New exhibition Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection brings together a host of visually stunning works
in a wide range of media. Bold, blocky coloured pencil drawings hang beside tightly detailed scratchings in biro; chunky, expressive sculptures sit below elegantly abstract geometric patterns in pen. Souzou is full of works that are carefully executed, aesthetically striking and overall memorable for their originality; by conventional measures and in formal terms, the exhibition could be called a success. But this is not a conventional art exhibition as such. You are unlikely to have heard of any of the artists, and they haven’t thought about you as an audience. Neither are they particularly interested in – even aware of – their work’s marketability, or, in some cases, the fact that it is on display at all. All of the works brought together for the Souzou exhibition were created by adults with a range of mental disorders and illnesses, living in social welfare facilities across Honshu, Japan’s largest island. Souzou is a Japanese word that can be translated as either creation or imagination. Some of the works convey or communicate a particular idea or experience, others fulfil an essentially private function; in all cases there is little to no engagement with history and theory. In some ways, this exhibition represents a purer form of art-making, unshackled from a debilitating awareness of critical reception and the art market. The works are very personal to the individual’s particular outlook or perception of the world. Toshiko Yamanishi writes love letters to her mother in the form of multicoloured swirls of jagged patterns; Shota Katsube creates brilliant little action figures out of shiny bin-ties; Ryoko Koda reduces his name to one unique character and repeats it again and again in artfully arranged geometric patterns. Exhibitions of ‘Outsider Art’ like this one always throw into question what it is that defines the ‘Insiders’ of the (fictional) concept of a singular and cohesive Art World. The Wellcome Collection’s exhibition offers an alternative kind of self expression through the visual arts and is not to be missed. (Words: Florence Ritter) Souzou: Outside Art from Japan, Wellcome Collection, runs until Sunday 30 June 2013. Click here for more info.