Coventry and Warwickshire’s art world in 2014 – a quick look back

A tour with Jeremy Deller, an evening with a KLF star, a camp parade, champagne on the terrace – and an embarrassing slip into an art work. Some of my memories of 2014.

As most galleries stay closed today, it’s time to look back at some of the highlights of the last year in the local art world – or my take on them anyway.

I can’t believe it’s nearly a year since I set out on a horrible January night to see George Wagstaffe and Michala Gyetvai’s exhibition at the Michael Heseltine Gallery in Middleton Cheney, near Banbury.

Their combination of sculpture and textiles work well together and it was lovely to see how they’ve inspired and revitalised each other’s art careers.

I ran into them several more times during the year too, at Ragley Hall where artist Dawn Harris had a residency which produced some interesting exhibitions and some fun openings, and where Michala was one of several artists working from studios in the stable block.

Champagne on the terrace outside the Hall in the sun before a tour of the first (and now only) Open exhibition was particularly memorable. It’s a shame that with a year’s worth of events planned Dawn and the other artists were asked to leave a few weeks ago – I hope they find somewhere else soon, but I fear it won’t be so attractive.

As openings go, the best had to be Qasim Riza Shaheen’s exhibition The Last Known Post at the mac in Birmingham. Vodka and orange, live Sufi music, a highly glamorous and camp parade – what’s not to enjoy!

Walking art featured strongly at the start of the year, with exhibitions of various artists’ work at the Mead, the mac in Birmingham and a Richard Long exhibition at The New Art Gallery, Walsall. Long held an In Conversation in Walsall which showed his non-nonsense nature, and the thought of his long walks, carrying everything he needs with him, was very impressive. The New Art Gallery also held an exhibition dedicated to the history of its Garman Ryan Collection and it was great to see the influence of two women on Midlands art.

Nuneaton’s Museum & Art Gallery continued to offer up some little gems of exhibitions in its own quiet way. At the start of the year I enjoyed Shaun Morris’s exhibition of paintings mostly of the underneath of the M6, and later in the year explored the varied world of illustration and some expansive works by Paul Newman.

Romanian-born Coventry University graduate Mircea Teleaga exhibited his moody paintings influenced by his home country at the Lewis Gallery in Rugby School, an attractive gallery which often has interesting exhibitions but is unfortunately only open weekday afternoons.

Other Coventry University graduates were chosen to have their work exhibited as part of New Art West Midlands, and I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of Lucy Hutchinson’s work in future. Her striking golden wallpaper telling stories of family across the world was a highlight of the show at the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum.

At Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, Professor David Carpanini brought Welsh valley life into focus in gritty paintings. The Compton Verney the season opened with Moore Rodin, including some striking large works in the grounds which made a great impression, and continued with the Folk Art exhibition which moved up from London later in the year.

At Rugby Art Gallery & Museum the annual show of the Rugby Collection was enlivened with a focus on conservation work, and the end of the year show It’s A Wrap looked at the tradition of wrapping in Japan, furoshiki.

In March, I saw Bill Drummond begin his 12-year world tour at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, which was a fun and predictably wacky occasion – let’s hope we’re both back there for the planned end of it in 2025.

At the Mead, a personal highlight was being shown around the All That is Solid Melts Into Air exhibition by its creator Jeremy Deller, while I interviewed him, then also hearing him talk about it at the Herbert, before being bussed back for the official opening. Very entertaining and interesting.

At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, the interactive exhibition Is This A Dagger? Was a good idea for an exhibition, and a nice excuse to visit the theatre again. And at Packwood House in the summer, Hilary Jack created some great installations to enhance a tour of the lovely grounds.

Coventry Artspace launched a programme of exhibitions looking at Coventry in the former Coventry Blaze shop in the City Arcade in the autumn, and at one event there I stepped back to clap a speech and ingnominously stepped back into Kathryn Hawkins’s installation, river …. splashing water all up the wall. Sorry about that (again).

There were closures too; the Gallery Upstairs in Henley-in-Arden, run by brother and sister Carey and Paul Moon, and previously owned by their parents, closed with a final exhibition in May and the beautiful building was put up for sale.

In Coventry, a group of artists calling themselves Through the Wall Projects, including another New Art West Midlands artist James Birkin, who paints great paintings of mostly derelict buildings, set up shop in one of Coventry’s fairly derelict areas in Bishop Street. Matthew Macaulay of Pluspace got involved to hold a couple more exhibitions there, but unfortunately the threat of business rates saw them having to move out.

The Lanchester Gallery Projects project ended at the building in The Hub after a varied and often challenging series of exhibitions but the university has continued to run it as a gallery, ending the year with a bright exhibition of paintings by John Devane including some influenced by American movies. The American influence was also strong in the closing exhibition of the year at the White Room in Leamington, in which Horace Panter – day job: bassist with the Specials – showed is growing catalogue of paintings.

So that’s it for 2014 – an interesting, if not stand out year. Here’s looking forward to more in 2015 – preview in the Coventry Telegraph, January 2.

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