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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


A painting of wild, noisy and joyous exuberance hangs in the Tate Modern Gallery in London. It is HIP HIP HOORAH by the Netherlands-born artist Karel Appel (1921-2006).

HIP HIP HOORAH - Karel Appel (1949)

I love the innocence of this piece, the peculiar amalgams of animals and humans that seem to dance before us, cavorting with a roughness, honesty and veracity that shun pretension. Appel apparently thought of these beings as 'people of the night', so gave them a dark background. Personally, I like the piece of astroturf on which the extreme left-hand figure sits!

Karel Appel was a member of the CoBra group (1948-51), a set of artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam who sought to invigorate post-war culture with a childish and impish joie de vivre. Appel believed that “the child in man is all that is strongest, most receptive, most open and unpredictable”. In this stance, I perceive echoes of the Dada movement of the earlier twentieth century.

Another term coined for this mould-breaking art is Art Brut (Raw Art), a moniker established by the artist Jean Dubuffet (1902-85).

L'ARBRE BIPLAN - Jean Dubuffet (1968)

Dubuffet's work demonstrates a similar rebellious simplicity to that of Appel. Dubuffet was interested in the creativity of individuals outside the potentially stifling confines of 'establishment art', particularly drawings, paintings and sculptures made by psychiatric patients, hermits, spiritualists and the like.

Yet another umbrella-term for the genre is 'Outsider Art'. Invented in 1972 by the art critic Roger Cardinal, the term gave rise to a superb book, of that name, which I have in my library. In OUTSIDER ART: SPONTANEOUS ALTERNATIVES (Thames and Hudson), the author Colin Rhodes explores the coruscating world of art produced outside the mainstream by criminals, recluses, folk artists and others.

This absorbing, revelatory and moving book was described by Roger Cardinal himself as representing “the best and most lucid account of Outsider Art...a fascinating field which has begun to expand at an astonishing pace.

As someone who has felt – proudly – something of an outsider throughout his life, I feel drawn to the realm of Outsider Art for its metaphorical nose-thumbing at various prevalent notions of what Art 'should' be.

As someone once said to me – well, many times they said it, actually, “There is no should

Enjoy exploring art 'outside the box'!

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023


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