Carlo Keshishian reviews the Outsider Art Fair, Paris 2014

For the first time Outside In took part in the Outsider Art Fair in Paris, showcasing the work of four artists: Jan Arden, Manuel Lanca Bonifacio, Kate Bradbury and Chaz Waldren. We had an exciting time talking to people, making new contacts and of course selling the artists works! Below Carlo Keshishian has reviewed the Paris Outsider Art Fair, following his review earlier in the year of the New York version of the Outsider Art Fair. Enjoy …

Kate Bradbury's work in the Outside In room

Kate Bradbury’s work in the Outside In room

I have just boarded a train to a rural part of France to visit a couple who both make art. I have seen both of their work at the Outsider Art Fair several times over the last few years. I’m not sure what they look like or how old they are. I’m somewhat anxious but prepared to embark on the adventure. This adventure reminds me of one of the first times I crossed paths with ‘Outsider Art’ with it being referenced as such. It was Jarvis Cocker’s mini-series that appeared on Channel 4, in which he travelled around France visiting ‘Outsider environments’ and artists. Because of this, I have always associated a passion for this kind of work with France. Later on of course, I learned of what I consider Jean Dubuffet’s significant contextualising mission in the form of ‘Art Brut’, which now that I think about it must have been an incentive that Jarvis Cocker surely would have clarified in his series, though my selective memory fails me.

Middle picture is Albert from the Bethlem Gallery, as seen at Bruno Decharme's exhibition

Middle picture is Albert from the Bethlem Gallery, as seen at Bruno Decharme’s exhibition

This journey is an over-indulgent exercise considered I’ve spent the last four days in Paris, immersing myself in an intensive tornado of art from the Halle st.Pierre showing the Collection De Stadshof, to the Outsider Art Fair at the Hotel Le A, to La Maison Rouge showing Bruno Decharme’s abcd collection, and other exhibitions in between.

One of the first things I noticed at the opening of the Outsider Art Fair was that that guy who resembles Al Pacino was back again. Pardon the tautology. I had completely forgotten about him but upon seeing him I am brought back to the first ever Outsider Art Fair Paris of last year. It was inconceivably busy, I was by the cloakroom, my drawing was being passed around for people I don’t know to look at. There was a man who looked like Al Pacino. He looked like what you might imagine Al Pacino to look like in real life, which is somewhat different to how he appears on screen. The place was buzzing and noisy. I was trying to hear him talking. His French was too good. He was not Al Pacino. Here I am again. On the third day of the 2014 fair now, a panel discussion takes place with Bruno Decharme , focussed on the abcd collection and the exhibition at La Maison Rouge. I arrived fifteen minutes into it and had to stand by the entrance as the place was so busy. Not bad for a Saturday morning. Due to the distance and somewhat obscured view, it was difficult to determine, but it appeared that perhaps one of the panelists was Al Pacino. On this occasion, real name: Antoine de Galbert, president of La Maison Rouge. They spoke for an hour or so, providing an opportunity for me to brush up on my French, though I can’t say I understood enough of what was being said and it was disheartening to miss the parts that a lot of people laughed at.

The playful drawings by Outside In artist Manuel Lanca Bonifacio

The playful drawings by Outside In artist Manuel Lanca Bonifacio

Sadly, the Christian Berst gallery were absent in this incarnation of the fair, and they usually have what appear to be the largest stands, as was the case earlier in the year at the New York edition. A wonderful addition blossomed in the form of an Outside In room. I shift from ‘stand’ to ‘room’ because the Paris fair takes place in a hotel. At one point, I was in the Outside In room and Roger Cardinal mentioned that if he were to review the fair, he would maybe begin by pondering on and expressing the interesting correlation that occurs when art works (potentially relating to dreaming or the subconscious) in an art fair are being exhibited in places where dreaming happens every night. I hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing or possibly re-interpreting his words and thoughts.

My feelings on art being exhibited in hotel rooms, on beds, in bathtubs, is somewhat undecided. I felt similarly last year. It is an interesting idea, in theory. However, it can get claustrophobic in and on the narrow corridors and stairs when so many people are trying to pass each other. Certainly impractical. But if I look at myself, I sacrifice a lot of practicality out of stubbornness and for something more rewarding. Good stuff usually comes to me when it appears un-compromised, and this is why I’m here I guess. It’s what the power of a lot of the works seen here is linked through, if anything. On the plus side, the more homey reception upon entering these rooms breaks down the usual intimidating atmosphere that seems to materialise when approaching stands at more commercial art fairs, or when entering certain art galleries. So, maybe worth sacrificing the practicality of being able to manoeuvre more easily. But yes, even more homey than the rest was Outside In’s bedroom, considering my familiarity and involvement with the project on several levels.

I was very happy to see all of Manuel Bonifacio’s work, and to turn the pages of the folder they were contained in back and forth as the seemingly endless stream of people came and went to take a look. Having witnessed Manuel’s distinctive dancing first hand, I believe I’ve identified a source in regards to the curious postures that two of the characters depicted in one drawing were positioned in. This made me smile. Walking around the abcd collection at La Maison Rouge with the Wizard of Outside In, Marc Steene, was a highlight of my days in Paris in fact. After spending hours at the fair, it was a surprise to completely rejuvenate an appetite for seeing more art and discussing it with such admiration for a further couple of hours. This must reflect the power of the abcd collection.

The brightly coloured works of Chomo

The brightly coloured works of Chomo

Another pleasant surprise at the fair was to see a room dedicated to the works of Chomo. Presented by auctioneer Rouillac in conjunction with Laurent Danchin. In a way, this symbolises a sort of coming full circle, as Roger Chomeaux was one of the artists that Jarvis Cocker visited on that TV show I saw fifteen years or so ago. The artist passed away not long after. Chomo’s story is an admirable one, and it’s marvellous to see so many of his works spread around the room. In fact, there has been little or no representation of his work in the Outsider Art Fair in the years I’ve gone along to view. Until this edition, I’d never seen his statues in real life before. They did not disappoint. I also loved to see them lit the way they glow in photographic reproductions that I have in books.

The powerful black and white drawings of Ody Saban

The powerful black and white drawings of Ody Saban

Another artist I was glad to see flourish is Ody Saban, who’s work I’ve been an admirer of for a decade or so now. It was wonderful to finally meet and spend time with her last year, though she seemed unhappy that her work wasn’t getting seen enough (even though she had very large pieces on show at the Halle st.Pierre and Galerie Les Yeux Fertiles at the time, the latter piece which I was completely in awe of, a master work in my opinion). On this occasion, the amount of Ody on show truly reflects her prolific oeuvre. An artist I had not been aware of, who had a room dedicated to his works thanks to Louis B. James of New York, was Bruce Davenport Jr. who’s post-Hurricane Katrina drawings were quite impressionable and a joy to look at. As usual, I was happy to see Christine Sefolosha and Stephanie Lucas works at the fair, among other wonderful artists and works that have blurred into a dizzying memory of wonder, as if a sequence of poignant dreams were experienced, and then let go of, leaving just fragments within reach. Dorothy returns from Oz.

The work of Stephanie Lucas

The work of Stephanie Lucas

Note: The lack of chronology in the above text is due to the somewhat lazy approach to piecing together words jotted down on scraps of paper and does not correspond with that of the true experiences. I’m not one for laziness usually, but I am still recuperating energy that has been compromised by the sheer ferocity of the trip!

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