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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Richard Perry

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5 ceramic sculptures, including 3 water columns and 2 marker pieces. Heights 4, 3, 2 and I metres.  Commissioned by Grosvenor Estates for Festival Square, Basingstoke, 2002

This is a rarity for this blog…let me explain.  I’ve known Richard Perry for over thirty years.  He got in touch with me not long after he graduated and had taken a loft studio in Newark, Nottinghamshire whilst I was working for the regional Arts Council.  From the off I recognised both his talent and his seriousness. Over the years he has developed a substantial reputation, mainly for a succession of major public commissions.  Recently we’ve become near neighbours and with his solo show in the Angear space at Lakeside coming up (criminally a rather rare event), he asked me to write a short piece for the text panel in the gallery.  So this is not a review  but the expanded text from which the panel in the gallery is abridged…

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Work in progress, studio

No surprise that in his public works the form of the tree plays a significant part of the repertoire: the sculpture of Richard Perry stands up solidly and elegantly like a fully grown English Oak full of surprising twists, turns and original features. Few contemporary carvers, especially those drawn to geometry, have been so cavalier with those most obdurate materials, such as marbles and that especially hard limestone from Kilkenny. A glance at, say, Interlocking Oaks, a piece at the old Boots HQ here in Nottingham from 2000 is indicative of the striking quality of the distinguished track record of public work right across the British Isles and beyond.

In this exhibition (a relatively rare opportunity to see a body of his work) the artist features recent studio sculptures, a few paintings and a suite of drawings, all of which in various ways touch upon ongoing concerns for the interactions and relationships of basic geometric forms in space. If there is a key component that best sums up the ambition in the work as a whole then poise might be it. Indeed this is a contemporary artist willing to engage in and admit to one of the greatest taboos in current art, beauty, and worse still for many so whisper it, craft.

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Perry is fully aware of the dangers that lurk in these waters. No-one visiting his lean-to studio, exposed to the elements and (one suspects) perishing in winter, could be in doubt that the artist (given to standing and pondering the work for long spells of time) takes very seriously the pitfalls that both form and material can easily fall into – that ‘homes & gardens’ aesthetic as it were. These are lovely materials and in Richard’s experienced hands, fashioned into just as seductive formal characteristics.

A great deal of deliberation is required – hard, painstakingly concentrated looking – to ensure that this plane, or that surface, set against another is ‘right’ or more precisely has that quality that the great ceramicist Bernard Leach called ‘thusness’ (after his studies on the work of Soetsu Yanagi) and yet is also full of surprises. Indeed it is hard to see how these interlocking forms, planes, surfaces and voids could be arranged in any other manner once they are frozen in space. Each work becomes a game of Jenga, that pastime where towers are constructed from regular wooden blocks and the removal of a single piece can bring the whole thing crashing down.

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To return to the notion of poise, and to use it in its archaic sense, it is the balance achieved in the sculpture (and just as surely in the paintings where colour is deployed with great sensitivity to both invite and contradict the sensations of moving through space) that solidifies the equilibrium of all the competing elements. That all this happens with material that is solid, stubborn and hard to fashion is a real testament to ability and durability in the character of the artist. Poise is also a technical term for a unit of dynamic viscosity, the act of resistance in shearing flows where layers move parallel to one another at differing speeds. This too seems apt in pieces where planes shift and tilt both in parallel and opposed to one another, and where the eye speeds across the surfaces but is then arrested by surprising conjunctions and original tropes.

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It is in the drawings that these twists and turns of expected and then wholly unexpected formal arrangements are sent racing along at astonishing speed. With a myriad of variated marks, tones and intervals the images reveal something of the artist’s endlessly inventive and quizzical exploration of what form and material might be able to achieve in space that is both real and imagined. Perry opens up possibilities for what sculpture might achieve were we to crack open our three physical dimensions and discover one, two, three or more that some physicists and mathematicians tell us are already out there.

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Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975

Of course geometric sculpture (emerging in the early twentieth century) went through many reiterations of all kinds over the succeeding decades but pretty much fell out of favour by the mid sixties as the minimalists boiled it down to its essences. But curiously a small late (perhaps the last complete) work by Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975 – might be seen as something of a precursor to these pieces by Richard.  In it she precariously balances a group of planes across three blocks atop each other. It is intriguing to imagine how these might have been extrapolated and developed into more complex arrangements had she lived…I’m taken with an idea that they might well have resembled a Richard Perry piece in this gallery.

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Halley 3, 2013