by Sue Steward
29 Oct 2000
...the work of Damian and Delaine LeBas. Some artists...resent the label Outsider, but Damian LeBas, who comes from a line of tinker families based around Sheffield, has always felt like an outsider. The fact that both he and his wife went to art school - they studied fashion and textiles - would appear to disqualify them from the Outsider clan, but their art was never consistent with college rules. Today, Damian and Delaine who comes from a large south-coast Roma-gypsy family are the glamorous couple on the Outsider network, but their everyday life brings them abuse and insults for the way they look and live. Their home in Worthing is filled with gnomes and Elvis memorabilia, Damian's obsessive football collections and crazy paintings and Delaine's gypsy art and fabric collection.
Damian LeBas made waves during his time at the Royal College of Art, where he would draw the tattoos on builders' arms rather than classic designs on Greek ceramics during museum outings, and embroider denim jackets with sequinned abstract designs while other students created curtain fabrics. Drawing was an early escape route from a disturbed childhood, 'I started drawing football crowds when I was six,' he remembers. 'I was fascinated by the patterns and colours,' he says. Cats are a lifelong obsession. Some years ago, he produced dozens of cat paintings with acid-hell Catherine-wheel eyes, drawn with clashing bright pencils and oil pastels. 'I did about 10 a day,' he recalls, 'so many, I thought I was turning into a cat, because I'm so hairy. I got very paranoid.'
Delaine LeBas could have been many things in life - fashion model, designer, artist. Her startling beauty and highly personal dress style has some of the kitsch beauty of the fairground. An early work called Me and my husband shows Delaine in a yellow, rose-covered jacket and flouncing tiered skirt, and Damian in soul boy's baggies and braces. They are standing in front of a caravan window and framed by floral designs which look like embroidery. Her gypsy background informs everything she does. 'My mum and dad always dressed me in strange, bizarre things - two-tone shoes, coats covered in tapestry, fancy things. But I'm glad for it. I'm an eternal child. I never make plans or drawings, it is all spontaneous.'
Being an Outsider is not something Delaine considers relevant in her work. 'The art world is incredibly conservative. It's difficult for me to work in it because of what I am and where I come from, what I look like. I thought it was supposed to be about interesting people, fantastic things, but they ignore people like me.' For Delaine LeBas, the Outsider world is like family, just a collection of eccentric people ploughing their own route through life, and having fun on the way.