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'What does your man know about art?': Brent Pope shows off his hidden passion

A new side to the former rugby player is being shown in a new documentary.

Updated 16 October

IMG_0086 (1) Source: Brent Pope and art

‘I see the joy on people’s faces when they are doing their art – it puts them in a whole positive frame of mind… my God, to work with people doing that art, it’s incredible.’ – Brent Pope

THE NAME BRENT Pope conjures up images of rugby games, but there’s far more to the former sportsman than people might realise.

He is, of course, known as a fierce supporter of mental health initiatives, being outspoken in the past about his own struggles. But another side to Pope has been showcased in a documentary about outsider art, Brent Pope: Inside Out.

TheJournal.ie spoke to Pope about how he discovered this genre type of art, and what it means to him.

What is outsider art?

Outsider art is art that has been created outside of the mainstream, sometimes made by people on the margins, like those with mental health issues, people who create their ‘naive’ or folk art outside of the traditional culture.

They are self-taught artists and often use the form to deal with difficult personal situations.

Big names in the world include the late Henry Darger, whose ‘Vivian girls’ work was discovered in his apartment after he died, and Annie Hooper, who created thousands of sculptures, often with a religious theme.

Where it began

Pope was introduced to outsider art about 10 years ago, when his Wellington-based brother was working with street artists and graffiti artists who also had mental health issues.

They happened to stop off at a gallery, where Pope saw art created by people from all walks of life. He realised that art wasn’t just the preserve of the privileged.

Since then, he’s been on a mission to discover outsider art: collecting it, studying the artists, and travelling the world to see their work. His travels set him thinking – were there great outsider artists in Ireland?

“About four years ago when I came back, I approached different charities that would have had art therapy courses – St Pat’s, Shine, the Simon Community. And I opened up a gallery. Johnny Ronan generously gave me a lovely big property down by the IFSC and I ran a gallery there, purely charitable, for outsider art.”

brent pope 1 Source: Facebook

All the money went to the artists. The gallery was a success, and it led Pope to approach a production company to ask about making a documentary which would show that Irish outsider art “is good, if not better than anything that was out in the world”

The documentary follows five different artists, who use art to “make themselves feel better, and look at life more positively”. They use materials like pizza boxes and old bread boards to scribble and paint on.

‘What does your man know about art?’

“I was a bit nervous when I mooted the project because I’m not an expert,” said Pope, despite the fact he clearly knows a huge amount the subject.

He was afraid people would ask “what does your man know about art?” But with his mental health background, he could see how inspiring these artists are.

Pope knows that not everyone will love all of the work, but he also knows how much work has gone into it. It said it was a moving experience for him, to watch people face challenges and use art to help them get over barriers.

“These people have let me into their lives. It’s somewhat emotional,” he said. He hopes the documentary will break down barriers, but knows that some don’t ‘recognise’ outsider art.

He doesn’t like the term outsider, and prefers “raw art or brute art”. For him, it is “art from the soul”. It’s never about making money, it’s about passion.

Yes, they come from the margins of the art world, but not necessarily the margins of society. Everybody has their problems; everyone has their crosses to bear.

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brent pope 1

‘I always felt that I was judged’

It’s emotional for Pope to look back at his own life, at the “young, insecure teenager” suffering panic attacks, “thinking that nothing would work out in my life”.

I always felt that I was judged; that I had to live up to other people’s expectations, that I was never going to be good enough. I see that in the artists.

He met one artist who was “so hard on himself”, thinking his work was not good. When Pope reached out to tell him his work was good, he could “see this emotion welling up in his eyes”.

“For someone else to tell him what he is doing is not only OK, but is great, is extremely moving”.

Pope knows that he’s more than just about rugby, and pushing out of his comfort zone to do shows like this is an important thing for him. That’s why he’s also written children’s books. He’s all about “pushing the barrier”.

I would love to be more well known for things like this, for working with charities or this outsider art, than I would be with the rugby. It’s one part of my life. You get defined by the rugby.

“I do hope everyone watches it with an open mind,” he said of the documentary, adding he hopes people are inspired to pick up a paintbrush or instrument after watching it.

An exhibition of the work from the show opened on 6 October in the Copper House Gallery, but Pope has even bigger dreams:

My dream from all this is that some incredibly wealthy benefactor will see what it means to these artists and give me a little gallery where I can just showcase art like this from people who really mean it. That’s the dream.

Brent Pope: Inside Out is available to view on the RTÉ Player

Read: The artist behind THAT marriage equality mural is back with another powerful piece>

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