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Photo courtesy of Venture Arts

Getting the inside on outsider art at Venture Arts

An ‘outsider artist’ may be a phrase you are not used to hearing. It is often used to describe artists who are self-taught, and art which does not fit into the mainstream idea of art. But Venture Arts wants to challenge the idea that being an outsider artist is negative.

Venture Arts is an organisation based in Hulme that works with learning disabled artists. On their website they describe their vision as

“a world in which people with learning disabilities are empowered, celebrated, included and valued in the arts, culture and society”.

Does the title ‘outsider art’ define quality or the creative ability of the artist? Does the difference in style and technique change the quality of the art? To put it frankly, I believe it does not.

Should the term even exist? If an artist can produce work of quality and content then surely they must be contributing and paving the way for art histories of the future.

The idea of an outsider artist was a keenly focused topic for Venture Art’s latest exhibition event Conversations Series II: Other Transmissions last month. The exhibition featured works from six artists, including a detailed outline of the working process they undertook. The exhibition pieces ranged from audio-visual pieces to full-sized sculptures that were erected in the expansive foyer of the exhibit, creating an immersive and engaging display which encouraged the viewer to interact and appreciate the work.

A further collaborative exhibit titled Second Nature had a selection of ceramic sculptures by Louise Hewitt, alongside other artists, at Manchester’s Portico Library. Once again the display was an expansive piece, curated by James Moss, which took inspiration from historic literature and artefacts, with a Georgian era “Natural philosophy” theme. Hewitt’s ceramic figures of garden creatures capture her quirky and imaginative storytelling style and reflect her interests in creating sentience in all she sees. Moss also highlights that the most important part is giving great artists a platform.

It really does not take long to see the sheer scale and adaptability of Venture Arts’ projects. Their versatility and community-centred outlook means that they are able to collaborate with Manchester’s vibrant and ever-changing art scene.

One artist, Barry Finan, has created a number of pieces whilst working with Venture Arts. His work focuses on developing large scale murals using a specific and graphic lettering style, the inspiration for these murals are collected from conversations and activities going on around him.

On the day I visited, Finan was working on a large scale piece, having just finished a huge display on a brick wall. Finan highlighted that his work is a mixture of conversations and abstract-thoughts combined to create his distinctive pieces. His work is recognisable due to the capital lettering and cube design that he uses in place of full stops. It was fascinating to watch a conscious stream literally unfold before my eyes; I was mesmerised by the patterns and the style of these markings and I will certainly be looking out for more of his work at future exhibitions.

Across the room, artist Leslie Thompson was at work, concentrating on a new piece based around the movement of animals and plant life. In the last year, Thompson had completed some commission based work for online publication, LADBible, and continues to accept requests to design murals for companies and publications looking for these specifically stylised wall pieces. He proudly informs me has become something of a “master” creator in the studio and I am inclined to agree. Impressed not only by the standard of his work, I could not have been more amazed by the innovative creations which filled the canvases in this studio.

As the year draws to a close, Venture Arts has also had some astonishing victories at Manchester’s Culture Awards 2019. They won the “Inspiring Inspiration” award, alongside The Whitworth and Castlefield Gallery. To the organisation’s credit, I’ve never been in a space where such empathy, support, and empowerment was so equally and mutually shared between artists and volunteers.

To find out more visit the Venture Arts website.

Tags: creativity, disability, Hulme, Outsider art, UK disability history month, venture arts

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