Blu, David Choe, Miranda Donovan, Faile, Conor Harrington, Todd James a.k.a REAS, Paul Insect, Invader, Lucy McLauchlan, Antony Micallef, Polly Morgan, JR, Vhils, Jonathan Yeo, Zevs 5 December 2008 â€” 25 January 2009 In association with Lazarides Gallery, curated by David Thorp.
Although the term ‘outsiders’ has been used frequently in the past to describe artists working outside the mainstream as amateurs, visionaries and sometimes psychotics, in the context of this exhibition it has an additional meaning. The artists exhibited here truly are outsiders inasmuch as they have not only emerged from the edges of the mainstream art world but, for several of them at least, their activities really have taken place outside, on the walls of the cities and towns in which they live. Although most of the artists in Outsiders have been art school trained, their natural inclination has been to make their mark quite literally outside the gallery. Outsiders brings together the work of fifteen artists from the UK, America and Europe who grew up in the 1980s in a culture that spawned graffiti. However, although many of the artists in the exhibition have developed their art in the streets, the New York based artist Todd James is the only one who could be directly connected to Hip-Hop culture and its association with graffiti. Known by the tag REAS, James is one of the legendary figures in American graffiti culture who began his artistic life working in the New York subway.
Such is the strong personal identity of each of the artists in Outsiders that they cannot be grouped together stylistically but more readily by attitude: they all have a similar aesthetic, deal with social concerns and are more interested in their work relating to the general public than how it looks in the white box of the art gallery. For the most part, however, they represent a trend of artists who have gone on to develop a ‘post graffiti’ form; one that still maintains the spirit and values of an art form with its origins on the street but that has moved on from direct action, to works made for gallery walls. Among those whose work is more directly linked to the streets is the Portuguese-born Alexandre Farto otherwise known as Vhils. His recent work utilises found materials. He works on the surface of billboard advertisements, etching into their surface to make his reliefs. Paul Insect’s most recent exhibition took place in a sex shop in Kings Cross where his display of bronze casts of skeletons and skulls adorned in Playboy Bunny gear, forced the viewer to think about today’s commodification of sex. Conor Harrington’s huge work is painted directly onto the gallery wall. His composition embraces abstraction and figuration, tradition and innovation. The male figures he depicts are not historic
Napoleonic soldiers but modern day re-enactors. As these men step out of their ordinary lives to take on a stature of heroic proportions, Conor poses questions about the essential nature of masculinity and the validity of holding such a false sense of power. Zevs’ movie Visual Kidnapping tells the story of an ‘advertisement’ held hostage. After cutting out the image of a female model from a 12 metre high billboard, he holds a multinational company to ransom – exerting the power of an individual over a global brand. David Choe sculpts and paints in oils, acrylics, crayon and mixed media. His complex compositions bring together an electric mix of characters drawn from his many influences: comic book culture, gothic art, impressionism and the surreal. JR pastes huge photographic portraits on the side of buildings across the world, particularly in locations of conflict and political unrest. The works in the exhibition were created during a recent trip to Rio de Janerio. For the women he met there, crime and the violent loss of loved ones are part of everyday life. Conor Harrington, Zevs, David Choe and JR each bring a new dynamic to the idea of street art. It is the sheer diversity of the form and subject matter that prevents the work becoming categorised as ‘graffiti’ but at the same time, these particular elements keep it in firm opposition to the mainstream.
The New York collective Faile encapsulates American energy. Using pop imagery and pastiches of artists like Andy Warhol, Faile’s painting and sculpture bears the history of American pop culture on its surface. Blu’s vast paintings on buildings and his gallery based work confront some of society’s taboos: drugs, suicide and perversions. Invader uses as his matrix the Rubik’s Cube, adhering small mosaic plaques to the walls of public buildings and creating larger wall panels in the gallery. Not all the artists in Outsiders began their artistic careers on the streets. Polly Morgan is an artist whose work questions the environment by placing dead animals in fake natural surroundings in order to make a point about the beauty of nature and the artifice of modern life. Jonathan Yeo is a self taught artist who began as a portrait painter. He has transferred his skills to produce intricate collages. Yeo pushes the boundaries of taste to embrace pornographic imagery that is cleverly concealed within portraits of the likes of George Bush and Paris Hilton and reproductions of iconic paintings by Picasso and Lucian Freud. Anthony Micallef developed a fascination in his youth with fashion, graphic design, music and pop culture. His technical skill allows him to use a range of painting styles to dissect what he sees as the frivolities of pop culture. Miranda Donovan makes painted shallow
reliefs that refer to graffiti-ed walls on desolate sites. Her small paintings realistically record the legacy of graffiti. Lucy McLauchlan makes painted environments; her fluid forms travel over walls and ceilings in a post-psychedelic flow that absorbs objects in its wake. All the artists in Outsiders are linked to the Lazarides Gallery in Soho, London and Newcastle, an operation that has grown up from the roots of street art and has been instrumental in supporting artists whose work began in the street. By encouraging them to add the art gallery as one of the places with the potential to show their work, some of the artists have severed their links to the street altogether. However, the one thing they all share is an attitude to the mainstream, whether relating to culture or politics, which is irreverent, confrontational and idealistic. It may seem odd to consider the work of graffiti artists as idealistic but graffiti is far more than mere vandalism. Whatever oneâ€™s reaction to it, graffiti is as much about asserting personal freedom in a world in which the voice of the individual has been drowned out by the noise of the media, the global economy and politics, as it is about a rebellious affront to the mediocre standards of everyday life in our towns and cities.
Notwithstanding the need to assert a voice in a noisy and impersonal world, all good artists want to push themselves to discover new ways of working. As they progress, they inevitably devise new ways of expressing themselves. This is nowhere truer than with the artists who are on show in Outsiders, creating â€˜post graffitiâ€™ art; an aesthetic that combines subversive messages with references to pop culture. Ranging from painting to video and sculpture, Outsiders represents the next phase in the life of these artists: outsiders moving inside. David Thorp Curator, Outsiders
A selection of works by Blu and David Choe are also displayed within the Garman Ryan Collection located on floors 1 and 2.
Conor Harrington and Lucy McLauchlan Saturday 17 January 2009, 2pm
Outsiders coincides with the launch of the publication Outsiders: Art by People, compiled by Steve Lazarides which is available to purchase at the gallery shop priced ÂŁ14.99. Additional books on Lucy McLauchlan, Conor Harrington, Antony Micallef, Invader, Jonathan Yeo, Paul Insect and Street Art are also available to buy.
Conor Harrington and Lucy McLauchlan will be sharing their experiences of creating new, large-scale works directly onto the gallery walls. David Thorp and Jonathan Yeo Saturday 24 January 2009, 2pm Curator David Thorp discusses Outsiders with exhibiting artist Jonathan Yeo. Places are limited for In Conversation events so please reserve your free place in advance by calling 01922 654400.
Resources Further information about the exhibiting artists can be found in the resource area located in the foyer and in the Art Library. Resources include an interview with Conor Harrington filmed during the installation of the exhibition, a time-lapse video documenting the progress of Lucy McLauchlanâ€™s sitespecific painting and a wide selection of magazines, articles and books. Here, you can also enter the competition Tune In Tune Out and win a signed copy of the book Outsiders: Art by People.
Websites Blu David Choe Miranda Donovan Faile Conor Harrington Paul Insect Invader JR Lucy McLauchlan Antony Micallef Polly Morgan Todd James a.k.a REAS Jonathan Yeo
blublu.org davechoe.blogspot.com mirandadonovan.com faile.net conorharrington.com paulinsect.com space-invaders.com jr-art.net beat13.co.uk antonymicallef.com pollymorgan.co.uk reasinternational.com jonathanyeo.com
The New Art Gallery Walsall Gallery Square Walsall WS2 8LG 01922 654400 thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk