Sue Kreitzman and Anne Sophie Cochevelou

My epic painting of Sue Kreitzman and Anne Sophie Cochevelou is my own ode to Outsider Art.

This painting will be shown as part of Sue Kreitzman’s window display at Selfridges from 8  January 2015!

I am a trained artist with a degree, so in that sense I don’t fit the bill of ‘Outsider.’ However, I also don’t seem to fit in anywhere in the art world. I am not a conceptual artist. Nor am I a completely traditional painter. I am a Stuckist, which encompasses a huge variety of styles but is more of an attitude than a specific method of working. Some Stuckists can be outsiders; others have PhDs and successful careers.

When I met Sue (about 8 years ago, though it feels like I’ve known her longer), I felt a kindred spirit, another American who had been away so long we are more trans-Atlantic that a true citizen of either of our two countries, the UK and US. She was warm and welcoming and has been a steady and supportive friend throughout the years. Even though I don’t fit the “outsider” tag, Sue has included me in many shows, seeing that I have the spirit of the outsider, and just a bit of the madness.

I work mainly from photographs that I take myself. I also paint objects from life, though most people in my paintings are from photos. I took a departure in this painting of Sue and Anne Sophie: at times, I threw down my reference photos and painted purely from my imagination. The main people and objects in this painting are real; but there are places where I changed the dolls’ and memory jugs’ faces and accessories, drawing from deep recess of my subconscious. I exorcised demons. And not all of it is pretty.

Even with all the bright colours, I’ve been able to see a dark side to Sue’s work. She is not just making pretty objects – oh yes, they are pretty, and yes they are bold and colourful. But they are far from superficial. In my painting, I took the darkness and ran with it. There are some painful therapeutic moments in this piece that Sue herself is aware of. And yet the main point shines through: Sue is passing the baton to Anne Sophie, her young protégé. She is saying, be bold, be free, and be true to yourself. Express who you are, and don’t hold back. And whatever you do, “Don’t wear beige. It might kill you,” as Sue says.

The figures of Sue and Anne Sophie are emerging from a dark background, the cluttered shadows, where a Medusa sheds a tattooed tear. The work of another of Sue’s young protégés, John William, sneaks onto the canvas in several places, although the work was not in Sue’s house at the time; much of it was on display at the St Pancras Hospital Conference Centre, where Sue and many others have – and still are – displaying their brightly coloured art works.

On the right side of the canvas, I have included a portrait of the ladies from the television documentary Fabulous Fashionistas. Although this was only an online image at the time of the painting, it would not surprise me if the photograph was later printed and framed, the way it is in the painting.

The dog in the foreground was present at the first photo shoot I did for my first portrait of Sue, about 4 years ago. The much loved pet, Sue’s son’s dog, passed on. I had never put the dog in the original painting, so I added him here, as memento. Another painful memory is the crowned wooden figure in the bottom left of the canvas. This was a sculpture damaged in the tragic fire at Sue’s other home, in Cambridge. At the time I photographed Sue and Anne Sophie for this painting, the fire was recent. Sue was still sorting through the charred remnants of that fire, and salvaging what she could.

Including sadness in art is a way to move on from such sadness. As artists we have this gift that people in the beige world don’t have. We can express ourselves, and turn pain into beauty. And if we can communicate, and others can feel something from our work, then that is all the better.

I intended to make the entire right side of the canvas light. But in the bottom right corner, some monsters sneaked in. This was my moment of feeling like a true Outsider. I didn’t know where these were coming from, but the feeling of raw expression took me to a place that I had never been with merely copying photographs.

Spot the tiny self-portrait.. ok I’ll tell you. I’m the Medusa with the mermaid tail and the paint palette, scuttling away from the telephone. At the time I painted this, I wanted to avoid the phone, due to some very dull bureaucratic nonsense to do with Council Tax – I won’t bore you with the details, just want to say that painting is a glorious escape from real life.