Meet the artists who are “over the influence” rather than under it

Picture black and white comics, bold illusions and cartoon nightmares from a drug trip gone wrong.

These are some of the wonderfully wild pieces of art you will find at Sheffield’s latest display, ‘Over the Influence’, an exhibition that explores the connections between drugs, the law and art making today.

Sidney and Matilda’s post-industrial warehouse was allegedly a weed factory in its previous life, making it the perfect location for the drug-inspired exploration of the ‘outsider’.

The entrance to new exhibition space ‘Sidney and Matilda’
Outside the gallery on Sidney Street

Inspired by the government’s current attitude to recreational drugs, the exhibition explores prohibition in a culture where few taboos remain resident.

Mirroring contradictions can be seen within street art, where works are ‘buffed’ (painted over) and creators fined or imprisoned. Meanwhile, other street artists are praised and paid to create culturally approved artworks.

‘Over the Influence’ provokes thought on these ideologies, elevating the practices of artists seen to be outsid’ the system. The exhibition takes art that is often only viewed fleetingly, and positions it right in front of the public eye.

Al Daw, gallery director, said: “Sheffield has a rich heritage when it comes to street art, I wanted to showcase that alongside internationally recognised artists and begin a wider conversation about outsider art in the gallery context.

“The starting point may seem contentious but that’s exactly the reason why exhibitions such as this should exist.”

A peek inside the exhibition

From Sheffield to Vienna and all the way to Nepal, artists from across the world have been brought together to share their experiences as ‘outsiders’ in the creation of their art.

Manish Harijan, a contemporary Nepalese artist studying Fine Arts in Sheffield, said: “When I arrived in Sheffield, it’s art scene fascinated me.

“Sheffield is a growing city with a multicultural art movement and a great acceptance of the cultural ‘otherness’.

“I feel honoured to be participating in the ‘Over the Influence’ exhibition, which includes wonderful work from local and international artists.”

These aren’t necessarily your conventional artists getting degrees from Central Saint Martins. This group of street artists have developed their work through often less conventional means, experimenting and risk-taking on a daily basis to get their work on the streets.

Alex Amery, a London-based street artist, said: “I spent my teenage years and early 20’s in the 1990’s so the drug theme was an easy one for me.

“It took back to the second summers of love where rave culture was born.

“The definition of an ‘outsider’ artist is bit blurred for me but if it includes not being part of the elite or the establishment of art then I’m fine with that.”

Skateboarders, tattoo-artists, ex-firemen, former drug smugglers and cancer survivors have all presented their work in this space to collectively embrace the ‘outsider’ ethos – each with a different story.

Benjamin Murphy, a contemporary artist, said: “The show opened on the ten week anniversary of me quitting intoxicating substances, so I thought it pretty apt to put something in.”

All the artists involved have been particularly excited about displaying their work in Sheffield, and highlighted the importance of art in the city.

Jo Peel, whose distinctive artwork can be seen across Sheffield, said: “It is great to have an independent gallery like Sidney and Matilda in Sheffield, so when I was asked to contribute I was super happy to be part of it.”

Jo Peel’s work on the side of the old Henderson’s Relish factory on Leavygreave Road

Jim McElvaney, a Sheffield-based artist, said: “I think it’s a great exhibition and something Sheffield needs more of.

“It’s a great space and I’m proud to be a part of a show representing a side of the art world that in my opinion is very under represented in Sheffield.”

The need for more art in Sheffield is an opinion that has been expressed quite frequently as of recent. Discussing his decision to run for European Parliament in his interview with British GQ, Lord Mayor Magid Magid said, if elected, he will campaign for more funding arts and culture in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Earlier this month, a report by the Arts Council found that arts and culture is suffering as a result of public funding cuts, despite the sector contributing £2.8bn in tax to the Government.

Support for exhibitions and galleries in cities with such diverse and creative ability is therefore worthwhile. Given the authentic nature of this group’s output and their abandonment of structure, they could certainly be seen to be over the influence, rather than under it.

The exhibition will run until 11 May. For more information, visit – https://www.sidneyandmatilda.com/