An exhibition by two artists has found new ways to focus on the legacy of post-war modernist architecture in Coventry, and both are fascinating in their separate ways.
Jo Gane and Caroline James, who met on the London College of Communication’s photography MA course, are exhibiting in Nostalgia for the Future (Past) at the Roots Gallery in Coventry city centre.
Jo is an award-winning artist, curator and lecturer, whose passion for a house led to her work in this exhibition.
She had always liked a modernist-designed house she had passed numerous times in Bulkington Lane in Nuneaton. The house had been owned since the 1960s by Julian Henry Beck, a Coventry-based artist and engineer, who died in November at the age of 97.
Jo said: “I’d always loved the house and it came up for auction and I went along just to see, and it went for a price we could afford.
“At the auction we were sitting next to the former owner’s family. We got talking to them afterwards and said what we did, and we went round to the house before the house clearance people. There was some lovely 1950s furniture and lots of things we found under the carpet, and I thought they needed documenting and preserving. I feel I have pieced together a sense of what he was like by his things.”
You can also see the work of Julian Henry Beck in the exhibition, partly in a cabinet containing photographs of him and his own art and sculpture work. But more than that you can see his touch, in large photographs Jo took of the backs of doors from the house that he had painted red, with his brushstrokes still clearly visible.
Beck lived and interesting life, as an artist, sculptor and photographer, who worked as an engineer during the war, and for Standard Triumph.
Jo describes her work as domestic archaeology, and has written that the work is also “creating a wider picture of the activities and lifestyle which post war architecture aspired towards supporting and creating. The nostalgia inherent in such a project is examined in relation to the stripped back aesthetics of modernism in order to mechanically explore the evolution of middle class suburban values and aspirations.”
Caroline James’s work also has a personal element to it, related closely to her growing up in Coventry, and her memories of Palace Yard, which can be seen through the glass walls of the Roots gallery. The yard was designed in 1960 by Arthur Ling as part of Coventry’s optimistic post-war reconstruction, but is now less attractive than some early pictures in the exhibition prove.
She said: “As a little girl in the mid 60s we used to come up here with my father to get newspapers and comics and we’d look at the pond, the fish and the Naid [sculpture in the pond by George Wagstaffe]. When my father died a few years ago we came up here to register the death and I thought what has happened to it.”
Caroline’s photographic work includes an emphasis on change and instability in the landscape, and she was appalled by the state of the area. Her father had also been behind saving the clock on Stoke Green, which is now part of a children’s play area, and this added to her despair about how Coventry looks after its historic past.
Her close-up photographs show details of surfaces which are hard to identify on their own.
She said: “I am very interested in surfaces and what’s not readily noticeable and you have to look hard at what’s there.”
Both the artists will be in conversation about the exhibition in the gallery tomorrow, Thursday March 29, from 6-8pm.