Inside Out at Castlefield Gallery, review: More a case of outsider, in

Jemima Forbes

What is outsider art, today? Castlefield Gallery brings together a recluse, someone with Asperger’s and an art therapist for an exhibition that is anything but conventional.

Inside Out at Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery offers a contemporary take on outsider art; the exhibition is a showcase of works created outside of the boundaries of cultural norms and, at the same time, an exploration of how exactly outsider art is defined today (4 March – 24 April). From intricately detailed illustrations and bold interpretations of the human body to pieces enhanced by technology, the mix of work by British and international artists on show here encompasses a range of styles and histories.

Typically for the outsider art, the stories behind a number of pieces include the artist’s psychological conditions, which have greatly influenced the processes used to create them. For instance, the compulsive repetition in emerging artist Jenna Kayleigh Wilkinson’s exquisitely detailed work is, she says, a reflection of her Asperger’s syndrome, while all of her pieces on show here have the word ‘obsession’ in their title.

One ink illustration stretches across nine canvases and took seven years to complete

The intense detail in many of the pieces is understood to echo the artist’s psyche, with the sheer complexity entailing extraordinary levels of dedication. In the upper gallery, Carlo Keshishian’s ink illustration The Void II stretches across nine canvases and took seven years to complete. Made up of a series of repetitive shapes, the complete piece takes on the image of a landscape seen from above, and at a distance. Another piece by Keshishian, entitled Diary, February to March 2010, employs a similar technique; a magnifying glass is on hand to view the minute words he has inscribed onto the paper.

Co-curator of the exhibition, David Maclagen, has included some of his own works in Inside Out; there are three colourful and mesmerising oil paintings on drafting film, which is set against light boxes to accentuate the lines, shapes and depth of each piece. Created in short, improvised sittings, the paintings are – contextually at least – in contrast to the all-consuming levels of detail elsewhere.

An element of fantasy can be seen in the works of Joel Lorand and Mit Senoj, with the latter employing mythological forms in his sensual watercolour sketches of the female form. By comparison, Lorand’s symmetrical works are both uncomfortable and hypnotic to view; faces border on frightening and the autumnal colours invoke scenes of death and birth in nature.

Perhaps the most unusual works on display, however, are Darren Brian Adcock’s interactive pieces. Adcock employs a mixture of drawing, audio and UV lighting so that viewer can press buttons to shine lights on hidden landscapes, figures and scripts within the works. It’s worth spending time to fully uncover all the secrets of these pieces – which Adcock described as “autobiographical” at the exhibition opening.

The range of artists in Inside Out vary from full recluses to functioning art therapists; together, they offer an updated definition of outsider art, one that acknowledges and embraces idiosyncrasies.

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