Beyond the Outsider

Response to Martin Taylor's solo exhibition "A Life in Colour" at Enjoy Art Gallery.

ESSAY BY JOHN HOLT



“Art does not lie down on the bed that is made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to go incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called.”

Jean Dubuffet

“Whenever illness is associated with loss of soul, the arts emerge spontaneously as remedies, soul medicine.”

— Shaun Mcniff “Art as Medicine, Creating a Therapy of the Imagination.”

Wassily Kandinsky is generally credited as the pioneer of abstract art. In his seminal book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, he called for a devotion to inner beauty, fervour of spirit, and spiritual desire to make art from “inner necessity”; it was a central aspect of his belief. In short, he proclaimed that art that was valid which came from this “inner necessity”, from a desire to reveal the “soul’s coded image”, the view within, hence each artist should express their individual voice, devoid of vain ego. He believed that a true artist speaks for their times and the environment that produced them. Any artist trying to blindly copy a language or style of the past without reinterpreting it to be contemporary would produce “dead” art that does not to the soul of the viewer. It was to him about authenticity.


Martin Taylor. “The Wall”. Acrylic on Canvas.


There exists a genre of art, which for me is rather spuriously branded as “Outsider Art”. The first inkling of the existence of the artistic category Outsider Art emerged from the work of a few psychiatrists in the mid and late nineteenth century when it became clear that some psychiatric patients were spontaneously producing artworks - often on found scraps of paper - of unusual quality and power. In 1922 the German psychiatrist Dr Hans Prinzhorn published the first serious study of artworks by psychiatric patients, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (The Artistry of the Insane), after amassing a collection of several thousand examples from European institutions. Both book and collection received considerable attention from the inter-war avant-garde and influenced artists such as Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Jean Dubuffet. They were fascinated and inspired by an art that was produced seemingly without any influences from the modern art world, yet which appeared highly original, compelling, and contemporary. As the psychologist Jung wrote, “The creative spirit cannot be discouraged anyway, otherwise it would not be creative”.

During this intense period of Covid 19 it is said that people’s dreams are more acute, more intense, more visual. And so, it is that those who find their uniquely creative voice, to quote Jung again, “create from the very depths of the collective unconscious, voicing aloud what others only dream.”.


Martin Taylor: “The Devil's Advocate”. Acrylic on canvas.


Compared to the so called “normal” person who tends to be more repressed, adjusted to and anaesthetized towards the absurdity that is playing out in the world, artists can often suffer from a heightened sensitivity to the inner psychic tension between the conscious and the unconscious. Art can only be birthed it seems when its creators are able to hold the creative tension between a stable consciousness and a “charged” unconscious, thereby creating a container for the work of art to find its unique form so as to fully personified. Bearing this creative tension can be a source of vital energy which nourishes the gestating work of art to grow within the artist’s psyche. This creative tension needs to be endured, involving a genuine suffering of the ego which can potentially lead to a greater creative birth. As Nietzsche writes in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, “Creation, that is the great redemption from suffering.” It is redemptive to find adequate language for our suffering; a language we call art. Art is the medium through which artists release themselves from the suffering of the unexpressed. When we have our own words to sing, our voice appears. Artists liberate themselves from suffering by connecting with and giving novel shape and form to something that belongs to the essential nature of reality.


Jung writes, “A great work of art is like a dream…It presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow.” We can conceive of the creative instinct as a living impulse implanted in the human psyche, growing in us like a plant which draws its nourishment from the earth. The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature, a living being that arises from unconscious depths and grows out of the womb of the artist as a child emerges from its mother. Once born, the artist’s work takes on an autonomous, independent life of its own, outgrowing and outliving its creator as a child does its mother.


And so, what we have come to call Outsider Art (Raw Vision), might just be an inclination to heal connections that we have lost to reconnect with our “inner child” to celebrate an art of integrity and psychic honesty. Whatever restraints or difficulties upon cognitive and intellectual capacities there are some people making art for the act of creation alone (by “inner necessity”). They have no specific audience in mind when they make art and are just simply producing art objects intuitively and instinctively. To me, the purity of this art sings out in an age of often over- complex and over-intellectualised art.

After taking early retirement from Bretton Hall College and then Leeds University in 2001 I founded a charity called A.I.M., (Artists in Mind) in Huddersfield to sustain and develop the work that I had begun in my teaching and my own observations of the capacity for art to be a mechanism of transformation. I wrote, “We are not art therapists at A.I.M.; it seems to us that art therapy raises more questions than it answers. No, we are not therapists but initiators of the therapeutic process, merely by trusting the construction of language in an environment of faith and respect, without analysis or judgement, but, of course with conversations, with dialogue, and with friendship. This was to be a “creative sanctuary”.


As a whole group the artist and staff discussed the core values of AiM, the following was the conclusion to that discussion:

“AiM is a creative sanctuary where we all work together to develop a deeper sense of awareness of the world through art. Each person in AiM is unique and precious to us all. AiM expects its artists, staff, volunteers, and mentors to behave in ways that accord with these positive attitudes”


During this time, I also worked at Rampton High Secure Hospital. My work there was as a chaplain (Quaker) and arts facilitator took many directions including the intention for AiM to store, archive and publish works by artists who had experiences of trauma and crisis and for whom art making had had a significant place in their coping but who were socially isolated due to incarceration or inability to socialise. At AiM we did not encourage the label “mental illness” and prefer to use the phrase “for those who are in emotional and spiritual crisis” which in some ways alludes to a causation and an often temporary period of distress and anguish people experience in their lives in a variety of ways. The mental health system is often seen as a dark, and often inconsiderate aspect of our society onto which the public project their fears onto the “dangerous and the uncontrollable” often fuelled by the media. This attitude only compounds the sense of alienation and disconnection of the patient and the “user of mental health services” further driving them into the status of an underclass that are placed and who often have to live in deprived areas of housing where drug dealers and exploiters of human vulnerability prowl and prey on the weak. Even in cases where good work which was done by organisations such as AiM this throwing of the defenceless into exploitative environments only re-traumatise the hyper-sensitive individual.


Martin Taylor. “Funny Faces”. 2016. Acrylic in Canvas.


Martin Taylor is an artist through and through: to make art for him is “bred in the bone”, his life is to make art. Although Martin has had some problems and issues in his life with mental ill health the one constant aspect of his life has been in his dedication to making art, and hence to intuitively develop meaning and purpose in his life in so doing.


Martin Taylor was a trainee baker in his younger days but the compulsion towards art making rather dominated his life then as it does now, and his bakery career took second place to his painting and drawing, his “raison d'être”.


Initially his work was more dominated by environmental themes, landscape based but when he was given a studio at AiM (Artists in Mind) his imagination just simply flourished and his work became more personal, became more rooted in the imagination, more free. He found the supportive space an environment in which his personal inner vision, his authentic creativity could flourish. He is plainly obsessed about colour, constantly thinking in colour and transcribing his mental inner visions onto a series of canvases. “There is always a painting in my head” he states. A smartly dressed man with his hat and jacket resplendent with tasteful, feminine brooches; he looks every bit the eccentric artist. His new works populated with strong characters like groupings of old pals, full of humour and humanity. This recent series of works as exhibited at Enjoy Art Gallery Marsden in West Yorkshire by invitation of artist and gallery owner Kevin Threlfall remind me somewhat of the works of Emile Nolde. Emil Nolde (born Emil Hansen; 7 August 1867 – 13 April 1956) was a German-Danish painter and printmaker.). Nolde, an avowed Expressionist “saw” faces as masks in his work born of his own inner vision.


“Emil Nolde "Nature morte aux masques" 1911


Martin’s own work seems to set up a personal relationship with his characters and groups of faces, ostensibly indicating that he is in some kind of affiliation with them. Perhaps his own personal shyness and social modesty leads to him painting individuals groups with whom he has a spiritual and personal relationship with and perhaps even as facets of himself, his own personality. His work is not always comfortable as with his “Mad Faces” painting, a fragmented work he said he “saw” inwardly. “These people in my paintings seem to come out in me”. He says as though projections from his inner psyche, which of course they are, populating the world in their stark and flat colour.


Martin Taylor. “Mad Faces” Acrylic on canvas.


There are references to popular culture in his “The Beatles Abbey Road” painting and in his love of other art and artists fuelled by his vast collection of art books which includes Picasso, and his favourite artist, Warhol prodigy Jean-Michel Basquiat


Jean-Michel Basquiat. Untitled.


Martin Taylor is neither Emile Nolde, nor Jean-Michel Basquiat, he is his own man, his own artist with his own vision. When AiM gave him the space and the support to discover his own vision, he then channelled that vision, contacting the inner colours and the inner beings within himself and projected them onto his canvases.


Martin is an artist period! It is what he was destined to be, and it is what he is, authentic and significant in his intuitive explorations of his inner life. He offers us a joyful, enhanced, and colourful vision of human relationships through his paintings. There are people like Martin all over the world often defined as Outsiders, savants, visionaries, folk artists, raw visionaries for whom making art does not need to be labelled or defined, it comes from an inner need, its just flows, it is their purpose and their soul destiny to make art, to express, to imagine, to dream, to offer the world their shaping’s. Often marginalised and patronised by an elitist art word, nevertheless these visionary, intuitive artists bring a fresh, honest, and insightful dimension to our lives if we support and seek out their art.


Martin Taylor. “Abbey Road”. Acrylic on Canvas.


And so, to my adage that “Creativity as the Immune System of the Mind and the Source of the Mythic, given the correct, supportive conditions will lead to people of sensitivity and vision finding and producing an art of integrity and personal truth. I believe that the creative process in the form of the arts in its full range is the location of the true expression of life’s diversity and of life journeys, indeed of philosophy itself. To make meaning of our lives and construct mythological maps of our journeys moves us to a deeper understanding of self and the relationship between our minds/bodies and the environment. This process of re-connection with the cosmos is inherent and eternally human.


John Holt. 29/11/2020

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