2011 was the year of George Shaw and galleries coming and going

A year ago Private View began, and before we launch ourselves into 2012 I want to look back at a year of the Coventry and Warwickshire art world, of Georges, and of galleries coming and going.
One of the early pieces I wrote on Private View focused on the find in an auction house catalogue by Coventry’s now former Conservation Officer George Demidowicz of a fantastic set of early 19th century watercolours of the city by William H Brooke, and The Herbert launched a £12,000 public appeal to buy them (George is pictured below right with Martin Roberts of The Herbert). Luckily it was a success. Sadly George is no longer with the council so one wonders if a similar set of works would be missed in future.

Martin Roberts and George Demidowicz at The Herbert

At the end of 2011, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about another George, George Shaw, who also paints Coventry, but in Humbrol paints and watercolours. His works focusing on Tile Hill featured in a major exhibition at the Baltic early in the year, and gained him a nomination for the Turner Prize. Staff at The Herbert must have been jumping for joy when they learned about this, as five years of work to stage an exhibition of his work at the gallery coincided with the prize announcement, which unfortunately he wasn’t successful in.
I make no apologies for writing so much about him when his work stands out so much, has gained national acclaim – and the opportunity to write about a local, internationally-recognised artist does not occur all that often!
The opening of an exhibition of lesser-known works by Graham Sutherland at Modern Art Oxford a few days after the Turner announcement, curated by George, was also a lucky coincidence and led to another enjoyable interview. He may be in need of a rest but I’m sure there will be much more that is entertaining, whether through paintings, writing or curating, to come from George in the future – and I’ll never forget some of the tales I heard over lunch at Oxford!
To look at galleries around the area, The Herbert staged Secret Egypt at the start of the year, which tried to cover a lot but only really managed to scratch the surface, and the summer was given over to a dinosaur exhibition aimed at the family market. Its smaller exhibitions caught my eye more – Stitch in Time, looking at the stories behind patchwork creations, the Coventry Consortium, and Lisa Gunn and Flora Parrott’s joint exhibition earlier in the year.
The Art Fund has held a number of interesting and varied fund-raising lectures in the area, which should be looked up by anyone interested in hearing about art and helping secure works for galleries.
At Rugby Art Gallery, Faye Claridge started 2011 with an exhibition inspired by Morris Dancing, and got local girls involved, which was great. The gallery’s 43 uses of drawing exhibition was also memorable.
The White Room gallery in Leamington continued to succeed with its eye for commercial exhibitions, mainly of prints, led by the enthusiasm of John and Heather Gilkes and their family. Their current exhibition of works by Specials’ bassist Horace Panter must surely be one of their most successful.
Compton Verney offered a mixed bag, starting with the wonderful Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson exhibition, continuing with Stanley Spencer landscapes, and ending with the damp squib of an exhibition about fireworks. Next year is looking promising though.
Often-overlooked Nuneaton Art Gallery and Museum put on several small but interesting exhibitions, including subjects as varied as black footballers, little fairly sculptures, lots of painters, and a tribute to local sculptor John Letts.
Leamington Art Gallery also put on several excellent exhibitions in its small temporary exhibition space, including Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland illustrations, an exhibition about the life and legacy of Robert Dudley, and the current James Edward Duggins watercolour and pastel exhibition. Its permanent collection is worth visiting for alone.
Hannah Starkey at the Mead exhibited her staged photographs of women in thoughtful situations and I was sorry flu kept me away from meeting her at the opening night. The photos tell stories and are more beautiful the more you return to them. Later in the year the Mead showed fascinating sculptures by Hupert Dalwood, and also photos by Tom Hunter, whose works were staged photos in Hackney, inspired by old masters, and also having a definite something about them.
Hunter’s work is also currently on show at the RSC in Stratford, a different set of photos showing some of Hackney’s more striking people in scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ll be writing about it in the paper soon, but it’s a captivating exhibition.
Unfortunately 2011 seems to have seen the end of some of the smaller galleries in the area. I only discovered Our White Room in Rugby had gone recently when I went to visit and found other businesses in its space. The Fishbone Gallery in Longford, Coventry, which opened with some entertaining exhibitions and even more fun opening nights, has gone all quiet, and after moving to more attractive premises in the Canal Basin the Lock Gallery hasn’t had so many exhibitions this year, though Emma O’Brien has secured more regular art fairs at the Canal Basin. The Forge at Stretton-under-Fosse succumbed to its rural location.
On a more positive note, the opening of two attractive new gallery spaces in the RSC in Stratford is a good move, and Gallery 150 continues to go from strength to strength with its excellent central location in Leamington. Its opening nights are always entertaining and it’s good to have a chat to the artists, who often have interesting stories to tell, but I do sometimes wish there was more quality control over what is staged there.
The Meter Room opened in unprepossessing premises in Coventry city centre, quickly filling its artists’ studios, and having several interesting early exhibitions. Let’s hope it can keep up its momentum. Dunchurch Art Gallery and Painting Studio is up against it, being based on a busy road in a small village, but has held a few exhibitions which have given good local artists a chance to show in the area, and I hope Mick McCormick continues with his venture.
Towards the end of the year, Matthew Macaulay exhibited in his studio space in Broadgate House in the city centre showing enterprise. Coventry Transport museum has also started showing more temporary exhibitions which is encouraging. The Association of Midland Artists held several exhibitions in Leamington of works by their many members, which were interesting to see.
BRINK, a new ‘not for profit’ arts organisation was also set up in Kenilworth and has also made some interesting first moves, though if they stage outdoor art at the Kenilworth Lions Show again in the summer I hope it’s a less windy day than this year!
And the new Lanchester Gallery Projects exhibition space in the new Coventry University building, the Hub, offers exciting opportunities. Apparently the prominent space became available out of the blue to the gallery, which has no collection of its own, so it will be interesting to see what is made of it.
All in all – it’s been lots of fun this year – and looking forward to lots more in 2012!
(You can follow me on Twitter at JulieinCov).

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