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In Providence, a gallery brings the 'outside' in

Exhibitions, Etc.
By LIZ LEE  |  August 13, 2014

"GOOD ART IS GOOD ART" Works and the poster from the exhibit.

“Heaven knows that Rod Stewart’s bikini is very gross,” Amy Ethier says to an enthusiastic audience during a performance at 186 Carpenter Street. It’s Friday evening, August 8, and she stands reading from torn and wrinkled sheets of paper, shifting her weight from one foot to another, turning once to ask a friend if it’s OK to skip over the word “was.” Her spoken-word piece is part of the opening for “Up Close and Outside,” the current exhibit in the Carpenter Street gallery, featuring “stories, conversations, and weird messages” from the folks at Resources for Human Development (RHD).

RHD is an art-based nonprofit that serves adults with a range of disabilities through studio classes, community engagement, and artist management services. Ethier is somewhat of a rock star among her RHD peers on account of her poetry, the subjects of which range from the nonsensical and silly — “Oh, pocket pickles!” — to dark and strange alternate realities where people vomit on one another’s knees and eat each other’s wrists for dinner. It’s not always comfortable, but discomfort can come with the territory often referred to as “outsider art.”

That term originated in the 1970s as a variant of “art brut,” a label used to describe work created outside of the official art scene. While it’s often applied to artists who have physical or mental disabilities or who have suffered from mental illness, it’s also an umbrella term for work created by anyone who is culturally marginalized, untrained, or simply unaware they’re even making art.

RHD art director John Hoder says that while that label isn’t perfect, it’s the most efficient way to describe and promote what RHD clients do. “They have no formal art education and their work exists outside of the establishment,” he says. “But really the bottom line is that good art is good art.”

The work included in “Up Close and Outside” is a quilt of text-based art: handwritten stories, colorfully printed alternate versions of the alphabet, Sharpie renderings of electric guitars paired with hand-written lists of bands like Scorpions and Mötley Crüe. The installation will evolve as artists and staff members collaborate on new work during the show’s gallery hours (Tuesdays from 11 am to 1:30 pm through September 16).

In addition to its temporary residency at Carpenter Street, RHD holds weekly workshops at other local arts organizations like the Avenue Concept and AS220, as part of an ongoing effort to bring participants’ art — and the artists who create it — out of the fringe and into public spaces. “Everyone [at RHD] is very passionate about creating opportunities for our artists to interact with the community whenever they can,” says Hoder. “I feel like that’s the most important thing.”

In keeping with that mission, the public is welcome to stop in and collaborate during Carpenter Street gallery hours, or to simply check out the show and enjoy RHD’s artist-run pop-up coffee shop.

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