WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR
The Ideal Palace – Hauterives, France
South of Lyon, near the village of Hauterives, I saw a tourist sign for an attraction called the ‘Ideal Palace’. After some research, I found that I had stumbled across an internationally renowned piece of ‘Outsider Art’. Art is always central to my journey and here in France this unexpected and inspiring find forged a real connection with home.
Local postman Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924), spent 33 years constructing a unique building in his garden. At the age of 43, after tripping over an unusual shaped stone while delivering mail, he began compulsively collecting stones. After work, Cheval laboured on the construction of his ‘palace’, which he had first imagined years earlier in a dream. At first he worked discreetly to avoid the ridicule of his neighbours, but as his confidence grew and public awareness of his project spread, he began to receive visitors who paid to see his work.
Later his work attracted the attention of leading European artists including Picasso and Max Ernst. Avant guard artists of the time were exploring new forms of visual expression and were intent on challenging the established doctrines of western art. They brought about fundamental changes in art practice and greatly valued the work of individuals and cultures whose approach and style was untouched by academic rules and long-established methodology. They collected and responded to folk art, the artwork of children and to artworks like the Ideal Palace. Jean Dubuffet, artist and collector, defined such works as made by artists who “derive everything from their own depths and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art. They are unscathed by artistic culture, mimicry plays little or no part”. (artbrut.ch).
In 1969 the Ideal Palace was declared a Cultural Landmark by the French government and hence acquired official protection.
Vivre A Frandisco
Next to Ferdinand Cheval’s Ideal Palace is an associated gallery space, which hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. On the day I visited, I saw an engaging and memorable exhibition called – ‘Vivre a FranDisco’ – The adventures of Marcel Schmitz and Thierry Van Hasselt. This exhibition, part of the artist’s residency on site, was a creative collaboration organised by CEC La Hesse / La ’S’ Grand Atelier.
Marcel’s artwork is focused on the theme of urban architecture, which he explores in painting, collage and print. He also builds imagined, three dimensional, cityscapes with cardboard and mixed media. Cities which have a continually developing structure and rich narrative. In 2011 Marcel embarked on the construction of an imaginary city called ‘Frandisco’. Marcel Schmitz was born with Downs Syndrome and has worked for some time at La ’S’ Grand Atelier’s art workshops, a multipurpose arts space which aims to integrate, promote and give recognition to the art of people with learning disabilities.
Thierry van Hasselt
Thierry Van Hasselt is an illustrator, comic book artist and co-founder of Brussels publishing platform Fremok. Thierry was aware of Marcel’s work at La ’S’ Grand Atelier and suggested that it should be documented in some way, in order to capture the ideas behind the creation of the city. Vivre A Frandisco is a creative collaboration and residency programme where Marcel and Thierry have worked in partnership to create of a new body of work which includes a touring installation, drawings, a book and animation films.
“To me, this city is a gift. It has brought some lightness, and a positive kind of nonchalance to my drawings. That never would have happened without Marcel. Our meeting has unleashed a real transformative power. And therein lies the value of this magnificent project, it is not about what you can expect, it is about what you can imagine. It is about the transformative potential of art and shared experience and cross-pollination.” Thierry Van Hasselt – (translated from French via google).
La ’S’ Grand Atelier
CEC La Hesse is a Belgium artistic and cultural association, who are embedded into a wider support structure for people with learning disabilities. La ’S’ Grand Atelier is its multipurpose arts space which aims to empower disabled artists though its creative workshop programme, ensuring equal access to the arts. La ’S’ Grand Atelier aim to promote and give recognition to the art of people with learning disabilities. They organise artistic residencies which involve collaboration between contemporary artists and their artist clients, the process involves an exploration of each others ideas and working methods. La ’S’ Grand Atelier want to change perceptions of disability and believe that art and cultural expression are a way to ensure equality, social integration and an evolution in the way people think about art and disability. Theological reflection is at the core of the process and with regard to artwork referred to as ‘Outsider Art’ they ask the question:
“Is society ready to accept forms of contemporary creation that are not categorised and leave room for difference. Is the community willing to recognise the creators (disabled and non-disabled) of these works?”
“The work that La ‘S’ Grand Atelier does, transforms its residents, their self-confidence, the way they interact with other people. But it also changes the way we look at them”. Thierry Van Hasselt
(Quotations are translated from French via Google)
Northlight Art Studios – Hebden Bridge, UK
Shortly before leaving the UK, I spent some time in Hebden Bridge and was heartened, as always, by the numerous, inclusive arts projects that are thriving there. In particular, I was aware that Northlight Art Studios were preparing to host a solo show by Ian Stewart – a long time member of a ceramic workshop established by ceramist Sue Turner. The studio wanted to showcase Ian’s work with a solo exhibition and a publication. His work was being gathered, curated, photographed and catalogued for the first time.
Ian works primarily in clay, he employs a range of hand building techniques, including the use of plaster moulds. His surface treatments are equally varied and bold colour is applied to enhance the forms, as Ian says,“to find the character of each piece”. Ian works from his imagination, some pieces reflecting images scoped from books and gallery visits. He prefers to translate his ideas directly into clay although he sometimes makes drawings before or after the making process. One defining characteristic of Ian is his learning disability. Ian did initially find clay a challenging medium but over time his confidence and skills have increased and a clear personal vision has emerged. His recent solo show ‘Amazing Animals’ is a strong, unique and coherent body of work.
Sue Turner is a committed advocate for inclusive adult education. The ceramic workshops at Northlight Art Studios have a number of adult participants with physical and learning disabilities who are fully integrated into sessions. Sue Turner commented:
“A community should support all its members inclusively. It is in everyone’s best interest and to the benefit of all. We are a small example of an inclusive, supportive group. I have worked in segregated settings for people with disabilities in the past and I am certain integration is best for most people. Any segregated provision is likely to have looked outside its close community for people who are brought together just for the activity. There is no opportunity for other people in the community to learn from the person with disability.
Ian Stewart contributes greatly to the group and people love his work. People accept Ian in the class as a ceramist and are interested in what he makes. He is accepted for who he is and we gain a great deal from his ‘get on with it’, unselfconscious, straight-forward making process. Making what he says he is going to make, is something refreshing about Ian in the class. I have seen him grow in confidence generally over the years and I’m sure ceramics has helped. I see myself as an enabler, a teacher also, whose role is to help people realise their ideas using clay. In the case of Ian I knew that he had accumulated a body of work that carried his unique mark and vision. I often felt he could have a show of his own and perhaps I have worked as a facilitator, along with others in helping to make the show happen. Ian sold most of his work and I think it was a worthwhile, quality process. Neither Ian or myself could have been happier with it.” Sue Turner
Ian’s show ‘Amazing Animals’ was held at Northlight Art Studios gallery in October 2017. While Sue was first to propose the solo show, when she discuss it with others at Northlight, ceramist Katch Skinner and Artist Shelley Burgoyne immediately and freely offered their help and support which helped realise the vision (photos of Ian’s work are by Katch and Shelley). Gillian Holt helped greatly in the production of the associated catalogue.
A connection was created instantly for me, between Vivre A Frandisco and the work that I’d seen happening at Northlight Art Studios in Hebden Bridge. I had a strong response to the exceptional ideas and process that had inspired such valuable, high quality and creative work. A potent artistic force was clearly demonstrated in both exhibitions and in the inspiring collaborations taking place.
I want to shout about the importance of an inclusive process, which creates opportunities for all and offers equality of access to art. A process in which, essentially, there is a shared and equal ‘modus operandi’ which strives for excellence in: expectations; creativity; process; production; evaluation and presentation. The projects highlighted here are exciting and I hope will act as catalysts for more of the same.
I have also been reminded of the value of maintaining international links, if only via the internet, to share such important work. I congratulate all those who to have helped to make these projects happen.
Links / Sources:
(Northlight Education is the education strand of Northlight Art Studios, a not for profit cooperative, combining professional studio space with high quality, inclusive creative education)
(Collection De L’Art Brut)
(How Picasso and Klee ushered in outsider art)
(Outsider Art – List of Notable outsider Artists)