With helping hand, ‘outsiders’ gatecrash London art world

British artist Dannielle Hodson is one of a number of "outsiders" whose work is being showcased at the "Outside In: Journeys" exhibition at Sotheby's in London
AFP

London (AFP) – Having made the unlikely journey from prison and psychiatric hospital to the beating heart of London’s art world, a charity helping artists considered “outsiders” is looking to shake up the industry.

At London’s prestigious Sotheby’s auction house this month, Outside In showcased works by artists battling ill-health and other social barriers.

Among them was a haunting drawing depicting a naked woman squatting down as she looks at her smartphone, created by 37-year-old Dannielle Hodson while she was in prison.

“It’s always about spontaneity, always about freedom, it may come from my story as well,” Hodson told AFP at the “Outside In: Journeys” exhibition, which wraps up on Friday.

The artist heard about the project in 2008, when she was spending her time “doodling” while confined by the four walls of a prison cell.

“When you are in prison, in an institution, you are not connected to the outside world so whatever you do is in that vacuum,” she said.

She scored her first exhibition after leaving prison.

“I have done something that I love and I got paid for this,” said Hodson, who is now a full-time artist.

Outside In gives a platform to more than 2,600 artists like Hodson, helping showcase their work to the industry’s movers and shakers.

“The artists are working from their hearts or they are trying to deal with some personal issues or it is purely intuitive,” the charity’s director Marc Steene told AFP at Sotheby’s.

“The connectivity between these artists and their works is very powerful”.

Barriers to the art market can include mental health issues, disabilities, social circumstances, health issues and homelessness, he said.

– Art Brut –

The charity, founded within the Pallant House Gallery 11 years ago, prides itself on having helped artists such as Manuel Bonifacio.

The 70-year-old attends a day centre for adults with learning disabilities, where he prolifically creates drawings, paintings and ceramics.

“Because we gave him access to very important venues, his work now is in the Art Brut collection in Lausanne” in Switzerland, which brings together work by self-taught artists, said Steene.

Outside In helps artists raise their profiles by helping them set up a website and exhibit their work and by giving them legal and other advice.

“There is so much risk of exploitation, they might not realise what value their art may have,” said Steene, himself an artist.

“What we are trying to do is to challenge culture, to make it wider,” he added. 

Carlo Keshishian, whose painting entitled “A Thousand Words”, made up of hundreds of intertwined letters, is one of the 30 on show at Sotheby’s.

He said the charity had “helped him to gain self-confidence” and opened up opportunities.

“I have ended up speaking in front of hundreds of people in places such as the Imperial War Museum, meeting many artists, running art workshops… co-curating an exhibition.”

There are “many other things that I’d, without their support, have struggled to achieve,” he explained.

The works encompass a huge range of styles, but they are drawn together by a single thread, according to Hodson.

“The thing I find in common… is the drive to make art, despite the circumstances.”

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