Richard and I were both born in Africa, south of the equator. He was born in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and I in Mozambique. Richard, an Ashkenazic Lithuanian Jew on his father’s side and Irish on his mother’s, was raised in the Victorian tradition, in the fading light of the British Empire; while I, a Latin Roman Catholic, grew up amid the charm and cultural diversity of the nearly intact Portuguese Empire.
But what do a Zimbabwean pianist and a Mozambican sculptor from such di erent backgrounds have in com- mon? What else but Africa, that most extraordinary of continents, which has stayed true to itself despite the bloodthirsty, swaggering invaders (of whom we were involuntarily a part) who came from everywhere to impose their law and to plunder at their leisure; Africa, which gave us a taste for the natural, the primitive, the shared; which uncovered the hidden meaning of things and helped us to appreciate mystery and the spirit of inanimate objects.
In Paris, where Richard and I have long navigated among ever-changing art brut, neuve invention and art singulier, the Halle Saint Pierre has for some time been focused on what the British and Americans, particularly Roger Cardinal, call “outsider art” (art brut, literally “raw” or “rough” art). We have been heavily influenced by museums featuring artbrut,especially Jean Dubuffet’s extraordinary collection – warmly embraced by the Swiss after being rejected by the French – in Lausanne. These artists live in their own world. They build monuments to intelligence, sensitivity and freedom. And they do so out of nothing, often in secret, without the slightest financial incentive. Just like cave art, or African and tribal art, the work of outside artists has no explicit purpose. Rather, these pieces are monologues, conversation with the self, with the past and future, tentative dialogues with others or with the Supreme Being: far away, vague, intangible. Consequently their work becomes timeless, classic.
Free of the limitations of belonging to an identifiable school, these artists create surprising, original, impudent works, inspired sometimes by whimsy, sometimes by necessity. They offer us a moment of shelter from the incessant, mercantile assaults of speculators, marketers, industrial art, corporate artists and all those under their influence.
Let the marketers lie in wait for that next magic carpet to appear. I believe that it has already taken flight.
Into this era of globalization, standardization, sheep-like behavior and endless repetition, art brut brings a fresh, more human inspiration. For more than 20 years in our gallery in Saint-Germain des Près, Richard and I aimed to enjoy ourselves with art brut,art singulier(a movement on the fringe of art brut) and art méchanique, and to share our pleasure with those around us, despite the artists’ often unpredictable and unmanageable moods.
Because it is not stored in our neurons and is often light years from the images warehoused in our brains, the visual aspect of these art forms – disconcerting, often hard to digest and dificult to grasp – fulfills its role: to be out of place in a bank, disruptive in an insurance agency, awkward in the muffled calm of apartments considered chic.
The result of uprootedness, discontent, madness, obsession, solitude and other, nameless feelings, art brut crystallizes the unconscious desires of its creators – rare, sensitive and uncontrollable – whose work merits a prominent place in the history of art and mankind.
Should the day come when such artists stop unsettling their contemporaries, fall into line, be easily matched with drapes and rugs, comply with the rules of marketing, or aim at shock for its own sake, I believe that the death of art, so often predicted, would be imminent. Fear of new representations, of power, of the mind, and of the unknown induce some people, including some with the financial means to support true creation, to refrain from exploring new worlds. Such people hide behind insipid, bland, odorless abstraction, or in lethargic, outdated images: risk-free works made of the nest materials money can buy. They trail after art critics, their partners in crime, or simply buy the biggest names, regardless of the quality of the work.
So is the bell tolling for real artists in a world where official and speculative art constitute an asset class ? Where there is unabashed taste for commercial art, with its comforting shades and hues, borrowed images cleverly painted, gilt frames and precious materials (the very mention of bronze or marble can make any object worthy of interest)? Where curiosity and esthetic boldness have disappeared?
Perhaps not. Definitely not for art brut and other fringe artists, who produce their work like an oyster its pearl, in order to save themselves, heal themselves – simply to live.
Art is a door wide open, the crossroads of a thousand paths, not all of which lead to paradise. Follow the signs indicating “art brut and fringe”. That’s where the real journey begins.
Antonio Saint Silvestre