Wednesday, 23 December 2015 03:41

Outsider artist receives international recognition at Paris exhibition

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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The distinct artistic style of C. George Poole is receiving recognition in the international art world.


Some of his artworks were included in the International Outsider Art Fair in Paris, France, from Oct. 22 to 26.
The 80-year-old artist, who currently resides in Swift Current, was unable to attend the event for health reasons.
He was represented at the art fair by Kim Houghtaling, the curator and director of the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC), and by master printmaker Gordan Novak, who has a printmaking studio in the village of Admiral, south of Swift Current.
A public reception in recognition of Poole’s achievement took place at the Lyric Theatre on Dec. 6. The event concluded an exhibition of his artwork at the theatre.
Poole was present at the event. There were presentations by Houghtaling and Novak about their attendance of the Outsider Art Fair.
“I was disappointed at first, because I didn’t get to go, but now, when they come back with everything, it was best that I wasn’t there,” Poole told the Prairie Post. “I would have been a distraction. They did such an excellent job of presenting my work.”
He currently lives at a retirement home in the city, but he is looking for a place near the downtown area where he will have more space to work on his art.
“I’m limited at the Bentley to the work that I can do,” he said. “So some of my work I have to hold over.”
The international interest in his work serves as a real motivation for him to continue to create new works of art.
“I’m like a school teacher,” he said. “I find the schools don’t really do a good job of teaching history. I try and teach history and to look at both sides of he situation.”
His artworks are two- or three-dimensional collages that include found objects as well as text.
“I try to show the good, the bad and the ugly, but also why, try and answer that,” he said. “I can’t always answer that, of course.”
He is inspired by the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers during the two world wars that made it possible for him to have the freedom to create art.
“Those soldiers went over there and fought for our freedoms,” he said. “They are the ones that I thank the most.”
He was born on a farm between Minnedosa and Neepawa in Manitoba, but spent most of his life in Alberta. He was a sheet metal journeyman and worked in refineries. He was exposed to asbestos and is a lung cancer survivor.
He moved to Saskatchewan about five years ago after his wife’s death. He purchased the old skating rink in Admiral, where he worked on his art and made friends with Novak.
According to Novak he was surprised when Poole showed him a painting of a ship. They started to have regular Sunday meetings to discuss art and Poole brought along sketches of his work.
“Suddenly he brought three pieces and I thought they were more than fantastic,” Novak said.
“Then came that open show that Kim is doing, and we entered a few pieces there and that’s how it all started.”
Poole’s work has been part of a number of AGSC exhibitions, including two Southwest Open summer exhibitions in the West Wing Gallery and the 2014 Summer Series exhibition at the main gallery.
“We have some very good folk artists in Saskatchewan and there’s a significant history of naive and folk art throughout Canada,” Houghtaling said. “So I recognized George’s approach, but what was significant about his pieces was the significant commitment to what he was doing. It’s large scale, constructed things that had a lot of input. He really worked at making different images and elements and components.”
He noted that Poole has an inventive approach and he is able to find “clever solutions” through the use of a variety of materials to make a statement in his work.
“When he was working on a piece, he would get an idea for something that he needed and he would spend time going out and finding it in order to make that work,” Houghtaling said. “That sort of inventiveness and commitment was impressive, and then the works just were so involving. You could spend time exploring all the little aspects of the stories he was trying to tell and the messages he was trying to make. They looked impressive and they are very interesting.”
Poole is a contemporary outsider artist. The term refers to self-taught artists who do not follow the conventions of the professional art world. They might not have the technical skills of trained artists, but their desire to make art will result in unique creative approaches.
Novak collaborates with many artists who use his skills as a printmaker and he will try to promote their works, but it is not easy to do that from his studio in Admiral.
“So I have to go around, I have to go see art fairs, I have to go see my dealers, which are from Toronto to Europe and China,” he said.
He applied to have Poole’s artworks included in the Outsider Art Fair in Paris, but was uncertain that it would happen.
“I really didn’t think they’re going to take us for a few reasons,” he said. “One is mine, because I really don’t have an open gallery, which you should have to apply on these kinds of things, and secondly because I thought George was too unknown, but they had seen the work and they said yes. So we went and had a great show.”
Novak was already working on projects in Europe before the start of the Outsider Art Fair. Houghtaling therefore travelled with the artworks to Paris, where he helped to install the works at the fair, which took place at the Hôtel du Duc, and also manned the exhibition space for Poole’s works.
“It basically was a hallway for people who were moving through the building,” he said. “So we were concerned that it would not necessarily be as good a space as we would have liked, but in fact it turned out quite well because everyone who came to the show passed down this hallway and walked right through George’s booth. What was quite delightful is they would just stop and spent some time, because this wasn’t a destination for them, but the art work was so instantly interesting to them.”
A French artist purchased one of Poole’s works and two other pieces have been acquired by the Museum of Everything, an independent international museum that collects the works of untrained and undiscovered artists.
“It’s outstanding because this is a highly-specialized, very international, well-respected museum that specializes in outsider artists,” Houghtaling said. “The curator liked George’s work, acknowledged the significance of it and wanted the two that he has now and wants more, because he believes that George is that significant.”
Two French art blogs featured Poole’s art, and a luxury lifestyle magazine plans to publish an article after the publisher saw his artworks at the fair.
According to Houghtaling it is typical for outsider artists to be discovered in this manner.
“That kind of discovery is classic in the outsider art world because that’s how all outsider artists are found,” he said. “They’re doing something on their own in isolation as an outsider and they’re discovered by someone and that’s when their work is brought in to more public settings.”
Novak believes the interest in Poole’s artworks is a result of his versatility as an artist.
“The pieces are really not too similar to each other,” he said.
“Many outsiders, when they hit their way of expressing, then they do the same trick over and over again. Definitely George is not doing that. … It’s a difficult thing to do and it doesn’t come easy. It has to be good, the work has to be good, and like everything else, you have to make people see it. You can be the greatest composer in Admiral, and do the beautiful music and nobody hears it and nobody ever knows about it.”

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