Raw Vision 106

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EDITOR John Maizels DIRECTORS Henry Boxer, Robert Greenberg, Audrey Heckler, Rebecca Hoffberger, Frank Maresca, Marilyn Oshman, Richard Rosenthal, Bob Roth ART EDITOR Maggie Jones Maizels SENIOR EDITOR Edward M. Gómez ASSISTANT EDITOR Mariella Landolfi FEATURES EDITOR Nuala Ernest ASSOCIATE EDITOR Natasha Jaeger DESIGN Jack Eden PRODUCTION EDITOR Aoife Dunphy ACCOUNTS MANAGER Judith Edwards SUBSCRIPTIONS MANAGER Suzy Daniels CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Michael Bonesteel, Jenifer P. Borum, Ted Degener, Jo Farb Hernandez, Tom Patterson, Colin Rhodes, Charles Russell, Daniel Wojcik PUBLISHED by Raw Vision Ltd Letchmore Heath WD25 8LN, UK tel +44 (0)1923 853175 email info@rawvision.com website www.rawvision.com

4 12 20 30 34 40 46 54 60 66 72

RAW NEWS Reactions to global events, plus exhibitions and fond farewells

GWYNETH ROWLANDS The multi-faceted flint faces of a British artist

LA FABULOSERIE The story of a family’s jardin habité in rural France

JOE COLEMAN This artist’s take on the gruesome tale of one native American

PATRICK HACKLEMAN Diverse work inspired by the Titanic and Sonic the Hedgehog

JEAN-MARC RENAULT Identity explored via embellished hoods and disfigured portraits

NELLIE MAE ROWE Drawings and a yard-show tell the story of a life and far beyond

MONIQUE MERCERAT Invented worlds in which to escape

ALBERT The elegant architectural creations of a London man

REVIEWS Exhibitions and publications

GALLERY & MUSEUM GUIDE Details of notable international venues

ISSN 0955-1182

COVER IMAGE: Gwyneth Rowlands, Untitled (Woman and Child),1962–1982 Adamson Collection Trust and Wellcome Collection

Raw Vision (ISSN 0955-1182) September 2020 is published quarterly (March, June, September, December) by Raw Vision Ltd, PO Box 44, Watford WD25 8LN, UK, and distributed in the USA by UKP Worldwide, 3390 Rand Road, South Plainfield, NJ 07080. Periodicals postage paid at South Plainfield, NJ. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Raw Vision c/o 3390 Rand Road, South Plainfield, NJ 07080, and additional mailing offices.

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OUR LADY OF THE FLINTS A manuscript by British artist Gwyneth Rowlands gives fresh insight into her life and the inspirations for her multi-faceted creations DAVID O’FLYNN and ROSE RUANE

All flints in this article were created between 1962 and 1982, and are poster paint, Indian ink and varnish on flint. All images are courtesy of Adamson Collection Trust and Wellcome Collection, unless otherwise stated.


uch of what we currently know about artist Gwyneth Rowlands comes from her manuscript Fox-hunting, which she refers to as “a commentary on my life and work”. It exists as collage, with postcards, reproductions of paintings, and family photographs pasted amongst poems which she copied out longhand. Rowlands first mentioned the existence of Fox-hunting in 1995. While it is unknown when exactly she began creating the manuscript, it was almost certainly during the period after she left the psychiatric hospital in which she lived until the early 1980s, and its content is intrinsically, although not explicitly, linked to the art she created there. Rowlands edited and revised Fox-hunting up until a year before her death in 2009, and today it is held in the Edward Adamson Archive in Wellcome Collection, London, as part of a wider archive of Rowlands’ correspondence. Born in Epsom, Surrey, in 1915, Rowlands spent her childhood in Sutton, south London. From Fox-hunting it is known that, between 1938 and 1946, she travelled widely through Europe, South America and Africa. The manuscript contains some wonderful travel writing:



evocative descriptions of alabaster lamps in an Egyptian temple; a lively account of an encounter with a huge tarantula in her bath in Argentina which initiated her hunt for its mate; a period spent recovering from malaria. Of her time spent teaching Jewish children in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis in the late 1930s, Rowlands observes starkly, “And I said nothing”, yet she later reveals that she travelled back to England wearing her Jewish friend’s fur coat and jewellery in order to pass it to a brother who had already fled to the UK. Rowlands writes little about her life after returning from her travels, except a brief passage covering her concerns about Cold War nuclear proliferation, particularly its effects on children. However, both scholarly and playful, Fox-hunting does display a wealth of cultural influences. She was particularly engaged with the poetry of Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. The former’s profound affinity for the animal world and the latter’s musings on the archaeological and agricultural align with the sensibilities which permeate both Rowlands’ artwork and writings.

The deep time of their geological origin commingles with the immediate moment of their making... Untitled (Woman and Child), 4.5 x 5.5 x 4 in. / 11.5 x 14 x 10.8 cm



Pages from Fox-hunting, 1995–2008, A4 paper, ballpoint ink, newspaper clipping, photographic slide, courtesy: Rose Ruane

She was admitted to Netherne psychiatric hospital in Surrey in 1962, but – other than a few pictures – her manuscript records nothing of her artistic production during her 20-year stay there. It is known, however, that Rowlands developed her painting skills while hospitalised. She worked in studios provided by Edward Adamson, an artist who was influential in the post-war reiteration of art and mental health, and the evolution



of British art therapy (see Raw Vision 72). So dedicated was Rowlands to practising art that she sometimes worked through the night and over weekends, and she was entrusted to opening and closing the studio for other patients when Adamson was on leave. Rowlands’ earliest works appear to be the product of a decorative, craft-based practice: representational paintings of birds and butterflies on pebbles brought


ollecting art is not necessarily a solitary pleasure. On the contrary, it can be a true family obsession, as revealed by the story of the French outsider art collection of the Bourbonnaises – father, mother and two daughters, all with a passion for outsider creations. They have been celebrating such work since the early 1980s with their museum, La Fabuloserie – in the French départment of Yonne –



which they opened after running a small gallery in Paris between 1972 and 1982. The artistic adventure of this family was led by Alain Bourbonnais (1925–1988). He was the driving force and self-described "tribe leader”. He drew the women in his life into his passion and did not consider setting off on the adventure without them. Beyond his role as tribe leader, Bourbonnais brought together some

The Bourbonnais family and their adventure into the world of art hors-les-normes from L’Atelier Jacob to their house-museum DÉBORAH COUETTE

unique creators for the first time. An architect by trade, he was a passionate collector, a committed patron of the arts, and an eccentric creator in his own right. Driven by a consuming passion for instinctive, inventive art that fell outside of the mainstream, Bourbonnais gradually gave up his prestigious role as an architect of civil buildings and national palaces. However, architecture would remain a keystone of his

astonishing journey through the world of outsider art which began in Paris in 1971. That year, Bourbonnais read in the newspapers about the existence of the Collection de l’Art Brut of the French artist and collector Jean Dubuffet. The good news for Bourbonnais was that this collection was on display on rue de Sèvres, in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, just a few kilometres from his family home. The RAW VISION 106


above: The white attic at La Fabuloserie, photo: Jean-François Hamon previous page: Alain Bourbonnais, Turbulents, c. 1970s, mixed media, La Fabuloserie, photo: Philippe Couette

bad news was that Dubuffet had already decided to donate the collection to the Swiss city of Lausanne. Bourbonnais hurriedly sent a letter to Dubuffet asking if he could visit. The great art brut theorist consented to his request, writing back: "I dream of what you are, for it seems you are making civilian buildings and national palaces; if you attempt to blow the same wind on their architectures, that is what I, for one, would dearly like. Eagerly looking forward to an outbreak of incivil buildings and paranational palaces on which this salubrious storm would blow". After this first exchange, the two men started an extensive correspondence, between 1971 and 1984, and met on several occasions. Bourbonnais and his wife, Caroline, visited the Collection de l’Art Brut on rue de Sèvres for the first time in October 1971. The couple was enthralled immediately, but also deeply saddened that the work was to be exiled to Switzerland. Stunned by the content of the collection, they had only one idea in mind: "To create something to exhibit in Paris – works that are under the power of the wind of art brut". With the support of Dubuffet, Alain Bourbonnais, assisted by Caroline, became a gallery owner and opened L'Atelier Jacob in Paris in 1972. Under “the wind” of art brut, it opened its doors to creators of what Bourbonnais termed art hors-lesnormes (art outside the norms). This phrase – which



Dubuffet said "sounds like a basilica outside the walls" – was a perfect choice for the architect who had been working on the design of a non-standard scenography to exhibit works that were equally unusual. The space – diametrically opposed to the “white cube” – presented to the public a set of works by Aloïse Corbaz on loan from Dubuffet. This huge gesture testified to Dubuffet's support for Bourbonnais. To help him further, Dubuffet provided him with the names and addresses of several artists, including Émile Ratier, the blind rural creator of mechanical sculptures whom the Bourbonnaises would visit several times. Over time, however, Bourbonnais chose to distance himself from Dubuffet's collection – although still an important reference for him – and to focus on more contemporary and self-taught work, the so-called art singulier. L'Atelier Jacob showed for the first time the stuffed and bound figures, "bourrages", of Francis Marshall; the waste fabric creatures, "chairdâmes", of Michel Nedjar; the brightly painted wooden reliefs by the Portuguese Mario Chichorro; and François Monchâtre's kinetic "automaboules". The gallery also introduced the secretive "habitacles" constructions of postman Pascal Verbena, small figures and compartments made from driftwood, as well as the work of several women artists, such as the assemblages of Simone le Carré-Galimard and the complex drawings of Michèle Burles. However,

Wooden pieces by Émile Ratier, La Fabuloserie, photo: Philippe Couette

while Dubuffet marvelled at the ability of his colleague "to unearth all these diverse and excellent makers”, the public did not react positively. After ten years, the lack of a market finally overwhelmed L’Atelier Jacob. It was also obvious that the gallery’s best client was none other than the gallery owner himself. Panicking at the idea of getting rid of the works, Bourbonnais acquired the bulk of his own stock. Maintaining a gallery under these conditions was impossible, and opening a museum, a Cartesian idea. In 1982, there was little choice but to close L’Atelier Jacob. One year later, Bourbonnais opened La Fabuloserie museum in Dicy, Yonne, 80 miles south of Paris. The idea of creating a private museum did not come about overnight. At the end of the 1970s, Bourbonnais participated as a lender, but also as a creator and

curator, in three exhibitions. The first, in 1977, was the exhibition “Irréguliers de l’Art" at the Maison de la Culture in Rennes, to which he loaned several wooden sculptures by Émile Ratier. The second, in 1978 in Paris, was "Les Singuliers de l'art, des inspirés aux habitantspaysagistes” at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. On this occasion, Bourbonnais not only exhibited the work of the creators he had assembled at L’Atelier Jacob, but also his own work. In both cases, he planned an audacious staging for the unusual creations. Finally, the third time, in 1979, was at the major exhibition "Outsiders. An Art without Precedent or Tradition", organised by Roger Cardinal and Victor Musgrave at the Hayward Gallery in London. Invited by the curators to write a text for the exhibition catalogue, Bourbonnais observes, "By its very nature, the gallery system ends up



JOE COLEMAN’S SWIFT RUNNER In his complex historical portrait – Swift Runner and the Colonialist Windigo Effect – Coleman presents a dark tale PAUL LASTER

Coleman at the re-creation of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, 2017, photo: Whitney Ward


wift Runner was a native American trapper and guide in central Canada in the 1800s who killed and cannibalised his family while supposedly possessed by a demonic Windigo spirit. A member of the Cree tribe, which inhabited the area now known as Alberta, he was born in around 1839 with the name KaKi-Si-Kutchin (meaning “Swift Runner”). He led a regular life – marrying and having six children – until European settlers arrived and killed off the buffalo in an attempt to drive the indigenous locals off their land. The introduction of whiskey also changed Swift Runner’s life dramatically. Taking possession of his mind and turning him into a troublemaker, it led to him being forced out of his village. In the dead of winter, he took his mother, brother, wife and children into the wilderness to hunt for food – but, in spring, he returned alone. He said that he was the only one to survive while the others had starved,



but his wife’s family were suspicious and the authorities thought he looked too fat to have been famished. Taken back to the campsite where his loved ones had perished, Swift Runner confessed to having mercilessly killed, cooked and eaten them. Despite his claim that possession by a Windigo spirit had turned him into a flesh-eating monster, he was arrested, tried, convicted and hung at Fort Saskatchewan. The horrific story of Swift Runner made him an ideal subject for US artist Joe Coleman, who had previously painted tale-telling portraits of the murderous Charles Manson, Albert Fish and Mary Flora Bell. In 2019, during a talk with fellow storytelling artist Walton Ford at New York’s Andrew Edlin Gallery – where Swift Runner and the Colonialist Windigo Effect was on view – Coleman stated, “I stand with the accused, whether they are guilty or innocent. I stand by the accused and want them to tell

Swift Runner and the Colonialist Windigo Effect, 2018, acrylic on wood panel with wood and resin frame, with period artifacts including human teeth, bullets, coins, arrow heads, battle axe, war club, pipe, bow, arrows, tin toys and whiskey labels 41 x 33.5 in. / 104 x 85 cm, courtesy: Andrew Edlin Gallery

their story in their own words, without apology”. In a fearless pursuit of the macabre, the self-taught Coleman is widely celebrated for creating fantastical paintings of historical subjects culled from the dark side of humanity. With an appreciation for the Old Masters, Indian religious paintings, sideshow banners and graphic novels, he wields a single-hair brush to paint detailed worlds within worlds, while getting deep inside the psyche of his subjects to tell their tales. Coleman is on

a path of his own and keenly appreciated by musicians, actors, writers and collectors who look beyond the conventional art world for more sinister creative content. “I had been wanting to do an indigenous person’s life story, but I didn’t want to do heroic figures like Cochise or Geronimo. That seemed too easy and cheap,” Coleman said in an interview on Mike Safo’s Blog Talk Radio podcast in 2019. “I came across this story about Swift Runner, which was a really tragic tale”.



TITANIC TALENT Miniature model ships and erotic comic books – the creative output of Patrick Hackleman is diverse but always about righting wrongs ELIZA MURPHY


n the studio where he works, in Corvallis, Oregon, artist Patrick Hackleman lifts his ruler from a long scroll of paper on a drafting table, on which is drawn a schematic of the USS Saratoga – a helicopter carrier, he explains. Names, dates and locations of historic ships and shipwrecks roll off his tongue. Naval vessels occupy Hackleman’s thoughts, but only for part of his time. The boxed sets of comic books and brightly coloured posters, that are rolled or stacked on shelves near his drafting table, attest to his productivity and the disparate subjects that he is attracted to as an artist. A childhood interest in warships and ill-fated luxury liners like the Titanic led him to study their design and – from around the age of eight – to re-envision them to prevent the “unnecessary and avoidable loss of lives”. Hackleman is not sure what inspired him to redesign flawed ships, but he says that his engineer dad and a friend “made a lot of really neat models” that he admired as a kid. He took one drafting class, but otherwise taught himself everything he knows about ships, building models



and drawing. Instead of completely recreating what has been done, he prefers to fix what he considers to be bad design. Dissatisfied with certain features of the original USS Saratoga – that, he speculates, led to her sinking – he created an improved version. He points out the design flaws in an illustration of the ship in a library book on the table, and shows the changes he has made that would make the vessel more seaworthy and safer. Hackleman’s painstaking blueprints take him several weeks to complete. He draws the same ship at different scales before deciding which is most suitable for building a model. It is only then that he starts constructing, using materials that he has gathered from hobby shops. Several of his finished models are displayed near his workspace in the studio which is part of ArtWorks/CEI, a project of Collaborative Employment Innovations run by seasoned art champion and artist Bruce Burris. Expertly executed to scale, the model ships attest to Hackleman’s attention to detail, although the result is more rugged than refined. Hackleman talks with relish about the Titanic T-3, his improved replica of the shipwrecked forebear. Again, he believes that its construction contributed to its sinking: “Rivets are a really bad idea. My model is welded instead”. He also added modern amenities, including a pancake restaurant, an art studio and a video arcade. A “Museum



BEHIND THE MASK For French artist Jean-Marc Renault, his portraits and embellished hoods are about creating – not hiding – his identity ALLA CHERNETSKA




ean-Marc Renault is a teacher, specialising in the support of pupils with learning difficulties. He is also a family man and a self-taught artist. He lives with his wife, three daughters and his grand-daughter in the Paris suburb of Bezons, and works five days a week in a local school helping young children to master reading and counting. In his spare time, he draws portraits and makes dolls. He also creates – and wears – brightly coloured, face-obscuring hoods. Renault’s compulsion to create is fuelled by his need to say something, and he finds that in the freedom of expressing himself he becomes oblivious to the passage of time. Born in Argenteuil in 1964, his first significant creative inspiration came when he was ten years old. His mother used to give him postage stamps depicting well-known works of art, which young Renault then reproduced on paper. These artworks – by Derain, Dufy, Seurat, Cézanne, Rouault, as well as some paintings of the Lascaux caves – provided him with a foundation of artistic knowledge. He started drawing in earnest when he was 18 or so, first in pencil, ink and acrylic paints, then moving on to ballpoint pens: just black ones at first, then ones in vivid

colours. This medium – which he has been using in his drawing ever since – was chosen for its simplicity and efficiency, he says. Later, in 2010, he also began using colour pencils and felt pens. Some of his drawings take just a few minutes to complete, others are created over a few days, but either way Renault likes to work in daylight to achieve the colours he wants. In 1985, Renault found another way to express his creativity. He had seen Ran, a Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa, and although – not speaking Japanese – he couldn’t follow the plot, he was struck by the on-screen images of soldiers facing one another, each with a coloured flag. This inspired the artist to collect multicoloured fabrics: t-shirts, jackets, shirts and other garments. Later, he specifically gathered the old clothes of his children and other relatives, thus creating a kind of conceptual family tree. In the early 1990s, he moved on to using the material to make rag dolls. Renault had his first exhibition in 1999, showing his postage stamps at the post office in Liège; then, in 2004, his drawings and dolls went on display for the first time, in Jacques Noël’s renowned bookshop, “Un Regard Moderne”. That same year, his dolls, drawings,

PLAYING IN THE YARD The garden environment and works of Nellie Mae Rowe reflect the story of the African-American South CHARLES L ABNEY

Nellie Mae Rowe's house in Vinings, 1971, photo: Lucinda Bunnen, Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia


frican-American artists throughout history have used a coded language that has given them the freedom to communicate the condition of their lives. Other Americans know the narrative of the AfricanAmerican South, but it is mostly colourless without the figuration of black folktales, music and art. The garden environment and drawings of Nellie Mae Rowe colour that narrative, revealing pain and celebrating joy. She developed a style of implied narration, juxtaposing forms and figures to retell black history and to evoke her faith. Rowe was born on July 4, 1900, and raised on her



parents’ farm in Fayette County, Georgia. Of her early life, she said, “I didn’t go to school to learn drawing. I guessed at it when I was a little gal. Because we had to go to the fields, pick cotton and all like that. I was about 17 years old when I ran off and got married. [My first husband] farmed and worked the sawmill awhile. He died in Vinings in 1936. Later that year, I married Henry Rowe who was much older than me”. Following the death of her second husband in 1948, Rowe turned to doll-making and decorating or “dressing” her garden; and, for the next 30 years, her attention

Nellie and her “Real Doll”, 1971, photo: Judith Alexander Augustine

centred around what she called her “playhouse”. She said, “Now I am going to get back to when I was a little gal playing in the yard, playing in my playhouse”. Rowe’s playhouse, like most yard projects in the black South, is now gone, but it has been artfully preserved by photographers. Rowe lived in a five-room house set near the front of a one-quarter-acre plot facing Paces Ferry Road in Vinings, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. She decorated her front and side gardens – which were enclosed by fenced shrubs – with an assortment of bright dolls, bric-a-brac, papier-mâché figures, milk jugs, and

Christmas decorations. Her yard was similar to many African-American gardens in the South, creative works known as “yard shows”, ”yard art" and "dressed yards”. "The gardens and yards [of African Americans] in rural areas may present an unprepossessing appearance to passers-by, but the apparent scattering of objects is by no means casual,” says environmental historian Richard Westmacott. “They are places where independence is asserted with extraordinary vigour and resourcefulness.” Westmacott and other scholars have noted how these performance-based spaces often contained a main



WINDOWS LIKE LITTLE DRAWERS The intricate line drawings of Swiss artist Monique Mercerat explore imaginary worlds, with elements from her childhood and TV programmes CÉLINE MUZELLE

Château l’Escalier, c. 2010, 15.5 x 11.5 in. / 39.5 x 29.5 cm

all artwork shown made with black and/or colour felt pens on paper


With its assembly of dolls in crochet dresses, teddy bears and knick-knacks, the room has the air of a child’s nursery, a reassuring atmosphere which takes the edge off the vicissitudes of life. Mercerat’s childhood was marred by disability, pain, hospitalisation and social exclusion, due to a malformation of her digestive system and its harrowing consequences. The artist rarely speaks of her early years with her family in the

t’s eleven o’clock at night. Kneeling on her ergonomic chair, a felt-tip pen in hand, Monique Mercerat (b. 1944) is drawing at her table. You could mistake her for an architect designing an urban project. “It has to be fine and well-constructed,” she says. Mercerat, 75, has been living at the Aigues-Vertes Residence – a facility for people with disabilities, near Geneva – for seven years. Her room is also her studio.



Mercerat in 2019 at Aigues-Vertes, photo: Mario del Curto

Tavannes valley, in the Jura region, but one incident seems to sum up her upbringing – when, one day, she tripped and fell on to some hot tar on the road, she was swiftly pulled to safety by her mother. Her parents fought to ensure that, despite her problems, her life was as harmonious as possible, and Mercerat recalls happy times spent with her two sisters and numerous cousins. Her day-to-day reality was unavoidably hard

however and, from a young age, Mercerat looked for ways to escape. Perhaps inspired by two painter uncles, she assembled her troops of crayons, felt tips, paper, fabric and thread, and – in a small room behind her mother’s haberdashery shop – spent her days creating and bringing her personal universe to life. For as long as anyone could remember, she had drawn, knitted, crocheted and constructed, and gradually, the



IDEAL HOMES, IMAGINARY ELEVATIONS Bethlem artist Albert’s geometries of place and space TONY THORNE

Untitled, 2012, pencil and pen on paper, 33 x 23 in. / 84 x 59 cm, courtesy: Bethlem Gallery

Untitled, c. 2007, pencil on paper, 33 x 23 in. / 84 x 59 cm, courtesy: Henry Boxer Gallery

Albert at work at the Bethlem Hospital, photo: Beth Elliott



Untitled, 2012, pencil and pen on paper, 33 x 23 in. / 84 x 59 cm, courtesy: Bethlem Gallery


hen a new inpatient joined the art group at River House in London’s Bethlem Royal psychiatric hospital, art coordinator Josip Livatovic and Bethlem Gallery founder, Karen Risby, were astonished to discover that he had brought with him more than 100 large drawings. Expertly executed in pencil and charcoal, he had made them during his previous confinements in prison and in Warlingham Park Hospital. It was 2007 when the new patient – known then and now only as “Albert” – revealed the drawings. Two years later, his work was chosen to be included in the “Outside In” exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Sussex by then Head of Learning, Marc Steene. Today, Albert’s enigmatic drawings of architectural structures and geometrical spaces are displayed in Pallant House, the Bethlem Museum, the abcd Collection in Paris, and the Museum of Everything in London. Albert is protective of his identity and his personal history, and Bethlem Gallery staff members have helped maintain his anonymity, understanding that



medical histories and biographical details must not become the story and thus distract from the work itself. The artist is willing to divulge his year of birth (1962) and that he grew up in Thornton Heath, an unremarkable district of south London. One of his brothers was a talented poet, and Albert himself, as he puts it, “scribbled constantly” as a child. He simply describes his life after that as “difficult”. He is no longer hospitalised and lives in the community in supported accommodation, working at home, at the Bethlem Gallery or in a shared studio space. Albert used to work on found paper and would carry his pictures around with him, cherishing them but not yet certain of their worth. Nowadays, he enjoys the fact that he has access to paper of adequate quality. He has a sketchbook to hand at all times and often works on three or four pieces at once, although he says that he subsequently rejects a quarter of all his drawings. He explains that the first transfer of the image from imagination to paper must be performed quickly so as not to lose it, but then perfecting the work can take

Untitled, 2008, pencil and pen on paper, 33 x 23 in. / 84 x 59 cm, courtesy: Henry Boxer Gallery

days, even weeks. He has experimented with colour but mainly comes back to monochrome. Could he see himself in another life as an architect? No, perhaps a doctor. Does his drawing mimic the work of a professional draughtsman? No, he measures himself against the great artists of British tradition – Turner and Constable, for instance – but feels he falls far short of their attainments. Albert’s comments can be self-effacing; sometimes, despite the international recognition he now enjoys, he argues even against the label of “artist”, saying that his work is more an allconsuming hobby, a function above all of time and effort. As former director of the Bethlem Gallery, Beth Elliott, explains, “Growing up in an underprivileged environment, Albert does not see himself as an artist... he has never had people around him who could have supported and nurtured that identity”. He deflects attempts by viewers of his work to discover profundity, to uncover mysteries. “Nothing magical,” he says, although it seems that he himself finds the processes of creation magically satisfying and mysterious. He

answers questions carefully and firmly, politely resisting interpretations: no, the images are not about incarceration or containment, as some commentators have suggested, nor do they symbolise release from confinement. He says that if they represent anything, it is ideal places – places that he would like to live in and that he imagines others inhabiting. He adds that privacy and safety may be other elements that the designs evoke for him; the walls and fences are protective rather than restricting. Albert’s unique structures and spaces are timeless, or, rather, not time-specific. Depending on the taste of the beholder, they can evoke Modernist, Palladianism, Grecian or Romanesque models. His “dwellings” are familiar, yet they are indefinable, seeming to morph across a spectrum of forms: bungalow, villa, mansion, temple, palace. They may recall the prefabricated Huf Haus (drawing on a Bauhaus architectural tradition and based on the German fachwerk design) now favoured by the wealthy and glamorous. To this, he says that he would look out for examples while on his walking tours





Adolf Wölfli Luigi Serafini



J B Murray


Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva January 29 – August 23, 2020

Lucienne Peiry Paris: Éditions Allia, French text, 4 x 6.5 ins / 10 x 17 cm ISBN: 979-10-304-1214-7

Co-curated by Andrea Bellini and Sarah Lombardi, the directors, respectively, of the Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève and the Collection de l'Art Brut, in Lausanne, this exhibition brings together works by trained, contemporary artists and art brut creators without explicitly emphasising their biographies. It marks the first time that the CAB has presented art brut works in dialogue with modern and contemporary creations on the theme of writing, focusing more on their makers’ gestures and draughtsmanship, and not so much on their works’ communicative functions. An exceptional and beautifully lit Adolf Wölfli drawing sets the exhibition’s tone, challenging from the outset a viewer’s ability to interpret such an unusual work. Similarly, some 100 other artistcreated modes of writing are in evidence, spanning roughly one century of art history. The exhibition examines various aspects of artists’ imaginary languages: writing, drawing, communication, decipherability, secrecy, ambiguity, and ambivalence. Works on view include original pages from Luigi Serafini’s mysterious Codex Seraphinianus, which, with their absurdist, surreal imagery and asemic (without semantic content) text, are a joy to encounter. The Swiss art brut creator Aloïse Corbaz’s notebooks are filled with swirling texts, while a wall filled with Laure Pigeon’s drawings is especially striking; these works’ fluid lines leave a viewer with a sense of their profoundly unknowable meaning. Resembling lively organisms, they play off interestingly against Henri Michaux’s abstract works, which in turn seem to share psychedelic associations with Reinhold Metz’s illuminated manuscripts hanging freely in the middle of a gallery, instead of flat against a wall. Works by Nick Blinko, Jean Dubuffet, Gaston Chaissac, Dwight Mackintosh, J B Murray, Jeanne Tripier, August Walla, Melvin Way, and other self-taught artists are also featured here. Viewers may find a sense of poetry in many of the pieces on display, which present written language, however unfamiliar or indecipherable, in varied and unexpected ways. These different, unusual forms of writing may be seen as morphing, meandering, and perhaps, in their own ways, serving to record unknowable messages or to solve unfathomable problems. CARLO KESHISHIAN

This concise summary of the life and remarkable oeuvre of Fernando Nannetti (1927–1994) examines the unusual character of his artistic production – which, regrettably, no longer exists, except in photographs – and of the circumstances in which it was produced. His now-vanished works have earned this self-taught Italian draughtsman a secure place in the canon of the most definitive, emblematic art brut creators. Written, in French, by the well-known art brut historian and curator Lucienne Peiry in a manner that is lucid and engaging, Le Livre de Pierre (The Book of Stone) pulls a reader not only into the isolated world in which Nannetti produced his mysterious graffiti but also deep into the process by which he created his writingdrawings on the exterior walls of the psychiatric hospital in Tuscany in which he spent most of his life. Peiry, a former director of the Collection de l’Art Brut, organised an exhibition focusing on Nannetti at that well-known museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2011. Her text in this small-format book is based in part on the research she conducted for that earlier presentation but it also offers a new invitation to discover the work of a creator that is unique in the annals of art brut. Fernando Oreste Nannetti was born in Rome in 1927; his father was unknown. As a young boy, he lived in an orphanage and was sent to a psychiatric institution for children. Later, he suffered from a spinal illness, for which he received treatment, and for a while, as a young man, he lived alone. However, in 1956, at the age of 29, after already having been diagnosed as schizophrenic and having experienced hallucinations and feelings of persecution, Nannetti was arrested for offensive behaviour toward a public official and sent to the Santa Maria della Pietà psychiatric hospital in Rome. In 1958, Nannetti was moved from Rome to the Volterra psychiatric hospital in the Tuscany region of central Italy. It was there, Peiry explains, that the “taciturn, solitary” Nannetti, withdrawing from the surrounding chaos of his fellow patients’ “brawls, brouhahas, frenzies, and howls”, used nothing more than the metal prongs of the buckle on his hospital-issued vest to incise mysterious lines of text, in stylised, angular letters, on the external stone walls in the courtyard of the psychiatric hospital in which its residents took their daily breaks. His writings flowed back and forth




photo: Pier Nello Manoni Cathy Ward

photo: Pier Nello Manoni

LIBERTY REALM Works by Cathy Ward, with essays by Cathy Ward, Edward M Gómez, Doug Harvey and Dr Robert Wallis, Strange Attractor Press, 2020 ISBN-13: 978-1907222733

horizontally and around the architectural details that decorated the stone walls. Peiry notes that Nannetti covered these surfaces “with ingenuity” with his “biographical, auto-fictional, telepathic, and even pseudoscientific or cosmogonic declarations”. The hospital’s stone walls, she explains, “became the sensitive screen for his poetic projections,” and, in Nannetti’s hands, a simple belt buckle became “an instrument of freedom” and the confined man’s “escape key”. Peiry’s book includes photographs that Pier Nello Manoni shot of Nannetti’s wall drawings in 1979, before they deteriorated with the passage of time. The Volterra hospital closed long ago. Le Livre de Pierre also reproduces, for the first time ever, several of Nannetti’s abstract drawings in ballpoint pen ink on paper, whose dense compositions suggest affinities with the works of other art brut artists and with those of certain modern artists whose works have been characterised by limited formal vocabularies of line and pattern. Le Livre de Pierre offers more than just an introduction to the life and work of a distinctive art brut creator. It also vividly captures his creative spirit. EDWARD M. GÓMEZ

At the start of this book, artist Cathy Ward tells us, “Last century I set off in search of the unknown. Liberty Realm has been a void I step into, a country that I roam.” What follows is a rich visual odyssey charted through works produced mostly in the current century. The vast majority of these were conjured up by scratching forms out of the black void surfaces of panels previously prepared by laying ink over white clay. Flicking through the pages, one has a sense of seething movement and abstract shapes; on focussing, one perceives each image as organic and irresistibly enveloping. Without ever resorting to nuances of shading, Ward creates in each case a compelling open-ended microcosm that is at once landscape, hair, and bodily opening. In reproductions showing whole works, there are opportunities for objective looking, but they are usually followed by big, close-up details, spread over two pages, which threaten to overwhelm the hapless viewer. As Robert Wallis says in his essay, “Ward’s pictures are like snares; they capture my attention and hold it for sustained periods of enchantment.” The works in Liberty Realm speak to the unfinished body, ever coming into being, exposed and defined by its orifices. Rise, for example, is like some tumescent, organic, tropical landscape, but the “volcano” at top centre is really a breast and nipple expressing fluid like a whale’s spout. The book has been beautifully designed to be sensitive to, and enhance, the feel of Ward’s art. Three excellent short critical essays – by Edward M Gómez, Doug Harvey and Wallis – provide useful background and insight, but the book is an overwhelmingly visual experience and well worth repeated viewing. The act of looking encourages a process of intuitive creative reimagining that parallels the semi-automatic process of their creation. Therein lies their mystery. As Wallis rightly says, “Ward’s work is at once sublime and transcendent, yet earthy and pagan.” COLIN RHODES RAW VISION 106


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