Ah, the Zeitgeist. What's happening? I'll tell you what's happening. Old ladies are the new black. Or the new something. Old ladies are everywhere, and they are stunning. Ari Seth Cohen began the trend with his ground-breaking blog, Advanced Style. Captured by Ari's camera, in exquisitely put together dignity, or, more often than not, colourfully zany eccentricity, defying old fashioned views of aging, living life with gusto. Filmmaker Sue Bourne has continued the rise of old ladies in the public consciousness with her recently completed documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas (I was lucky enough to be one of her subjects, aired on Channel Four, in the UK), celebrating a group of older women's glory and refusal to conform to society's view of them as over the hill, kaput, on the scrap heap. Old ladies get stronger and smarter, have adventures never dreamt of in younger days, and even become amazingly influential and beautiful - without Botox and plastic surgery! Menopause? The empty nest? They equal FREEDOM!!
So what does this have to do with Outsider Art?
In the late 90's (I was in my late 50's) I had an Epiphany. You might say that the muse bit me in the bum. While editing the proofs of my 27th cookbook, my hand picked up a marker, and drew a mermaid on a piece of scrap paper. It was inadvertent; up to that moment, despite my lifelong love of colour and folk art, I was famously bad at doing any sort of art myself. Couldn't draw, couldn't paint, couldn't even doodle worth a damn. Yet there she was - a snake festooned, edgy, raw arty mermaid, wearing a fish for a hat, and looking very pleased with herself indeed. In that profound moment, my life changed. I turned my back on a very well established food writing and broadcasting career and began drawing obsessively. Drawing led to painting. Then the fashioning of assemblages studded with all manner of detritus. I could no more stop my plunge into weird art than I could stop breathing or eating. I had become an Outsider Artist of sorts, working entirely outside the margins of the mainstream art world.
Like many Outsider Artists, I work completely by instinct, and make up techniques as I go along. While I am fashioning a piece, the control quickly passes from me to the burgeoning female entity. It almost becomes a living thing, and virtually creates itself, with little help from me. As a result, I always find it very hard to part with the final creature. I like to think of myself as logical, intelligent and articulate, but I have no explanation for any of this. Do I enjoy it? Hell yes. I now eat, breathe and dream art. I wear it. It surrounds me and defines my life. I don't like to analyse this obsessive lifestyle too deeply because I fear that one day it will vanish as abruptly as it appeared, so I just hang on and enjoy the wild ride.
Years have passed. I'm 73 years old, a Wild Old Woman, now a curator of Outside Art as well as an artist. I firmly believe that Outsider Art - obsessive and untutored, coming from the guts of the artist and following no rules but the artist's own - does not belong in 'white cube' galleries, does not belong in the hands of the commercial art world. But, alas, it is creeping into the zeitgeist and becoming a firm favourite with those who buy for investment, who consider art a commodity. Prestige and commerce rule in the conventional art world. I want Outsider Art to have an adoring audience, and I certainly don't want the artists to starve, but approach it with passion, buy it because you have a visceral reaction to it, because you can't live without it, it makes you pant, sweat, shiver, and horripilate.
So here I am, growing ever older, simply dripping with zeitgeist, making art, collecting art and artists, and mounting blockbuster Outsider Art shows. My group exhibitions are like Disneyland for very peculiar adults. Magic, ritual, strange humor, private mythologies: all of this makes Outsider Art almost unbearably exciting, both in the making and the viewing. It's the passion that really puts it over the top. I will never tire of it.
Sue Kreitzman is co-curator of 'Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art', The Conference Centre, St Pancras Hospital, London (26th September - 28 November 2013)
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