Monthly Archives: July 2013

Canadian sculptor: Pierre Racine



Racine:  Birdman (Bronze, 22x11x9 inches)

One of the perks of my life as a blogger is that I hear from readers all over the world. One such reader is a sculptor, Pierre Racine, from Quebec, Canada. While Racine is not an outsider artist, his sculpture has the “feeling” of some outsider work I saw recently. For this reason, I am taking a detour from my usual outsider art discoveries to introduce you to his work.


Racine: Bowing to the Fertility Gods (Bronze, 13x9x4 inches)

Last month I attended a conference at the Prinzhorn Museum in Heidelberg, Germany. I was delighted to see a small part of the permanent collection, like the work by Karl Brendel (1871 – 1925). Brendel’s work began (strangely) when he modeled figures out of chewed bread. He was encouraged to begin wood carving and he left a collection of animal, hermaphrodite, and religious figures, like this one below:

untitledI’m not suggesting that Racine is (or should be) in a psychiatric hospital, but I get the same sense of intrigue when I look at his work. What are these magical creatures and what makes me want to pick them up to examine the details and feel the textures? They are beautiful and strange, and strangely beautiful.

I exchanged a few emails with Racine to learn about his work. He has worked in various mediums, including drawing, painting, installations, clay, stone, paper-pulp, and for the past 20 years, bronze. Racine has a degree in Fine Arts from Concordia University. He has an impressive history of exhibits, both national and international and his work is owned by Canadian and international collectors. Racine has travelled the world, and his interest in Latin and South America has taken him there many times. His love of Pre-Columbian art comes through in his sculpture; I can see that influence in shapes and rich patinas of his sculptures.


Racine says this about his work:

It may be difficult for the observer to grasp the hidden messages in my work as it can be interpreted in many different ways. My main preoccupation with sculpture, however, is mastering the use of techniques, materials, composition and the physical properties of form and line, for the sheer pleasure of creating strong, original, and aesthetically pleasing works of art.

The meaning behind my work can be found in the intrinsic qualities of the objects themselves, as both symbolic and virtual expressions. Using metaphors and symbols allows additional freedom to create unique objects that generate a life and existence of their own within the confines of conceptual and abstract-figurative art. My art is a product of ideas that communicates a strong personal message in unconventional ways.

Racine is not influenced by any particular art movement and remains true to his own vision. That may be one of the reasons I am drawn to his work, as I am with outsider art. It is highly expressive, unique, and makes me want to see more.

You can see more of Pierre Racine’s artwork on his website:

Conference: Ethical Issues in Outsider Art


I attended an International conference on outsider art in May. It was held at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where the Prinzhorn collection is housed. The conference was initiated by the Prinzhorn collection and the European Outsider Art Association.

About 75 people attended the conference, most of them from European outsider art organizations like museums, studios and educational institutions. It was an incredible experience to be with a group of people who live and breathe outsider art; for once I didn’t have to explain what outsider art is and why I love it.

Over two days, papers were presented  (and lively discussions followed) on ethical issues around outsider art.  There were two main topics: dealing with outsider artists and the ownership of outsider art. We discussed the artists’ rights to equality; the viewpoints of artists, gallerists, psychiatrists and art promoters; and the ownership of outsider art. I’ll give you more details in upcoming blogs.

The most animated discussion was around ownership of outsider art: who has access to it, what permissions are needed, and so on.  One organization, for example, is working with psychiatric hospitals  in Germany to gain access to and archive their patients’ artwork.  Some hospitals have agreed to join the project, while others have not.

There was some grumbling about institutions that will not release their patients’ artwork (when the patient cannot give his or her own consent). There was a feeling that it is in the “public interest” to document this artwork. While I agree that it would be interesting to see the work, I can understand the institution’s position. Looking at it from a legal perspective (which I can’t help doing), there is no “right of access” to anything in the doctor/patient file, particularly by a group of strangers!  (An exception, of course, would be if there were an investigation into the practices of the institution and a need to access medical files and hospital records.) By denying access, the hospital is protecting their patients’ privacy – and so they should. If you were incapable of making the decision yourself, would you want your private artwork to be exposed to the public? I think not. A great deal of this artwork is produced from a place of trauma, and it is simply not appropriate to wretch that artwork from the hands of the creator and his or her care-giver. Period.

I expressed an unpopular view with respect to deceased artists. Some people were of the view that once an artist has died (and the next-of-kin are not available to consent), the artwork is available for public viewing. In my opinion, and aside from the legal ownership issues (to be discussed in a future blog), the curator must be extremely sensitive in deciding whether to exhibit the artwork. For example, if the artist has portrayed a traumatic event in graphic detail (such as sexual abuse), perhaps it is just “not right” to show that work to the world. Remember again:  the work was created in a private setting, for personal reasons. Would you want the world to know of your personal, private Hell even after you were dead? Probably not.

What is your view?


The Prinzhorn Collection


I’m back on track (sort of) after returning from the conference in Heidelberg  and finishing a course on visual culture.  I have a lot to report.

The International conference was initiated by the Prinzhorn Collection and the European Outsider Art Association to discuss ethical questions around outsider art. It was held at the University of Heidelberg, where the Prinzhorn collection is housed. Since 2001, the collection has been on display in a former oratory of the University of Heidelberg and it has always been my dream to go there.

I don’t know what I expected or hoped to see – maybe a museum the size of a large house. In the photograph above, the museum is in a couple of rooms on the ground floor of the tall building in the foreground.


Sadly, the museum is very small, and only a tiny (very tiny) portion of  the permanent collection is on display at any one time. I saw a cabinet of original wood carvings by former psychiatric patients under the care of Hans Prinzhorn. You would recognize the carvings because they have appeared in almost every outsider art book published (like the one by Karl Brendel to the left). I approached the cabinet with a shock of recognition – the carvings were so familiar to me, but still surprising to see the real thing. They are small – something that is difficult to appreciate when seeing a photograph in a book. They are all about 12 inches (30 cm) tall, but the carvings are detailed and exquisite. I wished that I could hold them. I am always struck by the incredible creativity and imagination in every piece of outsider art that I see, and these were no exception.

The entrance to the museum holds a reception desk, a couple of benches,  a very small collection of books, and a few postcards. The main exhibit room is quite large, with a balcony that wraps around 3 sides of the room.

73a2c67d24Currently on exhibit is the work of Ovartaci (1849 – 1985), from Denmark (shown below). The theme of much of his work is transformation; he castrated himself in his transition from male to female. Other life-sized paintings and paper mache figures are fantastical creatures representing various reincarnation cycles of his life – a butterfly, bird, puma, and tiger. His own painted bed is the centre-piece of the exhibit, in a re-creation of his room in the psychiatric hospital.

Around the balcony were a few drawings from the permanent collection, as well as gorgeous photographs by Ono Ludwig, also on the theme of gender roles.

The most peculiar thing (to me) was the curator’s decision to refer to Ovartaci as “he” when Ovartaci clearly identified as female. I asked why that decision had been made and was told that the original biographical/archival material referred to Ovartaci as a male, and they decided to follow that decision. I doubt that the same decision would be made in North America…