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Last but not least …

December 8, 2021

Before I considered myself an outsider artist, I saw an exhibition of Black art from the South, at the Turner Gallery in Margate. I saw some Gee’s Bend Quilts and work of Thornton Dial; and read more about them in a book called the Creation story; Gee’s Bend quilts and the art of Thornton Dial. Susan H. Edwards discusses this vernacular art and artists and how since with the support of William Arnett and his sons have become known as outsider artists alongside Henri Rousseau, Adolf Wolfli, and Bill Taylor and receiving much attention. Edwards goes on to say that self-taught does not mean lacking in worldliness. Also, that ‘Dial remained an independent spirit despite increasing recognition of his voice among the establishment’. Furthermore, Edwards refers to extraordinary burst of creativity such as the Italian and Harlem Renaissance and there being no apparent reason for either.  Going on to suggest how some artists flourish in comfort and security and others like Anne Frank who created a lasting piece of work from horror, and Virginia Woolf preferred a room of one’s own. While the women of Gee’s Bend and Thornton Dial’s creativity came from the African American experience in Alabama; that of poverty, racism, personal struggle, and lack of formal education.  (Scala, M. 2012)

It seems from the Creation Story and from the work I have seen ‘the quilts soar in beauty and the provocative symbolic codes, and the visual power of Dial’s work can be appreciated both for their aesthetic qualities and subjugated knowledge’.

For this investigation there remains many unanswered questions; while I am self-taught, I have not been marginalised or oppressed and remain an unlikely outsider. 

I did not foresee doing my MA during a pandemic; my schoolgirl dream it seemed was dashed within weeks of my enrolment. While I am a part time student, I had time on my   hands there was no opportunity for grief or self-pity; and transported back to being a 6-year-old girl.    In days with limited resources, I was making dolls and taking them on a journey.  First establishing their needs and then placing them in an artful and creative place.  Then going on to look at ways on which other artists have achieved this.  Like the blind, illiterate poet and performer, the soldier who met monsters on his way home from a war, puppets that spoke to troubled children or oppressed citizens.  Explored the value of silence and sound with world renowned composer and music theorist and other scholars.  Discovered gardeners who while planning their plots might help me make a stage in my own garden making use of plants but more important colour, light, and shade.  Considered artists who looked deeply into bleak situations and exposed astonishingly dark work. Going further to discover outsider artists who while enduring very harsh conditions, using found items, still were able to celebrate colour and form to make art that looked at home in the back yard yet found its way to global recognition. Quite by accident I came across a Russian ballet dancer who invented stop motion animation to teach his pupils.   Furthermore, more recently but still early in the development of stop motion animation and again from across the world filmmakers that still amaze and entertain. 

None of these artists or creatives had an education in art; all self-taught skills using tools and materials at hand; often in isolation and or in hardship.  Yet their work and stories are showcased and referenced by scholars and other notorious artists.  This rather arbitrary story goes a long way to say that while the pandemic was not always a comfortable or easy situation it did play an important part in the progress of my journey to Russia and back and along the road to my MA.

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