In 2013, the rugby analyst and outsider art enthusiast Brent Pope hosted an RTE documentary on outsider artists in Ireland. I only became aware of this program last year. However, I was very excited to see a TV program celebrating talented and creative Irish individuals outside the mainstream art market. Outsider art (for those who don’t know) was coined in 1972 by the art critic Roger Cardinal (1940-2019). He defined it as an internationally recognised category of self-taught art, “which rests on the notion that art-making is a widespread human activity reaching far beyond the world of public galleries, teaching institutions and culturally marked art production” (Cardinal, 2009). He wrote, “it refers confidently to an actual fund of original work produced by untutored creators of talent whose expressions convey a strong sense of individuality” (ibid). It is from this art category that I began my research inquiry, which contemplates the connections between Carl Jung’s visionary/psychological mode of creativity, insider/outsider art, and cultural/non-cultural art.
After watching this documentary, I was very excited. I was particularly drawn to the unusual compositions created by the Wicklow-based artist Alan Doyle. Doyle works almost every day. He creates these curious anthropomorphic characters in uncomfortable and distressing situations. During our interview, he described:
“I try to work every day. I try to make at least one drawing or painting. Or I take my camera out and take some photos. Some days are better than others. I chase an urge to make marks, to put something in and get something back from it. It often doesn’t go the way I want; there can be mud or gold in that hole. There are conflicts, sometimes the work becomes too tight, and I find myself pushing back against it and the need to make loose and fast work pulls at my chest.”
This physical need to create is synonymous with Jung’s description of the visionary mode. With this mode, an individual is no longer thinking with logic. Instead, creativity forces itself upon the artist, bringing its own form – producing imagery that is no longer familiar. Instead, “it is something strange that derives its existence from the hinterland of man’s mind” (Jung, 1930). Or, as Brent Pope states, “I have never seen any art like it. It’s really out there, in a good way.”
During the interview, Doyle described how he felt a ‘kinship’ towards many outsider artists. He explained, “I was in my early twenties when I discovered art brut or outsider art, and it had a big influence on me – specifically, artists that were self-taught and making work for themselves.” However, he was aware of the so-called ‘artworld’ from early on.
“I loved Francis Bacon, Jean Michel Basquiat and early Jackson Pollock. When I was 18, I went to Berlin for a few days by myself, and I spent the entire time going to galleries and museums. I got to see work by Picasso, Pollock, Klee, Anselm Kiefer and many others. That trip had a big impact on me. I haven’t yet gotten to see his work in the flesh by Martin Disler is an artist I love. Equally, the photographer Daido Moriyama is another artist I admire.”
I struggle with understanding how to use the outsider art label. Does an outsider artist become an insider once he/she is accepted by mainstream culture? Can Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo, and Vincent van Gogh be considered outsider artists because they didn’t attend art school? The art historian Colin Rhodes also shares his bafflement, by explaining:
In recent years, the term outsider art has begun to be used extensively to describe a bewildering range of artistic activity situated outside or in opposition to mainstream concerns. While it is surely desirable to maintain flexibility, there is a danger of the term becoming all-inclusive and therefore, meaningless (Rhodes, 2000).
This point is important to consider. Additionally, the scholar of folklore studies, Daniel Wojcik describes how the term has become problematic. He states, “those who condemn the idea of the outsider art genre argue that the term is dehumanising, ultimately reinforcing notions of ‘artist as other’ – and marking individuals as pathological or primitive in relation to normal people and culture” (Wojcik, 2008). I think that culture has become more inclusive, causing the nullity of the insider/outsider genre. It seems relevant to reframe the category – that is why I suggest looking at analytical psychology to consider their evolving conversation on art and creativity. However, let’s put these thoughts aside and hear more from the artist Alan Doyle who creates wonderful visionary images.
Do you consider yourself a professional artist? Did you actively pursue a career in the arts, and was it something you always wanted to do?
I have always made things. I was always drawing on paper or scratching on walls. I’ve wanted to be an artist since I was very young. I still want to be an artist over anything else. I don’t know if I would say I’m a professional. I don’t have a gallery or anything like that. However, I have been lucky enough to show my work in public a few times. I would really like the work to get out there and be seen. I make the work for myself, and I want it to breathe and live in the world.
Your work is often dreamy and dark. Do you draw heavily from dreams to create your imagery? What is your process from the initial idea to the final piece?
I wouldn’t say I am influenced by my dreams specifically, not in a direct way. Things feed in from everywhere, whether it be an image on the TV or photograph, a poem, or a scrap of a misremembered dream, or a painting that came before or a few years before, maybe from music. I try to be open and let the work happen.
Who are your favourite artists, and is there anyone influencing the work you create today?
I am influenced by many artists, some since childhood and some that I may have just discovered online or in a magazine. I was probably in my early twenties when I discovered art brut or outsider art, and It had a big influence on me – specifically, artists who were self-taught and making work for themselves outside of the ‘artworld.’ I felt a kinship with many of these artists, I still do. But I was aware of the so-called ‘artworld.’ I loved Francis Bacon, Jean Michel Basquiat and early Jackson Pollock. When I was 18, I went to Berlin for a few days by myself, and I spent the entire time going to galleries and museums. I got to see work by Picasso, Pollock, Klee, Anselm Kiefer, and many others. That trip had a big impact on me. I haven’t yet gotten to see his work in the flesh, but Matin Disler is an artist I love. Equally, the photographer Daido Moriyama is another artist I admire.
Do you have a personal philosophy in life?
I don’t have any personal philosophies. But, I do try and work every day. I try to make at least one drawing or painting. Or, I take my camera out and take some photos. Some days are better than others. I chase an urge to make marks, to put something in and get something back from it. It often doesn’t go the way I want; there can be mud or gold in the hole. There are conflicts, sometimes the work becomes too tight, and I find myself pushing back against it, and the need to make loose and fast work pulls at my chest.
Do you have any favourite pieces of work?
The most recent work is often a temporary favourite. Looking back at older work, I can like a piece or pieces, but then there are works that I wouldn’t want to see leave because I like to have them around to occasionally look at and try to understand why I like them. But, as I said before, I do want the work to get out into the world and live amongst others. Plus, it’s nice to make room for new work to pile up.
Tell me about the technical process of making a piece. For example, what materials do you use?
At the moment, the material I use most is carbon pencils. I love the black you get from those. I often draw in sketchbooks – there is one type I’ve been using since last year that has a nice off-white ivory paper. I’ve also been using Fabiano paper which is also quite nice. For paintings, I mainly use acrylic paint on canvas, but I also enjoy painting on paper. I’ve been playing around with sand recently on some smaller paintings; it creates a nice surface. I also like to work with Indian Ink. I used to draw a lot with fine line pens and wax crayons. I did that for many years. I’ve also been playing around with oil paint, which is beautiful and versatile. However, I have been finding the drying time frustrating. But, as long as I have a surface and something that makes a mark, I’m happy.
To see more work, follow the artist at https://www.instagram.com/alandoyleart/.
(Images were used with permission from the artist).
Cardinal, R., 1972. Outsider Art. United Kingdom: Praeger.
Rhodes, C., 2001. Exquisite Vistas. In: Private Worlds, Outsider and Visionary Art. UK: Orleans House Gallery.
Wojcik, D., 2008. Outsider Art, Vernacular Traditions, Trauma and Creativity. Western Folklore, 67(2/3), pp. 179-198.