Horse Hospital, London
Unquiet Voices was an exhibition to celebrate 10 years of The Chamber Of Pop Culture at the Horse Hospital, London. It featured a century of English and American Visionary art covering art brut, outsider and visionary art.
Throughout the main expanse of the gallery hung works from Charles Benefiel. Benefiel's paintings are stained with tea, giving the work a sense of antiquity. They appear as if taken from a museum of human curiosities with their depictions of body modifications, baby physiques and cadavers. These large scale human characters are rendered in fine dots, with no discernible outline. Benefiel suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and utilises a sequential numbering process whilst painting. As a result Benefiel often enters into a hypnagogic state during the production of his work.
The British artist Nick Blinko is known for his intensive artist sittings whilst producing his intricate calligraphic drawings. The former member of Rudimentary Peni experiences severe bouts of depression which in the past have resulted in hospitalisation, and attempts to take his own life. His treatment has involved the more radical forms of psychology. His own work, reflecting his battles with his own inner demons, has been produced during periods where he has eschewed the need for medication. 'The Scales of thee Wings' is easily his most colourful and fragile. It is telling the amount of images of death that feature in his work: 'HMS Necropolis' and 'Skull' are both stark renderings, particularly 'Skull', which features thousands of variations on the word skull in tiny handwriting. Blinko's work is by far the most brutal art featured in Unquiet Voices.
By far the finest work on show belongs to the curious figure of Von Stropp, a young London based recluse whose work, according to his representative Henry Boxer, is collected by musicians such as Michael Stipe and Jimmy Page. A small pencil drawing of angels is perhaps one of the finest things I have ever seen. The intricate pencil lines, the attention to detail - of rabbits, feathers, wings, trees and leaves - is utterly astounding. Several examples of recent work utilise oils and are depictions of female characters. The work of Von Stropp is amongst the most accomplished pieces of art I have seen.
Donald Pass and the late Austin Osman Spare are perhaps the only trained artists on display. Joe Coleman never completed his studies; though that didn't stop the lunatic fringe of the New York Outsider Art Fair banning him for his business acumen! Spare achieved the status of being the youngest ever to exhibit at the Royal Academy while Pass was a successful abstract painter in fashionable Chelsea circles. After a series of angelic visitations Pass gave up this prestigious career in favour of recapturing these psychic moments. Unquiet Voices feature 5 of his vivid landscapes of winged angels and massed souls being drawn upwards to the heavens; like a contemporary William Blake. A mixture of golden souls and darkened skies; these are particularly illuminating scenes informed by a psychic visitation that occurred while Pass was painting opposite the grave of a RAF pilot in Cuckfield, Norfolk.
Austin Osman Spare, the peculiar English eccentric, was represented by five paintings mainly portraits completed in the post-war period. Spare who had the appellation "genius" applied to him in his teens was by this time down on his luck living in what some would term squalor in Brixton, London. During the war his studio was bombed and Spare's arms were paralysed. It's remarkable that he could once again write, let alone paint at the prodigious rate. The portraits capture Spare's sidereal portraiture while a pencil drawing taken from Spare's most important publication the Book of Pleasure (Self Love: The Psychology of Ecstasy) a groundbreaking title combining magic, psychology, and eroticism illustrates his supreme mastery of the line. Austin Osman Spare holds a revered place in occult circles and his work is always worth viewing.
Another pillar displays examples of the work of Malcolm McKesson, a reclusive outsider who lived in Manhattan, New York, until his death in 1999 at the age of 87. McKesson's work consists of muffled portraits of figures of indeterminate sex. These shadowy miniature figures tell of McKesson's hermetic existence. Their androgyny belie a marriage to the poet Madeline M. Mason that, it is said, the artist never consummated. His largely untitled sexual paintings have found avid collectors in the bondage and S&M scene. Before he died McKesson published his illuminated novel Matriarchy: Freedom In Bondage (published by the now defunct Gates of Heck, buy here as its very cheap!) from which many of these simple but effective sexual illustrations were taken from.
Norbert H. Kox is one of the few visionary artists who proffers a viewpoint clearly at odds with the mainstream. Kox spent most of his adult life as an outlaw biker. His life in various notorious biker gangs is well documented in Apocalypse Culture II. At the age of 30, after a life of drugs and violence on the road, Kox had reached a dead-end and spent the decade from 1975 onwards as a recluse contemplating the bible. Kox's interpretation of the bible was outlined in his Apocalyptic Visual Parables; prophetic revelations consisting of painting, poetry and bible codes. It is Kox's belief that modern Christianity has been usurped by evil forces and is, in fact, now the religion of the anti-Christ. Kox's paintings are by far the most controversial on display here. The Catholic Church has described Kox's work as blasphemous. Kox is a devout follower of Christ and regards himself as a prophet. The word of God, as Kox provides, isn't necessarily palatable to organised religion but Kox is aware of this and knowingly accepts it. His research has found inconsistencies and falsehoods in the bible which Kox feels he must reveal. 'Untied Liar' is a representation of the One dollar bill and the Great Seal of the USA. But look closer and the All Seeing Eye and the pyramid symbol have been transformed into the Seal of Solomon. Freemasonry, the Illuminati and Satanism are recurring motifs in the work of Kox. 'It Is Finished' is a large scale representation of Christ on the Cross. There's a beautiful glaze to this picture. 'Counterfeit' is a Christ like figure with a bullet to the head, and a heart of fire. Across his waist is a belt with the inscription 'Go Lie At' above a skull and crossbones positioned over his reproductive organs. Both paintings feature Kox's code.
Joe Coleman, America's greatest contemporary artist, was represented at Unquiet Voices by three paintings. The auto-biographical 'Mommy/Daddy' is one of his most revealing capturing in obsessive detail his tormented childhood and parental relationship. The portrait captures his parents: his father Joseph, a drunken, abusive parent and the glamorous beauty of his mother Jacqueline. It's a very telling portrait, capturing the dichotomy of love and hate, good and evil, and fear and desire. Various pivotal moments from Joe's past can be gleamed in the non-linear narrative from childhood beatings, the excommunication of his mother from the Catholic Church for her second marriage; to the death of his parents. 'Mommy/Daddy' also makes reference to Coleman's geek performance persona Professor Mombooze-o (a combination of his parental figures).
'The Man Who Walked Through Walls' is primarily about Harry Houdini, the famous Hungarian illusionist, but like all the other icons in Coleman's pantheon the portraits reveal much about the artist himself. Houdini's mother takes a prominent place in the portrait and Coleman's own adopted son - a preserved malformed foetus - acts as a stand-in in the border for Houdini's own imaginary child. It's a beautiful example of Coleman's biographical portraits that feature serial killers, criminals, freaks and all manner of visionary outsiders.
The only original Coleman work is the curious 'Crash Kid Did It For Osama', a small human landscape of sideshow inhabitants, with discarded newspaper reporting the suicide of Charles Bishop, the 15 year old who flew a stolen aircraft into the Bank of America in Tampa, Florida. The Book of Joe, the most recent volume chronicling Coleman's work, lists this as the only piece produced by Coleman in 2002 and is in the possession of his UK representative Henry Boxer.
Unquiet Voices was an undisputed success and clearly illustrates why the Horse Hospital is such an important venue for underground art.
Horse Hospital - www.thehorsehospital.com
Henry Boxer Gallery - www.henryboxergallery.com
Joe Coleman - www.joecoleman.com
Norbert H. Kox - www.apocalypsehouse.com
Austin Osman Spare - www.fulgur.co.uk
Atlantis Bookshop - www.theatlantisbookshop.com