Michala Gyetvai with some of her works
Location is everything so they say, and you can’t beat the setting of another exhibition by a lucky group of artists.
Back in the spring, I was lucky enough to go to the private view at the start of Dawn Harris’s time as artist in residence at Ragley Hall, near Alcester. She explained then that the residency was called Negotiating Heritage, and she would be considering why heritage was important to the community. Along with Deb Catesby and Michala Gyetvai, she would be working from studios in stables at the Hall to create works there.
The summer has ended with an exhibition from Dawn, Deb and Michala and eight other artists, all working around the Negotiating Heritage theme.
The Private View was just as impressive as in the spring, though this time we arrived in near darkness, but the Hall was beautifully lit, high on the hill, as we swept up into the graveled area in front of the house.
On wandering round the Hall before visiting the exhibition, on this second visit, a few more lovely features stuck out. And this time they were even more relevant, as the artists had incorporated many influences from the house in their works.
I had walked straight through the south staircase hall the first time, but this time stopped to admire the enormous several-storey mural by Graham Rust. Called The Temptation, it includes Biblical scenes with some lovely animal and bird depictions, and the upstairs balcony continues across the wall to include members of the Herford family who own the Hall. On a higher painted balcony, there’s also Hall staff looking down.
An enormous painting by Ceri Richards dominates if you look upwards in the north staircase hall. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada is a traditional-sounding name for a much more abstract work painted in 1964. I enquired about another modern-looking triptych painting nearby but Hall guides said no one knew who’d put it there or who it was by!
The library was another missed gem, with some lovely overdoor carvings by Grinling Gibbons highlighted, and a Horace Walpole painting by Joshua Reynolds hanging over the fireplace. The other public rooms are also hung with many portraits, country scenes and landscapes from several centuries.
Negotiating Heritage by Dawn Harris and Steven Ellis Cooper’s horse sculpture. All pictures by John Hancock
Getting to the exhibition in the stables was quite an adventure as I was then reminded how dark it is in the middle of the countryside -luckily the exhibition is only open 11am- 4pm normally.
The works inspired by the Hall and landscapes are all very different. Michala, who normally works in Coventry and Kenilworth, found it a religious and inspiring experience, seeing it as a religious landscape and the house like a temple on the hill. She said: “Heritage is precious but it can also be a responsibility because if you are the custodians of something like this it’s a life sentence.
“If you go to somewhere like this to work you become religious about your work, I have become much more intense about what I am striving to do.”
Michala’s main work is normally created with thread, small or large, but here she was inspired to create a wooden-boxed triptych, with a textile work in the centre, flanked by two stitched poems she wrote inspired by the landscape, and a lovely heaven on top, with a woman crying in hell below.
She is also displaying some acrylic and pastel works depicting the landscape, and has some more works in another part of the stables, where a textile piece and her initial pastel work are shown together, demonstrating their closeness.
Zarina Keyani is showing abstract oils, and Steven Ellis Cooper has crafted a life-sized horse out of many metal horse shoes.
Val Andrews has written interestedly about coming to Ragley from the perspective of an Australian who has been in the UK for a three years and observes British people visiting and trying to make sense of their identity.
Dawn Harris’s works include gold superimposed porticos on architectural drawings, and what look like animal skulls on carved wooden plinths, partly inspired by the Gibbons carvings, also covered with goldleaf.
Kitty Kovacevic’s works include architectural drawings of Ragley turned inside out, with the lounges and impressive front of house merging. Other artists have contributed works including different styles of landscapes, and Brian Cook’s works include some natural finds, and others created to look like such, one including some tiny captured forget-me-not leaves.
The exhibition is only on until Sunday, October 31, and it’s worth the trip out to see the landscape, Hall and the varied and fascinating works they have inspired.