Summer/Autumn Roundup

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Claire Morris-Wright in the Wallner Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham

The back half of this year has been somewhat chaotic so I’ve had little time to reflect.  Along the way I made brief notes so here, for anyone following this!, is a brief round up of some of what’s been seen.  One or two shows have also been mentioned in my personal blog Plainly Painting so cut along there if you haven’t already.

See Here at the old Neale’s Auction House, in Nottingham way back in late June was a very welcome event.  Not least as it was good to see old friends still working away and a host of other artists not previously known to me.  Bill Ming and Nadia Nagual are amongst the best that the region has to offer. Bill showed his sculpture in the context of installation and alongside collage, an interesting and exciting development.  Nadia has always shown great sensitivity in her work and this was very much on display here.  There were solid outings from artists I’ve admired over the years, Carole Hawthorne and Roy Pickering, the guiding hand behind the show.  Not known to me was Mwini Mutuku, but whose work showed both sensitivity and energy nor Jim Jack, whose cultural pieces I’d like to see more of.

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Whispers Of Commercial Greed & Nature Balance by Sardul Gill, See Here, Neale’s Auction House, Nottingham

Also good to see artists willing to experiment in public…Roy himself in collaboration with Sardul Gill, Richard Perry with his daughter Josie, and several artists working outside their comfort zone, experimenting with the available spaces. Roy and everyone associated with this show are to be applauded. 

In the Henderson Gallery buried in the bowels of the Malt Cross in Nottingham, one of our best kept secrets here in the Midlands, Pamela Clarkson was showing her Mariam and Waleria & other prints.  One of, if not the, premier printmaker in the region…she exhibits a range of techniques, not in itself especially important, but put to really great effect in a very satisfying show.

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Miriam & Waleria, by Pamela Clarkson, Henderson Gallery, Nottingham

Early autumn saw a trip into the city to Lakeside. Ostensibly to see Rena Begum’s Space Light Colour, highly recommended by some this was something of a disappointment to me.  These were too slick, and seemed gewgaws for the rich (Dubai seemed to be, naturally enough, home for many of them), had little to say to me beyond retreading old modernist tropes – I felt it was faux Art as sophisticated interior design drawing on such hard working talent such as Yaacov Agam who has thoroughly mined this territory starting nearly half a century back (and still going at 90!)…still everyone to their own I’ve seen quite a few rave reviews of it.  

Luckily the Angear provided a little more meat with a selection of Steffie Richards recent paintings.  I’ve written about these before (though there were interesting new developments) so suffice to say one of the new works on the back wall was an absolute cracker.  Over in the Wallner Gallery Claire Morris-Wright showed her Hedge project – as its past now I’m not going to write extensively about this but I think its the best, most rewarding and meaningful encounter with quality I’ve seen over the late summer/autumn.  Luckily delay in posting this round up means I’m able to recommend the unabridged version of this show – on at Kettering’s Alfred East until 5th Jan. 2019.

Trix & Robert Haussman are architects, but are more often found in the design magazines on the continent where their playful ‘interventions’ have, particularly in the past twenty years or so, struck a chord with fellow professionals and public alike.  The show at Nottingham Contemporary was rather a delight bringing together a wide range of their work from conceptual art documentation through adaptations of modernist classics and onto shop fittings.  In the other two galleries an artist previously unknown to me Pia Camil presented a stylish and original installation that brought together textiles, ceramics and performance, through effective video presentation.  Her interests reflect aspects of mass consumerism, interactions between workers as producers and the audience as consumers, references to prior artworks and epochs and trans gender issues.  It might sound a bit scattergun but the artist had woven the elements together with some elan.  Both shows were full of interest and humour – and one imagines they reflect the new management at the venue…in which case things are looking up.

Coming into autumn proper it was up to the Walker, Liverpool to view the latest John Moores.  Actually this was rather refreshing with many painters I’d not seen before (and hardly any big names). I struggled to find much of merit in the first prize-winner but overall there were plenty of things that spoke of painting’s persistence in the face of institutional indifference. I especially enjoyed Black Star by Virginia Verran, from those I knew of and Kos Town Paradise Hotel Front Terrace by Gary Lawrence from those I didn’t.

And talking of really good painting a short while back we ventured into the New Art Gallery, Walsall to see the real tour de force that Elizabeth Magill has assembled of mainly recent, larger canvases but also encompassing a selection of her sublime small canvases over the past decade.  Magill is a quite exceptional painter, no doubt about it.  And her productivity over these past few years is impressive.  If I have a criticism of sorts it might be that the scaling up of the pictures could become formulaic, but it hasn’t yet and, given her pedigree, I doubt she’ll let it.

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Elizabeth Magill at the New Art Gallery, Walsall

A necessary trip up north, saw me visiting the gallery in the Creative Arts faculty at the University of Central Lancashire where Nottingham based Laine Tomkinson is showing prints and other works on paper in a solo show – Wiggle Whoogie til Dec. 6th.  These new works suggest the artist is pushing forward with both structure and, significantly, the sophisticated use of colour.  Where earlier work I’ve seen was vibrant and exuberant the palette seems to be cooling a little encouraging more ambiguous shifts in the register and reading of the imagery.  This aspect of the work intrigues the viewer, where seemingly form is often inverted by use of elements that are by products of the making  process.  The extensive use of layering of colour and form adds to their elusive qualities.  A most satisfying show from an artist who is maturing into a very distinctive voice.

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White Lines & Mr. Soft, by Laine Tomkinson, PR1 Gallery, Preston

And finally, back to a regular haunt over the years…Harrington Mill in Long Eaton.  Here Sheila Ravnkilde is showing the results of a three month residency Poured Lengths.  As always there is directness to the work, the titles that rarely brook any ambiguity being especially appropriate to the nine (as I recall) lengths of – what? – three by three timbers that have been subjected to repeated pourings of pure pigmented paint of a single colour each.  Where previous works rarely betrayed the hand of the artist recent offerings have made a feature of it, albeit in the form of process rather than signature.  A key, perhaps the key, aspect of the work is the interaction between the space and the interventions in it and as always this had been meticulously considered, especially with regard to the colour relationships.  This kind of minimalist work has to be well executed as it was here.  A fitting finale to shows at the Mill that is regrettably closing this December, a loss in an area where exhibiting opportunities (not to mention highly affordable studios) are at a premium.

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Poured Lengths, Sheila Ravnkilde, Harrington Mill

 

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On the sublime…

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It’s a simple enough trope…superimposition of one scale upon another…though I suspect quite a bit harder to pull off than one might imagine.  In Richard T. Walker’s video piece its used to quite powerful effect – regular readers will know I’m quite a lot harder own video – but the poetic narrative at work here is pretty mesmerising.  It lives up to the promise of the exhibitions title.  Sadly much else here doesn’t.  Mariella Neidecker’s piece here buries her characteristic vignette into a clumsy mis en scene that proves to be a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.  The other work in the space crowded out by this bombast.  Elsewhere nothing much lives up to the billing.

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Luckily outside the main galleries in the Angear space there is something of exceptional and exquisite quality.  The Nottinghamshire based artist Robert Hart has been given the opportunity to display some the exceptional work he has been engaged in over the past few years.  It is an astonishing display – perhaps a little overcrowded – of the drawings, prints and paintings he has produced over recent times.

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He has focussed a deal of his creative ambition on the Suffolk coastline – specifically the wastelands of Orfordness and, whilst many artists have chosen this unique landscape since it was released from the Ministry of Defence a few decades back, fewer still have done so to such exceptional effect.  Anyone who has visited this location (and if you haven’t I strongly advise you do) will testify to its unique character – an ambience that Rob has captured to perfection.  His forensic visual intelligence is coupled with a poetic imagination and has resulted in a wealth of material.  His show is a triumph – catch it in the few days you have left – it ends on May 6th.

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Mining the seams…

Strata:1 is a show that takes its name from the ‘collective’ of five Loughborough art school graduates – two from back in 2012 and three from the class of 2015.

IMG_0271How to be a painter in the second decade of this century should vex everyone who picks up a brush but loads of us keep doing it so what gives? Obviously we kick against the digital pricks and still get that visceral kick from something so obdurately analogue. These guys are definitely getting that idea in spades and well done for that. The seams maybe running thin but here are five younger artists determined to mine whatever ores are still running.

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Joshua Browitt

Joshua Browitt is digging in the far reaches of colourfield abstraction, out beyond the mid 80’s grunge of Larry Poons and the 90’s onwards of Jules Olitski. Though his canvasses are relatively small in size, making some of natural mushing of paint effects a tad uncomfortable and forced, they have the same gutsy feeling as their forbears and a curious muted colour palette that holds back some of the more lurid colour clashes of those antecedents.

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Martin Clarkson

Martin Clarkson has plumped for a more strait-forward delivery in some wristy brushwork but has found imagery that laps up the jungle and envelops it in a weird and wonderful colour cast as if the painter was working with a particularly odd photo filter. I could live without the glossy sheen over them that I’m imagining the artist sees as a way of giving them a further homogeneity but is very much not to my taste.

Philip Clarke is staying very much within a tradition of wee sized photo realism with scenes in oil on aluminium sheet. His lonely stretches of some of the loveliest parts of the highlands are powerful and affecting images and his handling is pretty decent too. Its quite a well worn route he’s taken but he does it well.

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left – Saku, Oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm. 2018 Sarah Cunningham right – Elgol, Oil on aluminium, 20 x 15 cm. 2018 Philip Clarke

Sarah Cunningham can paint, in fact her handling is some of the most confident on show, but as yet some of the subjects and compositions are less than convincing. Steering clear of figuration might help and working into the image as it ‘lives’ on the canvas works better for her. Saku and Borneo struck me as a rather lovely pictures where what was pushed around its surface took precedence over the image portrayed.

Perhaps the whackiest and certainly most arresting work comes from Adam Waghorne, for whom it is the image that takes centre stage. These are played out on an array of differing supports and techniques and have about them a whiff of Wyndham Lewis’s self portrait of 1921 or Stanley Spencer mixed into psychedelica…in fact the parade of them across a glass support is one of the oddest and unusual works I’ve seen on a wall anywhere so far this year.

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Given that these are still younger artists, and forgiving the rather overblown claims for the show in the blurb, this was one that entertained and intrigued, if not wholly excited, anyone who cares about the future of the medium. The biggest hurdles they face today is the indifference of the curatorial elites, their non-metropolitan location and a buying public, the absence of which makes the UK for the most part an inhospitable place for serious painting now.

Sadly the show ended Saturday past…but there’s always something worth checking out at the Surface Gallery space at the bottom of Southwell Road in Nottingham.

 

Dog Man Star

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Although its pretty much under my nose I hadn’t previously made it to Modern Painters, New Decorators in the Carillon Court shopping centre in Loughborough.  An invite to this enterprising space, run – I believe – by ex-Loughborough art School people, was quite a shock.  The venue is bright and inviting, unpretentious but very sympathetic to work on the modest to fairly substantial size range – overall a very welcome addition to the smallish stock of decent spaces for contemporary work in this neck of the woods.

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Once inside the show is an intriguing one – Sam Francis Read is an artist I’d not come across before.  Jackie Berridge I know well.  The way in which they work together here is thematic rather than media based – unusual in itself but it works well.  Sam’s work is mostly small and print based allowing for a dialogue with Jackie’s larger canvases that is conducted by their joint exploration of figurative and narrative elements that are drawn from both the world as primary subject matter and secondary sources such as children’s book illustration or cartoon characters.  In Read’s work this is filtered through an obsession with the line that is mapped out through the medium of print.

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His approach places the image element off kilter within a larger ground and the facture that results lends these already ghosted figures a curious and rather alarming mien. This might appear to be at odds with Berridge’s panoramic canvases and yet they too often conjure up strange and disconcerting vistas and narratives, where a battery of sophisticated and beautifully painterly deft touches work up, but are never over elaborated.  This is an intriguing exhibition with plenty of useful and interesting contextual material (video interviews, text panels and book samples) to supplement the viewing experience.  Well worth the trip into Loughborough town centre, the show runs till 3rd March.  Details from: https://www.facebook.com/mpndprojects/

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Hot Rocks

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There was a time when pretty much all sculpture was weighty intractable stuff that always felt as if it had been wrestled into submission.  Those days may be long gone in a flurry of provisional and found materials more often than not thrown together with what at least looks like less than careful aesthetic consideration.  So it comes as something of a surprise on entering the Boulder exhibition by Denis O’Connor at the New  Court Gallery in Repton to see solid pieces that are obdurate and stubbornly there.  In his case the central – and title providing – motif is that boulder that crops up in most of the works on show in this satisfying and delightful show.  O’Connor is one of a generation of Midlands sculptors that have made most of their artistic careers making works that have entered the public realm and consequently like many of them opportunities to view studio pieces, unfettered from commissioning restraints, have been relatively few so this is an event not to be missed.

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Not that the artist hasn’t been able to maintain a vision that carries through into a third decade of practice where a number of tropes suggest ideas around journeys and mystical narratives that, albeit un or at least sub -consciously derive from a wry humorous nod towards his cultural heritage.  Here too the hard won wrestling of steel into forms that are seemingly inimical to the process is another metaphor that adds an intensity to several of the works, that and the trick of raising up the obviously solid and weighty material to seem, if not weightless, light and airy as if lifted by the breeze.  It is fair to say that here is an artist at the top of his game, a serious but jocular work out, with plenty of rewards for the viewer in this excellent space.

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