Art For the Artists Sake

Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making
Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown 25 June – 29 August 2016
Radical Craft is a Craftspace and Outside In touring exhibition.

by Ellen Bell

A small woman in a dark floral skirt, her handbag strapped hard across her chest, is shuffling around Oriel Davies’ main gallery, beaming. ‘What’s that?’ asks her husband. A diminutive man in a bomber jacket and baseball cap with a Coed y Dinas hemp shopping bag over his shoulder, he is pointing at a large phallic form tightly encased in cling-film. ‘It’s a… it’s a PERSON’, she replies. Both equally satisfied with this explanation, they link hands and move on.

The form, Mummified Sculpture, is by Nnena Kalu, one of the thirty-four artists represented in the ‘Radical Craft’ touring exhibition currently on display at Oriel Davies, though it could just as easily have been by Louise Bourgeois or Sarah Lucas or David Kefford. There is a lot of that in this show, a kind of double-taking. But who is doing the emulating? For though unknown and unknowing these artists are originals. These are artists who have a mental or physical disability, are socially deprived or isolated and, lacking any formal training, are innocent of that weighty, hierarchical artistic legacy of all that has gone before them in the name of process, material, style and concept. These artists are compelled to make, not by an outer, ego-driven desire for recognition or wealth but, as with Henry Darger, an American janitor who made hundreds of collaged drawings of pre-pubescent girls with male genitalia, by an inner, irrepressible compunction. ‘Art Brut’ Jean Dubuffet called it, not because he regarded it as somehow brutish or wild but for its spontaneity, its ‘uncooked’-ness and lack of self-consciousness. And he and his fellow avant-gardists sought it out and shamelessly imitated it.

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