First published: Winter 2022/23


With her embroideries, graph-paper drawings and paintings, Valerie Potter has forged a life of creativity against the odds


“I sent him photos of my drawings because I thought he might like to see them. I didn’t have any idea of being an artist; I was more looking for someone to connect with,” says Valerie Potter. She is talking about esteemed outsider art historian Roger Cardinal, who was so impressed by what she sent that he introduced her to a collector and a gallerist, and organised her first exhibition.


Untitled, c. 2000, cross stitch on hardanger fabric, 10 x 7.5 in. / 25 x19 cm
all images courtesy Jennifer Lauren Gallery, unless otherwise stated


The solo show – which was presented in 1985 at the University of Kent in the south of England – marked the start of an artistic career that has seen Potter’s drawings, paintings and embroideries exhibited at numerous UK institutions, including Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art, London’s Tate Britain and, most recently, in 2022, Carl Freedman Gallery in her hometown of Margate, Kent. Her work is also held in several permanent collections worldwide and around the UK, including the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, Bethlem Museum of the Mind in Kent, and The Museum of Everything in London.


Hail, Hail to Those Who Try and Fail, 1996, black ink and graphite pencil on paper, 16.5 x 11.5 in. / 42 x 29.5 cm, Judith McNichol


Born in 1954 in Kent, Potter spent the first seven years years abroad. of her life in Nigeria, where her father was the principal of a technical institute and her mother taught domestic science. After a brief return to the UK, Potter then lived in Jamaica until the age of 13. The fruit and vegetation and bright colours of the Caribbean island and of Nigeria are enduring memories for her. Orange, red and yellow are among Potter’s favourite colours.


Untitled, 1986, gouache and ink pen on paper, 16 x 11.5 in. / 41 x 29 cm


She was about nine when she began taking inspiration from her father’s copy of The Sunday Times, scouring the pages for political caricatures and cartoons, and then re-creating them. Images of then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson particularly appealed. This creative impulse arose in a home where there was no interest in art. Potter was close to her mother who – although lukewarm about her daughter’s art at first – became a great support over the years. This was in contrast to other relatives, especially Potter’s father who wanted her to study maths and science and be a successful career woman. Potter says her art has never been dependent on interest from others.


The Face of Reason, 2018, embroidery on calico, 12 x 16.5 in. / 30 x 42 cm


When her passion shifted from drawing to writing, Potter created what she characterises as “long poems full of psychotic imagery”, some of which were published in magazines. She most enjoyed the crystalline aspect of poetry, meaning that every word – and all its ramifications – has to be thought through carefully. When writing began to feel like hard work, she returned to art which she found more relaxing, but a love of language continues to find its expression in her black-and-white embroideries or “thread drawings” as she calls them.





This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #113

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