Radical Craft Review

Publication: The Times.  
April 2017

‘Outsider art’, or ‘art brut’ is defined as art created outside the mainstream by artists who have had no formal training art access to education. They may, additionally have special needs or choose to communicate in non-conventional ways.

This touring show by thirty-four ‘outsider artists’ combines three strands – historical, international and UK based. The first includes the work of Willem van Genk (1927), Angus McPhee (1916-1997) and Judith Scott (1943-2005).

Following a breakdown in the war, and a subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia, McPhee was admitted to Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital in Inverness where he remained until his death. McPhee became mute and expressed himself through a series of remarkable, oversized objects such as shoes and clothing, woven from grass and wool – ­­ a technique that he had learned on his native South Uist. McPhee’s original work is too fragile to be transported and it has been interpreted in replica form here by Joanne Kaar.

Erkki Pekkarinen’s work seems closely linked to McPhee’s. Born in 1936 in Asikkala, Finland,  Pekkarinen, like McPhee, uses readily available native materials and employs traditional techniques to manipulate them ­­– in this instance, woven strips of birch bark.  There is a remarkable photograph here of Pekkarinen wearing an entire birch bark suit, complete with matching hat and briefcase. This is complemented by Walter and Rose, a full-sized sculptural work, using the same medium, and completed in 2010.

Pinkie Maclure grew up in fishing village in North East Scotland and although skilled in visual art, she gravitated towards performance and music. She became interested in stained glass in response to examples of this traditional art form she saw in cathedrals and churches. The medium allowed her to use her drawing and painting skills, in combination with newly learned techniques of firing and leading. Her work here, Landfill Tantrum, is a complex and highly skilled response to pressing environmental concerns.

Pradeep Kumar and Dalton Ghetti both work by creating sculpture at a micro level – Kumar uses matchsticks and toothpicks, while Ghetti fashions intricate, complex forms from pencils, where he carves the graphite stalk using a sewing needle and a miniature saw. Both artists work, like many here, on a non-commercial basis, savouring their creations as a form of meditation or escape.

This widely ranging and diverse show works well in the exhibition space of this sympathetically converted former church. Despite plentiful packaged interpretation and education panels, an audience might well struggle to find a context for this show, and how it relates, if at all, to their own lives and environment.