Colin Hambrook reviews the Outside In: National exhibition for Disability Arts Online

The biggest visual arts treat of the year so far, has arrived in the form of Outside In: National which opened today at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex. Colin Hambrook extols the exhibitions virtues as a beacon for creativity.

This is the third Outside In since its inception in 2006. I’ve watched the project build momentum from a local, to regional and now a national showcase with links being developed all the time. All of the work on show invites comment. It’s about real-life, dreams and aspirations. It’s about fulfilling a vital creative need, which the exhibition does with a passion that rivals any major exhibition in a public or commercial gallery anywhere.

Outside In is first and foremost a liberating experience. It proves that you don’t have to have the kind of self-promotion skills and know how to court the approval of the ‘art world’ to be an ‘artist’. The artwork contains the raw power and energy that only comes from artists who are motivated by the need to create, above and beyond all else.

There are no trying concepts or clever words attempting to bamboozle you. What you get is pure, mad, angry, rude, gentle, tender, touching, hilarious, ridiculous, humourous, intricate, detailed love for the process of making. The exhibition is laced with oodles of what it is that makes us all unique individuals through the conviction of making a mark to express who we are.

Outside In: National is everything that you want from art. The exhibition is curated with careful consideration. The paintings, drawings and sculpture on show in the first room have a playful quality. Gill Lampe’s ‘Miss Madelaine’, for example, is a life-size female mannequin, which has been skillfully rendered with a million and one pieces of porcelain, bric a brac, jewellery and throw-away bits. This goddess for the 21st century with a baby sun for a navel and cup hooks on the heels of her shoes has been built with a wonderful eye for invention.

Many of the labels describing the individuals are works of poetry. EMCO's ‘My Sun is a Pussy’ equals anything that Tristan Tzara and the Dada movement had to say about the value and import of creative expression.

The wall of the second gallery has been painted a deep purple, the better to show off a room of black and white ink drawings and prints. The work on display is defined by a certain rigour, and a beautiful attention to detail. Sometimes shocking and painfully honest; for example Ashley Reaks ‘Soul Mates’ expresses a violent sense of humour. In his explanatory label accompanying the work he describes himself, amongst other things, as “a surprisingly decent wedding singer and nearly a crap pop star.” He reveals himself with a mix of the self-effacing and the brash. Like it or not you can’t help but react as viewer. Equally confrontative Terence Wilde's ‘The Bandit’ has a disturbing sexual theme, which reveals itself as a meditation on surviving sexual abuse.

There is perhaps more of a sense of wanting to convey a message in the work curated for display in the last gallery. Gillian Sutherland’s baby made with polymer resin is a tiny sculpture made with an extraordinary hyperrealism, rivalling the sculptures of Ron Mueck.

It is overwhelming how far Outside In has come in a few short years. The project accepted 2300 entries for this show. This was whittled down to 80 works by over 60 artists by a panel of judges consisting of renowned performance artist Bobby Baker, art historian Roger Cardinal and Shape director Tony Heaton. The exhibition is now on show at Pallant House Gallery until 3 February 2013.

As well as the works selected for inclusion in the exhibition, six award winners were chosen to have a solo exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in 2013 and 2014.

Outside In is a revolution that could easily be swamped by its own success. Hopefully the journey the project has taken and the light that it shines will continue to flourish for some time to come. Throughout next year selected works from the exhibition will go on tour to galleries all over the country who have collaborated with the project.

In summing it his enthusiasm for the project Roger Cardinal reminded us of Jean Dubuffet(whose Transitions exhibition of works from the 1960s is also on show at Pallant House) who said that culture is there to be invented by everyone. “The art world can go hang”, Cardinal concluded. A gauntlet has been laid down.
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Images: Gill Lampe, Miss Madelaine; Ashley Reaks, Soul Mates; Terence Wilde, The Bandit; and Gillian Sutherland, Baby