‘On The Pull’ by Dena

by Carla Scarano D’Antonio 

From figurative to abstract, the artworks on display at The Outside and The Inside exhibition at the Lightbox in Woking give a voice to marginalised groups in forms, themes and techniques, often using recycled materials or ordinary kind of media, such as pencil, biro, gel pens, crayons, felt pens and ink on paper. This show reveals great creativity attained with simple means. These pieces of artwork might not be perfect according to academic or strictly artistic standards but are unique in their thought-provoking imperfections.

The exhibition draws from the Ingram Collection and the Outside In Collection as well as from other private and public collections. Outside In, which was founded in 2006, is a charity that supports more than 3,000 artists who are at the margins of the art world due to health, disability or isolation caused by mental health problems, criminal issues or prison convictions – talents who are positioned outside the commonly considered art world.

Their works testify to traumas, attempt to reconstruct a shattered self and investigate how the world makes sense. The themes are related to gender, sexuality, and express frustration, anger, sacrifice and redemption.

The most common approach is a naive kind of drawing, reminiscent of the work of Dubuffet and Art Brut. Works such as ‘Untitled’ by Ted H Gordon, an American self-taught artist, which features a face skilfully drawn in biro and felt pens with caricature traits, or Scottie Wilson’s ‘Self Portrait’ in ink and watercolour, demonstrate a naïvety that challenges in deforming and deconstructing forms the concept of acceptable portraiture.

‘2B or HB’ by Dena

Dena’s works are among the most interesting pieces of the exhibition. Her ‘On the Pull’, a red wool crocheted dress held together with ring pulls, was made ‘for a night ready to go on the town’ and created for a community programme of the Watts Gallery together with local charities. It is an extremely original piece of work employing ordinary materials and reworking them in a unique way. Similarly, the other work by Dena on display, ‘2B or HB, 2017’, a female nude made with glued pencil shavings on canvas, is a brilliant artwork that uses recycled material.

Other engaging works reveal the effect of trauma or persecution in the artists’ life, such as August Walla, who was raised as a girl by his mother to avoid Nazi persecution, or in Wilhelm Werner’s work. He was sterilised by the Nazis and documented his shocking experience in his drawings. Prof A Eckhoff’s work mocks Nazi propaganda that destroyed the artist’s world and exterminated rather than created. His apparently naïve figures expose this world as incongruous, artificial, and eventually frightening.

‘Scream Unheard’ by Anonymous

Anger and frustration are expressed in Gloria’s ‘My Gideon, 2015’ and in the Anonymous’ ‘Scream Unheard, 2013’. They represent screaming faces in pencil on paper with emphasised shades strongly marked with chiaroscuro. This straightforward approach communicates directly with the viewer who participates in the traumatic experience. In this way the audience is totally involved and, at the same time, the artist is partly relieved from the burden by sharing their sufferings. This shows the healing quality of art that rescues in some way the creator from their anxiety and obsessions. Therefore, art creates a more hopeful future and possible alternatives that might heal a traumatic troublesome past.

In this perspective, the Christ figure and his words, present in some of the works, are seen both as a sacrifice and a place of redemption; they heal, bring peace and blessing in the innocence of simple figures reminiscent of religious illustrations. The crucifixion by Charlie, instead, shows a ‘tortured soul’ that seems to feel nothing after 2,000 years; that is, probably the artist struggles to make sense of the tortures Christ suffered and of his sacrifice.

More sophisticated works are ‘Dead Boy, 2010’ by Louise and some abstract pictures by Alan Liddle, Fadra Velic, Nick Binko and Albert. This exhibition offers new visions and alternative perspectives by challenging the common views of what is art, a concept which is always changeable and questionable.


The Outside and The Inside, Upper Gallery, The Lightbox, Woking, 26 October 2019 to 5 January 2020