MARCH 27 - APRIL 26, 2014
The greatest visionary art is not about the visionary experience. It is the visionary experience itself. In the process of the making, materials are imbued with the artists' experience. In the case of this exhibition, PraiseSongs for the Numinous, and these artists presented we had to, as curators, build a familiarity with the artist, the work, and its context in the artists' world to know just where that intentionality was. There are common threads here, but possibly the most common one is that of animism, the belief in spirit contained in organic and inorganic objects.
The alchemical process of earth, water, fire and air is obvious in the ceramists' ouvre. And of course that in itself is not enough to declare an object 'animist'. The curatorial twist we put on this was our need to see the form combine with the intention and process into a place of timelessness. We wanted to show work that moved backwards as well as forward temporally.
Jane Wheeler, Phyllis Sullivan, Tim Rowan, Melanie Ferguson, Monique Rutherford and Sarah Purvey all have that in their work. They all move in the medium of landscape and the rough mathematics of emerging forms. They are not anachronisms. One hundred years from now they will still be contemporary to that time while they contain their ancient animist forces.
A well-known Japanese contemporary artist was looking at the pieces by Ghyslaine and Sylvain Staelens and said: "They have so much of the old in them and yet they are still so new." Many of these sculptors have been ignored by the mainstream art world as being too 'outsider' and at the same time questioned by the austerity of the Art Brut gatekeepers for too much so-called sophistication; both arbitrary calls at best.
The Staelens work absorbs the power of mystical landscape. They live where the pieces are born in the countryside and forest. They copy no culture. They are more about the voices in the woods: gypsies, pagans, witches...They are about amulet and herbalism and sympathetic magic. Most importantly they are about struggle and survival.
Kevin Sampson's works are the spirit yards of the south in miniature. They contain the memories of community, they are homages to ancestors and the cycles of life, they too are made to be amulets for the artist as well as for his surroundings.
Amulets are also the pieces by Gregory Van Maanen , not made to sell but to give to family and friends and others as objects of healing. They are extensions of his intimate observations of Nature and its occult unpredictabilities.
Guillaume Couffignal's pieces reflect his journeys into the paradoxes of ceremonial spaces. They are theatres for rites of passage. His boats sail metaphysical waters. His process is ancient; teasing out the lost wax process he learned in Africa when he was younger.
Sylvain Corentin is a poet in love with the intricacies of sacred architecture. His towers in white seem to encapsulate histories and at the same time are jazz improvisations. They can never repeat, they reflect his body movements when creating them, absolutely open to the accidents of immediacy.
Marc Perez' work is an exploration of visionary angst. His pieces accumulate objects the way humans accumulate experiences. They are messengers, burdened with a knowledge that may or may not lead to ultimate wisdom.
Sandra Sheehy's works come the closest to textbook art brut yet they, in truth, defy any such easy categorizations. Her knowledge is sensual and secret. They are obsessively beautiful but they are rarely safe, they are in fact always elusive and dangerous.