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Outside In At Pallant House / 25 July 2011

painting of a sailing boat by Alfred Wallis

Alfred Wallis, Boat (1930), Bishop Otter Collection, University of Chichester

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You wouldn’t think Chichester was the kind of place Outsider Artists would feel much at home in. It’s a prosperous cathedral city in the southeast of England, the Downs close by, with a genteel air and a rather old-fashioned atmosphere.

Tea rooms, bookshops, and a medieval gate all make this kind of place you half expect to see John Betjeman rooting around in, or perhaps some of those artists who were his friends and contemporaries, people like John Piper, or Ben Nicholson, or Osbert Lancaster.

But Pallant House Gallery has been a champion of Outsider Art for most of this century. Working in conjunction with Outside In, the Chichester gallery has been mounting exhibitions of Outsider Art here since 2003, and last week hosted the launch of Outside In’s new call for submissions. Outside In aims to provide a platform for artists who find it difficult to break into the art world either because of mental health issues, disability, health, social circumstance,  or because work doesn’t conform to mainstream definitions of ‘art’.

Last Thursday 21st July Marc Steene, Acting Director of the gallery, announced to a packed audience an exciting programme of events for the coming year. These will culminate in 2012 with an exhibition of work by contemporary Outside Artists alongside pieces by the founding father of Art Brut (‘Raw Art’) Jean Dubuffet. His exhibition in 1948 kick-started the whole Outsider Art movement, and Pallant House and Dubuffet’s imprimatur is going to bring a lot of attention to Outsider Art produced on these shores.

Artists who have already worked with Outside In also spoke at the event.  They thanked Outside In and Pallant House for giving them access to the world of art, a world that can seem far removed from the lives of many, from people who may have a passion to express themselves in a wide range of media, but who don’t have  the resources to do so.

Outside In’s programme ‘Step Up’ seeks to address this situation, and  with workshops, calls for submissions, and exhibitions all under way this is an exciting time for Outsider Artists wherever they are.

I think Ben Nicholson, who loved the work of Alfred Wallis, the Cornish fisherman who painted boats and seascapes and the life around him in St Ives, would approve. And so, I hope, would Alfred Wallis himself.