more than one voice

Monday, January 28, 2013

Outside art at the owl house

I have a fascinating with outsider art, with the people who create these works, their stories, and their pure creative genius that is not tarnished by mainstream thinking about art.  They are raw and authentic, practicing their craft from a deep internal need for creative release without concern for technique or critique. They work outside the fine art system; they produce from the depths of their own personalities and for no one else but themselves. They do not follow fashion or tradition and care little what people might think about their work – they need to create and they do.

One of South Africa’s most famous outside artist is Helen Martins.  She lived in a small Karoo town called Nieu Bethesda, a dry dusty speck of a place.  Here she created wonderful sculptures in concrete and broken glass, mixing the two together to create ever changing colour and texture. She was misunderstood in the small conservative dorp where she lived. A sad figure, who was too shy to mix with people.  She hardly ate, spending the little money she had on supplies to build her sculptures.

Reading her biography I was transported into her world, into her imagination, I had a glimpse into her all-consuming need to create.  I was left with the sense that even after reading the book and seeing her work, there was still a mystery surrounding her.  Why did she really create all those strange sculptures?  What demons was she fighting? Did her creations bring her peace?  I suppose these questions will never be answered.  I think that is the beauty of outside art, we are left asking questions and feeling fragile after entering the world of the artist, we are left contemplating our own fragility and vulnerability. It is raw, honest and possibly the most real art there is.
Sculptures at the Owl House 


  1. This is such an interesting post Clare...thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you Clare for introducing me to this artist! I found such a wealth of information on her on the internet!! What an amazing remarkable and mysterious woman she was! Never paying attention to opinions of the people living next to her, who not have been particularly fond of her, especially after she welcomed into her life the colored helper, who became a friend.
    I saw a lot more of her work, her sculptures in the yard, and the glass murals and mirrors in her house. I discovered that there is a play written about her by Athol Fugard, called The Road to Mecca, which was later made into a movie, starring Kathy Bates.
    And in knowing you a bit, it is clear to me, how much you are drawn into her silent marvelous artistic world. I by myself am in awe and wonder of it...

  3. Love her freedom and passion, thank´s for sharing :)

  4. Thank you Clare for your beautiful beautiful words on my blog. and then i come here, and as corny as it sounds, i teared up seeing these sculptures after reading your words (you write so beautifully). Thank you for sharing all of these photos, so wondrous to one who was born and raised in California. It seems so intriguing to live where you do! i am on my way over to look up this special woman. xoxo

  5. love to you, clare,
    to your uniqueness,
    to your inside,
    + the art of your out.

  6. What a wonderfully inspiring post, thankyou Clare. I like ..."from the depths of their own personalities and for no one else but themselves" This is something I really need to hear right now, having been stuck in a creative rut for a while. Thankyou.xx

  7. Lovely message in your art. Interesting story about this artist, Thank-you

  8. Now I must look her up. Stories like this are so inspiring ~to create like that without encouragement or mentors, but for the love and passion of it! I love your art paired with these words.

    P.S. Your encouragement today...thanks for understanding me.

  9. Interesting! I too am interested in outsider art. There was a wonderful exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum four years ago about James Castle, and he was my amazing introduction to outsider art. If you have a chance to read about him, you should!

  10. Oh wow, amazing scultpures! Roll on summer hey, so we can get out and make some garden sculptures lol! Much love!

  11. need to create to the point of obsession, possible starvation! What a world she created for herself with those figures, life sized, her friends....


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