings. Like several of the other artists, the lead singer of the 1980s punk band Rudimentary Peni has spent periods being treated for mental illness, and has spoken of the difficulty of balancing creativity with his prescribed medication.

Marc Steene, the director of Outside In, said the organisation had grown from a desire to challenge the status quo of the art world, to question its values and judgments, and to create opportunities for artists working outside the mainstream.

Crufts Dog Show by Michelle Roberts.
Crufts Dog Show by Michelle Roberts. Photograph: Sotheby's

As outsider art has gained recognition, many artists have found a market for their work – for example, Rakibul Chowdhury, who has exhibited in Paris. His work Ophelia is inspired by the famous Millais painting, but Chowdhury shows her surrounded by figures from gossip magazines. He writes: “I want to keep painting my pictures. I want to sell my work. I want to go shopping.”

The show will also be a celebration of the award-winning Outside In, which was founded at the Pallant House gallery in West Sussex in 2006 and now provides a platform for more than 2,500 artists who would otherwise have difficulty accessing the conventional art market. It became an independent charity in 2016 and now receives Arts Council England funding.

  • Outside In: Journeys is showing at Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1, 11-19 January 2018. Free to enter


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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