Month: July 2016

Sculpture in city church is a poignant return for Coventry artist George Wagstaffe

A Coventry artist has returned to a church where two pieces of his work already stand, to create a new sculpture which was blessed today.

George Wagstaffe has made a new water stoup for St Mary Magdalen Church in Chapelfields in Coventry, the ‘church with the blue roof’ on the corner of St Thomas Whites and Hearsall Lane.

An exhibition of his recent work including preliminary drawings for the design of the stoup, plus some older pieces, were put on show at a cheese and wine evening in the church’s Magdalen Centre, where George was also present to talk to parishioners about his work.

His works already in the church are a tall stand for the Paschal Candle, and a Mary Magdalen sculpture, which was dedicated on September 28 2003. George was working on this when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York on September 11 2001, and this influenced his work, with the bronze cast to reflect the light to appear as if she is weeping. A personal tragedy influenced his planning for the stoup, as during the 18 months he was working on it he was caring for his ill wife, and then mourning her loss.

Some of his paintings from this time reflect this, with previous motifs of a woman and horse returning, but now with the waters of separation flowing between them, and a trinity of trees on the hill, in one piece called Atonement.

George said the eventual design for the stoup, which is cast in bronze, represents the wood of the Cross, the sun and the moon which are a constant, and when worshippers dip their fingers in they are touching the thorns of the crown of thorns from the crucifixion. The design includes the constant flow of water, and laurel leaves.

The design is detailed and meaningful, and comes from deep personal feelings and a lifetime of work in Coventry, and fits in well with George’s two other sculptures in the church. It was blessed in a service at 10am today.


Visiting Professor explores travellers through distance and time in exhibition

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A Professor of Fine Art from Madrid University is exhibiting in what is now being called the Lanchester Research Gallery

The gallery, which is inside Coventry University’s Graham Sutherland building on the corner of Cox Street in the city centre, is showing Transits and Crossings: New Works on Paper by Pilar Montero, who is currently Visiting Academic Fellow in Visual Arts Research at the university.

The works are divided into three sections, and “explore the aesthetic potential of the contemporary nomadic condition”, with Montero apparently looking back to travellers in eighteenth century Europe: Pasavant in England, Ponz in Holland, England, France and Belgium, and Goethe in Italy, to look at the alienation and pursuit of knowledge that travelling artists confront.

Mirrors is along one wall, a series of attractive photographs of the surface of water from different distances, with something red reflected in it.

Variations of Vocabulary is a selection of pictures of poppies with words flying through, plus dozens of scraps of cloth with words on piled on the floor. Other scraps with words are seen hanging on a washing line.

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Little Shoes on Paper is a huge wall covered with what look like tiny, fragile shoes, again with different words written in them, showing a huge attention to detail and craft. Another wall features four large black and white paintings.

It’s an exhibition which makes you think, and it’s good to see the gallery space open again. The exhibition is on until August 19.

After 50 years, Pickford is a worthy successor to update the Warwickshire Pevsner


The definitive guide to the buildings of Coventry and Warwickshire has been revised after 50 years – and was launched at a venue chosen with some significance by the revising author.

The Buildings of England Warwickshire, by Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner was launched at the Governor’s House at the Chamberlaine Almshouses in Bedworth.

Mr Pickford, formerly Bedfordshire archivist, who has spent six years revising the 1966 original by Pevsner, said he had considered many grand houses for the launch before deciding on the almshouses just off Bedworth’s pedestrianised precinct (above).

He said: “Some of you who knew the old book will understand why. Pevsner called Bedworth a ‘depressing small town’ and dismissed its buildings in 16 small lines. He gave two lines to these wonderful Almshouses.”

He said many more buildings had been included in this revision and he aimed to right wrongs where necessary – Bedworth now has three and a half pages, including an engraving of the Chamberlaine Almshouses from 1839, and a suggested perambulation around the town to take in the sights.

Mr Pickford said Warwickshire had many places such as Warwick and Stratford to attract tourists, but he added: “One of the other reasons we have come to Bedworth is the north is less well known than the south. This is a county of immense richness and what we are saying is don’t ignore the north.”

He grew up in Warwickshire, and said he first explored the county’s buildings with the original Pevsner volume as his guide. A sixth form work experience at Warwickshire’s county record office set him off on a career in the archives.

Speaking at the launch, Charles O’Brien from Yale University Press (below right with author) said Chris Pickford had helped him with the Bedfordshire revision, which led to him being asked to revise Warwickshire. He said: “We were keen that we confound people’s expectations by finding buildings people knew nothing about and we think we have fulfilled that aim amply this evening.”

Chris Pickford

The 801-page book explores the county and Coventry in depth, commenting on the history and architecture of buildings. It covers churches, public buildings, plus other structures such as folly towers, toll houses, railway viaducts, mansions and other houses. There are walks around towns included so readers can use it to explore places.

Artworks and memorials inside buildings are also described and commented on, with an index of architects and artists so you can locate work by those you are interested in. The new version is also two and a half times the size of the first, so is a thorough guide to the buildings of the county. Information from the original Pevsner remains and is expanded on where Chris has more to say, though of course many buildings have been or gone since the original. Some of Pevsner’s more waspish comments have been questioned and challenged.

At the launch, Pickford added: “I have been revisiting many places from my youth. I was treading in my own footsteps as well as Pevsner’s and it was great fun meeting people who’d met him on his first visit. They said ‘he was a very rude man’!”

Someone he met at a remote farmhouse told how they had let Pevsner in, then wondered if they should have done, it being just a few days since the Great Train Robbery.

He said he hoped he had brought to the new book 50 years’ knowledge of the county and its buildings, and he in particular wanted to include more information on local architects and their buildings. Having road tested the new volume at various places in the county, it’s certainly true that it now answers many questions about who was the architect or firm behind various buildings.

There are also of course many new buildings included; in Pevsner’s day Coventry University as such did not exist, and there are references to Lanchester College of Technology and the College of Art, but in the new volume it has three pages to itself. Similarly, the University of Warwick had less than a page referring to the plans, but now it also has nearly three pages. Many other new buildings are also of course included for the first time.

• The Buildings of England, Warwickshire, by Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner is published by Yale University Press at £35.


Strong Rooms are a powerful experience of history in the making

Strong Rooms have come to make their mark in Coventry this week, and call in for an illuminating experience

And enjoy them from what you find out, rather than focusing on the slightly confusing story of what’s behind them.

After a week in Rugby, two shipping containers are in University Square, opposite the cathedral steps, until Monday, July 18, for a project called Strong Arms. They seem to be part of a number of different things though  – a leaflet describes Strong Arms as a new project by artist Mohammed Ali and Soul City Arts, developed by Archives West Midlands and Arts Connect, the Bridge organisation for the West Midlands and Arts Council England Lottery Funding.

It’s also described in a press release from Crisis Skylight Coventry and Warwickshire as a project delivered with The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery as part of Art in Crisis 2016, with work by Coventry-based artists who have experienced homelessness.

However it is defined it’s an interesting dip into history and art in one go, with research carried out at West Midlands archives.

On the outside of one container, Ali has painted, in his graffiti, street art style, Dorothie Feilding, who was born at Newnham Paddox near Rugby, a child of the Earl of Denbigh, but who went on to drive ambulances in the First World War.

Inside one of the containers, he has painted six portraits of people from the West Midlands, some well known and others not. They include Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the composer who had an African father, and Coventry-born Colonel Wyley who is well known for leaving the Charterhouse to the city, but I didn’t know he was the founder of the Coventry and Warwickshire Society of Artists in 1912. There’s also Emma Sproson, born in West Bromwich, who became a suffragette, and Scottish-born Mary Macarthur who led women chainmakers in Cradley Heath in a fight for a fair wage in 1910.

The floors and walls are covered with old, detailed maps of parts of the Midlands, and there’s also atmospheric sound effects, and a film of a poem being read in a field.

The other container shows works by Midlands artists who have experienced homelessness. There’s some ‘Lost’ posters, featuring various places on earth, including the Temple of the Sun, Baalbek, Syria, marked as “Destroyed”, and the Sphinx of Giza.

A desk has been beautifully customised with cut outs of tiny feet, flowers, with letters sticking out of the drawers and what look like fezs hanging from the ceiling. A huge collage of people and artefacts also brightens one wall.

There is a work, The Book of Known Thieves, 1895-1910, inspired by an archival document which contained information on 1,400 people from Aston in Birmingham who came before the courts in Warwickshire, and were recorded in it.

As a project to promote use of the archives it make a good point of what of interest can be found there; it’s a shame that (in Coventry at least) the opening hours and days of archives are being continually cut back to make it harder to visit and explore.

The Art in Crisis Coventry project continues with an exhibition at the Glass Box in the city centre from July 18-28, by Crisis clients who have worked with photographer Jamie Gray to explore the city, and Pride & Perusal at The Urban Coffee Company at Fargo from July 18-29, a mixed media exhibition celebrating the work of Crisis clients in Coventry in 2015-16.

The New Art Gallery has a trio of great reasons to visit now

The Garman Ryan Collection at The New Art Gallery in Walsall means it’s always worth a visit, but the temporary exhibitions on at the moment make now an extra good time to go.

The Humble Vessel on the top floor looks at the symbol of the simple boat as depicted by various artists through time, and made relevant now by sights of refugees fleeing so often by boat.

It includes a newly-commissioned work by Pakistani artist Fazal Rizvi, a three-screen video installation of what looks like a small fishing boat from anywhere in the world bobbing about on the water. There are concrete boats which will be going nowhere, by Bob and Roberta Smith, and in an 1873 painting by Jules-Ėmile Saintin a woman in black looks sadly out to sea, a reminder that the waters have often taken lives.

Eric Ravilious’s Storm is a wonderfully blowy, colourful work, and there are other appealing depictions of boats and harbours from the past century. The exhibition ends on July 24, but is worth toiling up to the top floor to visit.

The more recently opened Land, Sea and Air takes as its starting point artists who have used maps as their source material. The exhibition brings together works by seven international artists using maps in very different ways.

You can get pleasantly lost in Frank Bowling’s huge colourful Map Paintings, made between 1967-71 – if you step back parts of the world can be seen through the vivid and attractive colours.

Cornelia Parker’s works show a series of London street maps with burns in them from a meteorite which came down in Namibia in 1836, which has been heated and then burnt over the various locations.

Tiffany Chung’s mixed installation includes photography, a map on the wall showing a timeline, and pieces from history to tell the story of her father, shot down in a mission during the Vietnam war and held prisoner for her entire childhood. It’s a moving and intriguing work.

Shilpa Gupta’s There is No Border Here is very relevant because of recent and ongoing events. It’s a poem on the wall talking of battle, conflict and love, beautifully written in tape which reads “there is no border here”.

These are the highlights of a fascinating exhibition.

Finally, if you think you’ve seen the Garman Ryan collection enough times, think again. As part of a three-year partnership, there are interventions in the collection from the Tate. A total of 16 works from the Tate have been paired with the gallery’s own pieces, related by either artist, theme or subject matter.

It’s fascinating to wander around and read the interesting booklet which investigates the ideas behind these links. Sometimes it’s similarities in theme – there are two paintings of Suffolk with different sky scenes, by John Nash and John Constable, for example.

In other cases it’s the same artist – an oil and a watercolour landscape by Camille Pisarro, and a bronze sculture and ink drawing by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are also other big name artists featured – Picasso, Braque, Rodin, Modigliani, Degas, Gainsborough, Freud, Epstein, Eric Gill, and Odile Redon. One comparison puts a Bernard Leach fruit bowl from 1955 with a Solomon Islands fruit bowl from the nineteenth or twentieth century. My favourite is the huge Raoul Dufy painting of The Wheatfield from Tate paired with a much smaller Harvest Scene watercolour from Walsall.

It’s a great set of exhibitions to enjoy and explore in one building.

Summer is here for artists at Deasil gallery in Leamington, anyway

Sea Moon

The Summer Exhibition at Deasil in Leamington brings together some artists from their stable of regulars whose works are shown in venues such as restaurants around the Midlands, plus some newer artists.

With pieces by about 14 people on show there is quite a variety of themes and styles of working.

Nancy Upshall

Coventry-based artist Nancy Upshall has three pieces here, including the oil painting Twisted Flax, a small work with a concentration on the turns in a material, and a larger work, Motley.


Susannah Rourke’s April Showers (above) are four paint and mixed media works of splashes of movement and colour, which can be rearranged into a different pattern if preferred, as can another set called Here I Am.

Chris Putt’s large digital print of St Ives is recognisably the resort, with colour added to the buildings. Stuart Ellis’s Sea Moon (top) has a gold base, with purples, oranges and golds going up into the sky, and is very effective.

Sonia Bublaitis’s works are very colourful, with vivid paint patterns on Perspex. In contrast, Mark Allan is showing close-up wildlife photographs to make the keen amateur envious.

Paul Jordan

Paul Jordan’s City Limits (above) is a mixed media piece, with buildings drawn in black lines over a board on which newspaper has been stuck, and painted over white. You can tell it’s recently done from the headlines about Johnson and May visible underneath.

It’s another enjoyable and varied exhibition from the gallery which changes its exhibitions every three weeks.