Turning Love and Grief into Outsider Art

Photo by Chris Bethell

After one artist’s partner and parents died, he transformed his small London house into his greatest work of art, room by room, covering and filling the space with collage, sculpture, painting, and writing. At Vice, Joe Zadeh takes readers through Stephen Wright’s House of Dreams, where he lives, takes his morning tea, and receives visitors who feel compelled to share their own stories. Wright never intended for his house to become a public shrine, but he’s pleased it did. As he tells Zadeh, “It’s about being human. We are all here to support each other in some way. So it’s not a problem. My heart is big enough to do that.” All in all, this is a love story.

The purely decorative aspect of the House of Dreams fell away and powerful subtexts flooded in. Objects were still chosen for their colours, but also for the memory or symbolism attached to them. Stephen wanted things that were chipped or smelled or sticky or stained. He wanted things that were unwashed. A trace of DNA was important to him. He wanted jackets with mess spilled down them, shoes with a stench, combs with hair in – materials that had life in them. These objects quickly began to fill the walls throughout the house. When he walked from room to room, he could sometimes smell a complete stranger. He liked that.

He cried as he created, but the physical grind of the work itself became a source of solace: the birthing of a sculpture, the mixing of cement, the tedium of mosaicing, the endless sorting of objects. He fed off it. Working with his hands felt like a connection to his parents. He wanted to feel exhausted at the end of each day, he wanted to be hardly able to get into bed.

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