“Outsider art is art by self-taught or naïve art makers. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. In many cases, their work is discovered only after their deaths.”
Brixton based Jamaican artist Pearl Alcock is considered an Outsider artist and is now part of a retrospective on show at The Whitworth this year.
I always thought that being an Outsider artist had much kudos but often the reality is that their artwork isn’t recognised. And why aren’t there more Outsider artists. Surely they’re everywhere. I’d like to know whose job is it to define an artist with this terminology as opposed to saying they’re an amateur artist or someone who loves to draw or paint. It is a much contested term! While some artists wear it as a badge of pride, others feel it contributes to their ongoing marginalisation.
One characteristic of an Outsider artist is that they’re usually self-taught. Another is they use their art to create and convey their own worlds. The term “Outsider art” was first used by art historian Roger Cardinal in 1972 to loop together art made by people living with certain disabilities, as well as those living on the outskirts of society.
“My work comes from inside of me and is full of love”
Pearl Alcock was defined as one such person early on when she was ‘discovered’ by art curators Monika Kinley and Victor Musgrave (now part of the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection). Her life as an artist began in her 50’s. Following the Brixton riots in the early 1980s, trade in her London café ceased so Alcock was forced onto the dole. Unable to afford a birthday card for a friend, she made one instead. This simple act impacted her entire lifetime, friends would often bring materials to her and she soon began realising her ‘visions’ and ‘moods’ in the form of drawings and paintings.
“Everything I do has to come from my head…”
Alcock would often sleep in her rocking chair and recall with great detail a dreamworld full of vivid Jamaican landscapes and people to tropical abstracts. One recurrent theme in her artwork at The Whitworth are her dramatic patterns and love of vibrant colour. You can see she would use any materials she could get her hands on, everyday materials of graphite, coloured pencils, wax crayons, pastels felt-tips and acrylic paint. Flourishing a free style of painting that was purely Pearl and all created in her tiny Brixton flat.
“My work has to be right for me. It has to be Pearl”
The year before her death in 2006 Pearl Alcock’s art was finally shown at the Tate Britain as part of their first exhibition of art shown under the term Outsider Art. I’m positive she would have loved that!
On until 12th January 2020