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5 August 2009

Marc Steene, Head of Learning, explains some of the reasoning behind the 'Outside In' competition, due to become a national event by 2011.

pen and ink drawing cartoon figures dancing Ashley Reaks

Colin Slames’s 50th birthday party (detail) Collage, pen and ink, by Ashley Reaks

Image: Ashley Reaks

'Outside In' is a groundbreaking project which was set up by Pallant House Gallery in 2006. It provides a platform for artists who are marginalised due to health, disability or other social circumstances. The main focus of 'Outside In' is the exhibition of the biennial Open Art Competition, which this year has been held across the whole of the South of England. The competition offers a series of awards and an opportunity to have a residency or solo exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex.

Based on the previous 'Outside In' exhibition for marginalised artists in Sussex in 2007, we had predicted around 400 entries for the South of England and by the closing date we had received over 800. This overwhelming response has proven the need and relevance of 'Outside In' to many artists and organisations.

We are only just scratching the surface. There are many artists in the region who we had not reached who I have since heard from or about. This is one of our enduring challenges: how do we reach those artists who by their nature are hard to reach?

In valuing and respecting creativity, the project aims to break down the barriers in art galleries, where the educated, informed and articulate hold sway and make decisions about who enters their collections or gets exhibited. 'Outside In' is a gentle revolution, bringing the outside in and enabling artists to be hung on the walls of a prestigious gallery alongside recognised names. This is not an apologetic or well meaning act; the work produced by these 500 or so artists ranks as some of the strongest and most interesting work that I have had the privilege of seeing.

Photo of 2 men in doorway Pallant House Gallery

Ben Nicholson meeting the self-taught Cornish artist Alfred Wallis. Photo by Christopher Wood courtesy of Pallant House Gallery

Image: Pallant House Gallery

One image stands out, acting almost as a talisman for 'Outside In'. It is a photograph taken by the British artist Christopher Wood, of his friend and fellow artist, Ben Nicholson, meeting the self-taught Cornish artist Alfred Wallis for the first time.

Although recreated after their meeting, it is a powerful image. It shows two starkly contrasting personalities, the tall well-dressed Nicholson reaching out, sketchbook under arm, dwarfing the locally-dressed Wallis. Is Nicholson about to enter Wallis's house or touch him on the shoulder? Why is Wallis keeping his one hand behind his back, is he holding a picture? But the real question I ask myself is why did Wood take the photograph? They must have realised the good fortune that had put this unique talent in their path, this artist who was to have such a profound impact on their own art.

I am firmly convinced that but for this chance encounter Alfred Wallis would have died in obscurity, his work lost forever, but instead he now hangs among the great and the good in many collections around the world, as at Pallant House Gallery.

Working with contemporary marginalised artists, 'Outside In' also retells the stories and researches into the history of these artists. Even though Wallis's work shares gallery walls with the likes of Nicholson and Wood, they are labelled as sophisticated and part of an art lineage, whereas Wallis, being outside of this art historical approach, is instead labelled as a primitive, naive or self-taught artist.

As my art tutor, the British artist Jeffery Camp, once said to me: 'You don't need to be taught to create'. 'Outside In' provides the same opportunity that Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson had on that day in St. Ives, when they discovered Alfred Wallis acting as a showcase for artists who might not otherwise have been discovered.

'Outside In' is at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1TJ, from 4 August'–'8 November 2009.

For more information, including details of the Step Up programme, talks by Chris Hipkiss and Gilles Ganachaud and the 'Outside In' Film Festival go to www.outsidein.org.uk

To coincide with 'Outside In', an exhibition of the famous outsider artist Scottie Wilson is on exhibition in the Prints Room at Pallant House Gallery. For more information go to www.pallant.org.uk

dao editor Colin Hambrook discusses the meaning of Outsider art and its relevance to 'Outside In'

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