Bringing together fascinating and diverse works from The Ingram Collection and award-winning charity Outside In, our Upper Gallery exhibition, The Outside and The Inside, provides a unique opportunity to discover new artists and unseen work.

Outside In aims to provide a platform for artists who face significant barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation. There has been ample ongoing debate around the acquisition and display of works by "outsider artists", a term generally used to describe art that has been produced by people that have not trained as artists or worked well within the conventional structures of art production. Many of these artists are children, psychiatric patients or prisoners.

Well-known outsider artists – such as Scottie Wilson and Madge Gill (both featured in the exhibition) – have simultaneously fascinated and shocked art collectors, curators and critics, and as a result of their increasing notoriety, have become more enmeshed in the mainstream of the art world.

The Outside and The Inside draws connections between the artistic process of non-traditional artists and the expression of the artists’ inner and outer worlds. Information about the artists’ sources of inspiration, as well as details about their practices, are included to provide context to help inform the viewers’ understanding of the display.

We’ve delved deeper into the stories of 5 outsider artists in the exhibition, to bring to life their powerful works by exploring the backstories that fueled their unparalleled imagination and creativity.

  1. Wilhelm Werner (1898 - 1940)

Wilhelm Werner was born on 18 September 1898, and admitted to Werneck Asylum in 1919 where he was diagnosed with "idiocy". On 6 October 1940, Werner was transferred to the Pirna Sonnenstein camp, a "euthanasia" asylum that gassed and killed its transfers on arrival.

Werner’s images are drawn on the back pages of an old notebook and were salvaged by a member of staff after the artist left the Werneck Asylum. His pencil drawings demonstrate his understandable difficulty processing his sterilisation, and most significantly, they are the only existing works of visual art on the highly invasive operation carried out on patients during Nazi control.

Image: Wilhelm Werner, Fall. Nr 1934 to 1938 (x2). Courtesy of the Prinzhorn Collection

There is a theatricality to the artist’s Sterelation Drawings, as if they are depicting a performance. All drawn in a highly controlled, analytical way, the shocking series depicts a harrowing act of defiance and demonstrates the artist’s personal suffering, drawn in the face of unbelievable adversity. For this reason alone, the diagnosis "idiocy" couldn’t seem further from the truth.


  1. Prof. A. Eckhoff

Medical Superintendent of Friern Hospital, Dr Alec Dalzell, was fascinated by the links between creativity and mental illness. By 1945, Friern Hospital was home to many who had been left traumatised by war, and Dalzell, who believed in using art as a therapy, took particular interest in the artwork made by these individuals, collecting their creations to show colleagues and students.

Image: Detail of Professor A. Eckhoff, Untitled (What a Harmless are the Animals), not dated, Pencil and Watercolour on paper

Amongst Dalzell’s collection are works by Prof. A. Eckhoff. A biographical carpet-picture by the artist recalls Eckhoff leaving home and setting out to make his fortune prior to the Second World War. In it, he describes himself as a 'human bomb', capable of exterminating 'all the crooks and swine – warmongers', his anger directed at the forces that destroyed his world. Other artworks in the exhibition include two officially untitled pieces, 'What is he doing for all, and how are we today following in his steps' and 'Song of Allies Fraternity'.


  1. Madge Gill (1882 - 1961)

The illegitimate daughter of Emma Eades, Madge Gill spent her early childhood in East London, living with her mother, grandfather and aunt. She was later abandoned by her family and committed to the now-famous Dr. Barnardo’s orphanage at nine years old. Five years later, Madge was transported to Canada and served as a babysitter and maid until she turned eighteen, after which she returned to England and married Tom Gill. Madge gave birth to three sons, one of which died of influenza in 1918. A year later gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and became very ill herself – losing an eye, which was replaced with a glass replica.

Image: Madge Gill, Untitled, not dated, Ink on paper

It was 3 March 1920 when Madge was first "possessed" by Myrninerest (My inner rest), her spirit guide with whom she stayed connected for the remainder of her life. She predominantly drew using ink on postcards, paper or card, creating shapes with a hallucinogenic quality and filling every corner with swirling patterns and intricate lines. Her imagery can be interpreted in numerous ways, but it is most commonly believed that Madge, guided by Myrninerest, started drawing in order to contact her lost son and daughter.


  1. August Walla (1936 - 2001)

Hoping to spare her son from being drafted into war, August Walla’s loving mother raised him to believe that he was, in fact, a girl. Later in life, Walla became aware of his male identity, but not before spending time in a psychiatric institution, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Image: (foreground) August Walla, Walla in Russland (Self-portrait as a Russian girl), not dated, Pencil, coloured crayon and biro on paper

At just ten years old, Walla was drawing pictures, and at seventeen, when he was diagnosed, he also started writing, making objects and drawing graffiti. Walla believed that Russians had operated on him to turn him into a "Russian boy", often using the swastika in his work as a symbol of femininity, and the hammer and sickle to represent masculinity.

For almost a quarter of a century, August Walla has been considered a classic of art brut (raw art) and, because of this, his work is often encountered in important public and private collections.


  1. Nick Blinko (b. 1961)

Artist Nick Blinko uses cross-hatching to create light and shadow in his images of ghoulish figures and skulls accompanied by the written word. Committed to his art, he has weaned himself off his medication in recent year, compromising his sanity in order to allow his hallucinations to take form and provide inspiration for his work. After experiencing a period of prolonged melancholy in his youth, Blinko was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as he grew older.

Image: Nick Blinko, London Asylum, 2020, Ink on paper. Courtesy of the Henry Boxer Collection

In this highly detailed ink drawing, Nick Blinko has depicted a gothic asylum secured by arrow-like railings, the only gap blocked by an overpowering Monkey Puzzle tree. The asylum seems removed and shrouded in a half-mist, reflecting Blinko’s illness and medication, alluding to the notion that "the psychiatric set-up is like a grim parody of the illness itself".


It is these important backstories of the people that created "outsider art" that will forever transform the experience of simply "looking" at their artworks. Given its origins, such non-traditional art transcends genres, disrupting the fabric of the art world, while simultaneously becoming part of it. The Outside and The Inside is on display in the Upper Gallery until 5 January 2020. The exhibition is free to enter for Lightbox Members and under 21s, or with a £7.50 Day Pass.

Coinciding with the exhibition, the panel event Collecting Outsider Art: A Discussion will explore the issues and challenges of collecting non-traditional art, both practically and ethically, including the international context. Guest curator Marc Steene will be joined by an array of experts in the field, including John Maizels, Editor of Raw VisionOutside In chairperson Charles Rolls, Thomas Röske, Director of the Prinzhorn Collection, and Amanda Sutton, Director of Venture Arts.