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Peter Blake and James Brett

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Clown and boxer puppets, c.1920-30
Clown and boxer puppets, c.1920-30 By Harry Vernon

The acclaimed outsider art bonanza The Museum of Everything proved so popular on its first outing that its founder and overseer James Brett decided to throw the party all over again this year, with an array of new exhibits that range from the largest ever collection of Walter Potter’s taxidermied card-playing squirrels to oversized circus posters and two-headed children’s dolls. He had a little help from one particular friend in putting the show together, the legendary grandfather of the Pop Art movement Sir Peter Blake...

The acclaimed outsider art bonanza The Museum of Everything proved so popular on its first outing that its founder and overseer James Brett decided to throw the party all over again this year, with an array of new exhibits that range from the largest ever collection of Walter Potter’s taxidermied card-playing squirrels to oversized circus posters and two-headed children’s dolls. He had a little help from one particular friend in putting the show together, the legendary grandfather of the Pop Art movement Sir Peter Blake. Here AnOther talks to the two enthusiasts about those strange and beautiful things that we all too often overlook, the beauty of steam fairs and why a distorting mirror is always sure to crack a smile.

Is there a sense of wanting to share the joy you both find in these objects in The Museum of Everything?
Sir Peter Blake: The Museum of Everything is certainly about that. I mean, the first thing you see when you go in is the distorting mirrors, and you can’t help but laugh when you are in front of a distorting mirror. When we were putting the show up James said to me that he didn’t understand what I was doing with those, and that he thought the mirrors were a terrible idea, but it means that you start off happy. Then you go into the corridor of unusual people and another kind of mood takes over. The show is certainly about wanting to share something.

James Brett: It's absolutely true, I wasn't so sure about the mirrors. But I trusted Peter and – of course – I was wrong! Everyone loves the mirrors. You don't expect them, so they catapult you into our life-size diorama before you've had time to think. They're made by our friend Stromboli, the sword-swallower and fire-eater from Bolton who also does a natty line in taxidermy hybrids.

How did the Walter Potter room come together?
Sir Peter Blake: It’s an amazing room isn’t it? I was going to lend what I had got, which is The House That Jack Built and The Babes In The Wood, and from that James had the idea that maybe we could get some more, such as the ones that Damien Hirst had acquired. He contacted the auction house that had originally sold everything and they got in touch with all the winning bidders. Most people were happy to lend them. There were a couple of people who were too nervous but we got most of them.

James Brett: What a journey it was. I'm sure Potter was looking over our shoulders, wishing us well as we started to contact all the Potter-ites. The cases we have in the show are from right across Britain and we're hoping to secure more as it progresses. As for Potter himself, he was a quiet genius, a self-taught artist working in a ridiculous and brilliant medium. He was very tender too, he loved his animals and you can see it in his work. For the three-legged ducks and two-headed lambs of this world, to meet Walter Potter was to discover immortality.

Do you have any other personal favourites in the exhibition?
Sir Peter Blake: The Carter Steam Fair room is very beautiful – the room that Joby Carter put together – and he and his mother Anna were absolutely thrilled to see the work exhibited there. People don’t really see those kind of things as art, because at the fairground you are always about to go on ride – you see the decoration but it doesn’t register. When they are on a wall, you suddenly see that those things are absolutely beautiful.

James Brett: The first time I went to Carter’s Steam Fair I cried, really I did. It was like visiting the fairs of an imagined childhood, not fat blokes flogging dead goldfish, but something beautiful and poetic, like the passing of time or growing up. It's a strange and mysterious place with a real Wall of Death, We tried to capture a little bit of that in the show as well as to reference the dying art of sign painting. The sign above our entrance is by Joby. He was inspired by The Life of Brian.

The Museum of Everything #3 exhibits until Christmas and is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:30am to 6:30pm.

John-Paul Pryor is European Editor at Flaunt Magazine, Editor-at-large at Port Magazine and Editor, Contributing Art Editor to AnOther Magazine and Art Director at Topman Generation. He writes for Flaunt, Dazed & Confused, Port,Tank, AnOther, Nowness and directs fashion shoots for Topman Generation. His debut novel Spectacles is out now.

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