Wild Art is a manifesto. Wild Art is an argument. Wild Art is a radical plea for artistic inclusivity. It is also, more simply, an adventurous collection of non-traditional misfit artworks. Published by Phaidon in a shiny silvery tome, authors David Carrier and Joachim Pissarro develop the idea that “there is no difference between judging a tattoo, graffiti or a sand sculpture and an abstract painting in a museum.”
Carrier and Pissarro begin with Raphael’s Transfiguration (1516–20), the Italian Renaissance master’s final work. For them, Transfiguration sits at the centre of the canonic and bureaucratic art world. On the opposite page is a photograph of a vert skateboarder, Christian Hosoi, whose Trick Christ Air (1987) is captured in mid-air. The two pieces couldn’t be more different but the book’s case is clear: “the mainstream art world has trained us to ignore whole genres and species of objects because they do not fit its criteria of acceptability.” Carrier and Pissarro ask what really separates mainstream from wild art, and in doing so expose us to their conception of a more inclusive art over some 450 pages.
With tall A4 sized pages, Wild Art gives pride of place to its images: tattoos, graffiti, dresses made of bread, towering sand sculptures and the world’s largest deck chair. Its first chapter, ‘Street smART’, is on graffiti, and kicks off with a quotation from Nathan Barley impersonator and make-u-think guru Banksy. Tracing the history of writing on walls back to the Roman Empire and beyond, Carrier and Pissarro persuasively shout back at those who label graffiti as vandalism. The photos themselves are pretty solid, featuring subway murals by Flint 707 and Blade, as well as wall pieces such as ‘MADE U LOOK’ by the outstanding Utah. It also contains an anonymous piece from 2012, where the infamous Saltburn Yarnbombers attached 50m of knitted artwork, depicting various Olympic sports, to the Victorian pier in Saltburn, North Yorkshire.
Wild Art’s following nine chapters pay tribute to body art, food art and pieces that push against the taboos of any given society. In one of the book’s funniest and weirdest passages, more than ten pages are dedicated to different kinds of toilet-related artwork: one woman wears a dress made of toilet paper while another battles her own excrement in an avant-garde ballet piece. Perhaps the most interesting chapter is ‘Go Ape!’, which asks whether animals can be artists in the same way humans can. Amongst elephant and pig-made art, there’s a convincing action painting that looks almost like a De Kooning, except that it was made by an insect scampering over a canvas.
What’s definitely clear is that this is a progressive, inclusive and eye-opening look at an art world outside of the mainstream. The authors’ enthusiasm, too, captures the attention as much as the art does, making this a very readable book. More conservative and sceptical readers may be turned off by its confrontational tone, but for me Wild Art was not confrontational enough. It begins with an ardent fist-pump for new art yet quickly retreats behind a wall of examples, letting the art speak for itself. Sometimes this pays off, however at other times it does not. The book’s refrain is a good example of this slight disappointment: “art is not always things made by people who call themselves artists”, they shout. Yes, but don’t we already know that?
Wild Art is available now, priced £24.95.