In this interview British sculptor and Outside In supporter Laura Ford shares her artistic journey, inspirations and views on the barriers which surround the art world – both the challenges it presents and how, thanks to the work by this charity, there are strides being made and hope for the future.
When and why did you start making art?
I was tiny, a toddler, drawing on all the walls – I guess it hasn’t really stopped since then. I don’t see any difference from that and what I do now – I just think I am doing it better.
I think it is always what I thought I would do. I used to work for my parents in the arcade, calling bingo and things like that. Starting out I had jobs to pay for my practice. I taught in art schools and I taught yoga, I did what I could to pay for the studio and my materials. You have to be able to do both and not get too frustrated you aren’t in the studio all the time. It can be difficult to split your time, you have to be patient and think about the reasons you are doing it which is because you love it.
How would you describe your work and has it changed over time?
Maybe my work looks like it has changed but it is still the same old stuff. It reflects what is going on in my life, the social and the political – that is always the source of inspiration.
Do you think about the viewer when you are making your work?
I guess it is primarily focused on what excites me but I do think about the viewer. The thing is you can’t think about them too much, you don’t know them – they might not get you at all and you can’t be talking to someone you might never be able to connect with you. You just have to hope it is seen by someone who has the same sense of humour. It is like listening to a song you really love, it could be the lyrics or the melody that you appreciate. For me it is very important that people are moved by the work; they could be moved in a different way but for me it is vital they feel something.
I had a great email from someone who saw my giraffe at The Turner Contemporary recently, she visited with her kids and said she hadn’t thought too much about the visit but that when she saw it she burst into tears. That is a win. You have touched someone and it has broken down their barriers.
What are your experiences of the art world and the barriers it may present?
I think it is a tough world to be in. You spend a lot of time alone and in the early days you are creating work that nobody particularly wants and nobody is asking you to make it. You are using your cash and have very little support, so it is really tough. Then the art world itself has so many artists vying for attention and you have to try to stand out, you have to go to exhibitions and try to get to know people – it can be excruciating. And if you face other personal barriers too – it’s impossible.
Now, while I think people are becoming much more aware that everyone has to be included and there are lots of different ways of making art, I think it is still tough. There is no guidebook and that is why the work Outside In is doing is so important. It isn’t pushing people in to a way of making art, or being, but it supports them. That is when you get the most out of people.
When did you come across Outside In?
It was a very long time ago, I have known [director] Marc [Steene] a very long time, we were at art school together. In the 80s it was very unfashionable to make art that was intuitive or had any links with therapeutic use – and that was my work. There was a sense you were a little bit stupid, and it is not. I have always been interested in ‘outsider artists’ so found his vision really interesting. Bringing the work into the mainstream is really important and I think that is what makes Outside In stand out. It gives the artists enough support so they can be in lots of exhibitions that aren’t just about outsider art.
Why are you keen to support the charity?
Fabulous work comes out of it and I am interested in looking at good art – that is number one.
Then it transforms people’s lives. It gives them tremendous confidence and a reason for living – and enjoying life. I just think it is a fantastic charity, it is not just another charity that is working with people that have problems or disabilities and the work is strictly therapeutic – I think it is doing something more. Enabling artists to make the best art that they can and what comes out of it is extraordinary.