Excellent Nancy Upshall exhibition puts Deasil gallery on the map

Adrift

A Coventry-based artist is holding a retrospective of her work with paintings and drawings going back to the 1960s.

Nancy Upshall moved to the city from Dorset to teach art at the then Barkers Butts School in the 1950s.

She said: “I left my first job very easily – I was teaching art and they had a polished floor in the art room and the caretaker would grumble (about it getting dirty) so I gave my notice in. After about two months I thought I better get another job and when I applied for Coventry I thought that’s the furthest north I am going to go. It was a secondary modern school, and they had been told by an inspector their art and music was useless. They wanted to get a graduate in and I thought when I was being shown round, this job is mine!

“I came from a small town in Dorset and coming to Coventry it was so industrial … I couldn’t believe people lived like that, it was a real eye opener for me.”

Nancy thought she might stay in Coventry for a couple of years, but then, as she put it, “love struck” and she has been in the city ever since.

A few of the works in the exhibition are from the early years. Nancy said: “Some of them go back quite a time, and some of the early ones are from when I was first married and living in Coventry.”

She recalled going out on a Sunday morning when she only had her first daughter, Jane, and Nancy would draw and Jane took her drawing book along too, but it got too complicated by the time her second daughter came along.

The post-war reconstruction was going on in earnest. She said: “I remember being on the roof of Broadgate House and painting – there’s one in the Herbert in Coventry which I did of Smithford Street.

“There were car parks which for me were ready made abstracts, you got a space and beyond it another space.”

Now retired but still painting in Earlsdon, Coventry, Nancy taught for many years at Coventry Technical College, a Lanchester Polytechnic annex, Rugby School of Art and until recently on open studies classes at the University of Warwick.

This exhibition at the recently-opened Deasil Art Gallery in The Warehouse in Oxford Street, Leamington, has around 50 paintings, prints and drawings on the walls, plus 70 prints in racks.

The early works include a pen and ink drawing of the Owen Owen building being constructed, with the old stone of Holy Trinity also visible, from 1962, and a painting of the rebuilding made of lots of bright squares from 1964. Portrait of Greta, a delicate close up of a woman with a beehive hairdo is also an early work from 1962.

Later works develop her familiar wide palette of colours, usually including purples. Some works are entirely abstract, others more figurative but in the same colour-filled style. Others stand out as very different.

Mind the Gap from 2004 has what looks like a large cut-away bit of earth so you can see what’s below ground, while the words ‘mind the gap’ are repeated and fall into a hole. Not Waving but Drowning of 1976 is a rather symbolic pencil drawing showing a small hand waving from behind a curtain in a house, which in front of it has a hedge and two fences. Green Belt of 1981 is a larger-than-normal work with a green bit in the middle, dividing many overlapping pencil-drawn houses.

Le Plongeur

There are also a few works inspired by a visit to Ayers Rock in Australia in the 1990s, including Tree Ancestors, a delicate screenprint of strange-faced creatures.

Geranium from 1980 is an identifiable plant, and Inkwells from 1983 uses what is now a flaking orange paint as the background colour, with three inkwells painted on. Other more abstract works feature brightly coloured shapes and swathes of colour, some in series like the Division series of 2007, or the large Rift from 2004. And it’s good to see Nancy’s still working, as the Poseidon’s Kingdom, with what look like watery bubbles, from 2015.

It’s a wide-ranging exhibition from an interesting and popular artist which shows the variety of her work from over the decades, in a pleasant, fresh-looking space which plans to show new exhibitions every three weeks.

The retrospective is the third exhibition at Deasil Art Gallery, a pleasant, clean-looking space on the ground floor of what was Oceans nightclub, and is now occupied by creative businesses,a design company and social media firm.

Deasil is run by Kate Livingston and Kate Bramwell, and the name Deasil apparently comes from the meaning of the direction of the sun’s movement clockwise, moving forward, to tie in with the Kates’ aim of being an Art Agency and displaying art in different venues across the Midlands – moving art forward. I look forward to hearing more from them, and seeing what other exhibitions they put on in the future.

 

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