by James Colman
The artist Damian Le Bas has tragically died aged 54. After leaving the Royal College of Art in 1987 he found himself in the unique position as an artist who straddled two worlds. The first, a small coterie of outsider artists and dealers, spearheaded at the time by the late Monika Kinley (whose collection Damian became an integral part of). The second, the jungle that is the progressive and knowing contemporary art scene where he found himself at times to be a recalcitrant participant. In the 1980s, the two worlds were like chalk and cheese, critically polarised. It has been due to artists like Damian and his wife Delaine’s pioneering collaborations with gallerists and curators; the relentless exhibiting, cajoling and promotion of outsider work that now, not only has outsider art become internationally more mainstream, it has opened the doors for a wider cultural debate about social inclusion/exclusion to take place across the globe.
Damian’s art was characterised by graphically fluid outlines, motifs, current obsessions and references to his background as an Irish traveller and to his beloved Delaine’s Romany family. Contemporary culture in all its guises loomed large in the work, whether intertwined with areas of collage, mined from his endless knick-knack collecting, or nods to surrealism, Dada, expressionism, or indeed anything that got his goat. Emotions were often laid bare in the work for the viewer to unravel. The highs, the lows, the laughs, the pathos. His love of 1970s TV culture usually included a reference to Peter Sellers or Reg Varney. Life seen through this prism was deeply infectious and filled with big dreams and hilarity. During the early 2000s, Damian and Delaine were a tour de force on the Hoxton Gallery scene, despite continuing to live on the south coast, blending outsider sensibilities seamlessly with live punk acts as well as participating in the burgeoning international art fair scene.
From Prague Biennales in 2005 and 2007, it was but a short stop to the dizzy heights of the First Roma Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2008. From 2007, Damian, Delaine and their son, lovingly know as “little D”, travelled the globe tirelessly exhibiting in an array of group and solo initiatives. Most recently, their involvement with the Gorki Theatre in Berlin saw Damian act as initiator and inspiration behind the first ever Roma Biennale for April 2018. His animated theatre design for the Berlin production of Roma Armee has been widely acclaimed and acts as a fitting epitaph for a man who had the soul of a saint, the heart of a lion and a talent for the original. His legacy will grow and continue to be appreciated for generation to come.