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Raw Vision 25 years of Art Brut - Halle St Pierre, Paris

Fantastic exhibition at the Halle Saint Pierre made to celebrates 25 years of Raw Vision, the first magazine published with the purpose of bringing outsider art to a wider audience.

The Halle Saint Pierre, a museum specializing in underground, outsider and folk art, located at the foot of the Sacré Cœur in Paris, always holds thought-provoking and sometimes disturbing exhibitions.

In the late ’80s, thanks to the establishment of private collections and conducting pioneering exhibitions, Art Brut was released from the confidentiality surrounding the first surveys of Dubuffet. The dynamism of its small network of enthusiasts was incommensurate with the excitement that accompanies today’s public, media and institutional recognition. At a time when the value of the professional contemporary art was questioned, the magazine showed the existence of an alternative art scene, misunderstood or ignored, where creative energy is accomplished against a hegemonic culture deemed materialistic, alienating and obsolete.

In this exhibition eighty artists from Europe , America, Africa, India and Japan are combined, illustrating the forms of expression deeply rooted in the human imagination and manifested through heroic creations: an expression that takes very different forms. Partly reflecting its influence, so-called “raw” art has won increasing recognition over the past couple of decades, with works entering museum collections and even, this year, making it into the Venice Biennale.

This is art that warrants close attention. Often superficial prettiness, even beauty, is a camouflage for a darker message. It is a reminder of the fine borderline between creativity and madness: a porous frontier zone inhabited by both outsiders and errant visionaries.

The « Raw vision » exhibition is an opportunity to see classic pieces that have marked the history of contemporary art brut, and also to discover major artists shown for the first time in Europe.

I have to say that I have been invited to exhibit in one of the series of Raw Vision in London. The deal was that I had to sell 20 tickets at £ 12 pounds each if I wanted to be included in the exhibition. No profit? Well...doesn't really seem to me.

Few of the artists in the exhibition:

Alois Corbaz was a Swiss artist included in Dubuffet's initial collection of psychiatric art. She is one of very few acclaimed female outsider artists. Although she dreamt of becoming a singer, she found work as a teacher and a governess at the court of German Kaiser Whillem II. While there, she developed an obsessive crush on the Kaiser that would lead to her being diagnosed with Schizophrenia and committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1918. She started drawing and writing poetry in secret circa 1920, but most of her early work has been destroyed. Her work is erotic, consisting primarily of beautiful women with voluptuous curves and flowing hair attended by lovers in military uniform. She used the vivid colors of crayons, pencils, and flower juice to fill entire sheets of paper.

Michel Nedjar was born near Paris in 1947. Both his Jewish parents emigrated to France in the early 1920’s.  Nearly all his grandmother’s family were deported during the war and died in concentration camps: his mother and grandmother survived by hiding on a farm in Brittany. His father developed a prosperous business as a master-tailor and Nedjar grew up amid garments and sewing machines, making his first dolls out of cast-off fabrics and tree roots, often playing with them in the cellar. After leaving school in 1961, he worked as an apprentice tailor for several years. Following a brief period of military service and a bout of tuberculosis, he set forth in 1970 on a series of momentous journeys that took him to Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal. By 1975 he had twice visited Mexico, as well as Belize and Guatemala, where the dolls sold in the marketplace fascinated him.  Back in Paris, he began fashioning his own fetish dolls out of rags, twigs, sacking and other flea market rubbish. At first colourful and comical, the dolls soon became sombre, unkempt and fearsome; some took the form of morbid totems saturated in mud and blood. Later on, he produced low reliefs of massed figures, making more and more conscious allusions to the Holocaust.

Josef Hofer was born in Bavaria. He never went to school, living in the isolation of the family farm. For nearly 40 years, Josef Hofer, who was a deaf-mute, established no social bonds. In 1982, on the death of his father, a wood turner, he moved in with a female cousin and gradually emerged from his closed existence. He subsequently became an inmate in a number of psychiatric institutions in Upper Austria. Since 1992 he has lived in a home where he attends the creative workshop. Drawing, which he has been engaged in since 1985, constitutes his sole means of expression. Josef Hofer directs an x-ray gaze at beings and things, offering a diversity of viewpoints in one and the same composition. His output is essentially devoted to the depiction of objects and interiors or exteriors, but also the human figure, which is his favourite theme. The naked bodies display poses in which sexuality plays a determining role.

Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern was born in Prussia in 1892 and  lived a peripatetic life marked in large part by ineptitude, indecency and insanity. He was a dairy farmer, a circus performer, a cigar seller, a horse thief, a blackmailer, a cult leader, a penal camp prisoner and an habitual asylum interned. Yet it was only after World War II, when Schröder-Sonnenstern was in his 50s and living amidst the hardships and deprivations of a splintered Germany, that he finally sank to his lowest level and became an artist. Indeed Schröder-Sonnenstern had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic as a child, and at 23 was declared by a doctor as ‘a phantasmic, eccentric dreamer’ suffering from ‘degenerate insanity’. Yet Schröder-Sonnenstern always denied he was mad. Instead he explained that he had learned his style from an insane painter he had met while in an asylum. Schröder-Sonnenstern’s work was ignored by a postwar German art scene concerned with abstraction. But it was lauded by the Surrealists, who, like Schröder-Sonnenstern, had, for years, been accused of being psychotic themselves. It is fitting that that the first photograph of Schröder-Sonnenstern that appears in the accompanying catalogue of this, the largest ever retrospective of his work in the United States, depicts him wincing in pain as he touches a hot stove. Depicting scenes of torture, grotesquery, scatology and deformity, all drawn in sickly crayon and coloured pencil, Schröder-Sonnenstern’s pictures speak of a world gone to hell. The characters in his work are grimacing women with a heart over their groin whips,  devil sucks at an angel’s teat, snakes crawl through buttocks, horses wear stockings, jesters whip sobbing donkeys.

Paul Toupet is a designer who was born in 1979 in Paris. Trained at the famous Penninghen art school and at the Workshop of Fine-Arts of Glacière in Paris, Paul Toupet has worked on the theme of human representation since 1996. Since May 1999, he displays his very particular and resolutely modern “Wax Puppets”: nucleated eyes, mouths vomiting braids, dressed in torn tissue or feathers, at a human or a child scale… His art sometimes evokes childhood, sometimes mummies, the charred bodies of Pompeii, it revisits African art or religious art. The work of Paul Toupet is the fruit of multiple influences which are mixed and embezzle to create a poetic or provocating , a peaceful or scary world, according to the spectator’s gaze. Dolls are spatial and temporal representations of the mores and folklore of a society.They materialise a certain conception of desire and phantasm. Paul Toupet pushes the spectator’s visual limits, revealing the fears, phantasm and morals of our societies.

Philadelphia Wireman is the working name given to an unknown artist responsible for approximately 1,200 small-scale wire-frame sculptures that were found by an art student abandoned on a street outside a transient home in Philadelphia in 1982. The artist is assumed to have access to tools required to bend some of the heavy-gauge wire in the sculptures; it is hypothesised that the sculptures were abandoned after their creator's death. Nothing is known about the artist's motives.

Mose Tolliver was born one of 12 children, his exact year of birth is unknown. During the late 1960s, after a severe injury (his legs were crushed when a load of marble shifted and fell from a forklift as he was sweeping in the furniture factory), he turned to painting to combat boredom and long hours of idle time. Tolliver was self-taught and he regularly worked with "pure house paint" creating whimsical and sometimes erotic pictures of animals, humans, and flora.  Never able to walk well following his injury, he painted many self-portraits with crutches. Watermelons and birds were also familiar themes. Tolliver's themes were drawn from his own experience. Tolliver was likely dyslexic which may have encouraged his artistic efforts by limiting his reading and writing abilities. He would often turn his paintings upside-down and paint the picture of perhaps an animal and landscape positioned from various directions.


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