Month: February 2017

Environmental theme at gallery in the park for this year’s New Art West Midlands exhibitors

jade-hamilton-future-mess-2016-for-new-art-west-midlands

New Art West Midlands has opened its doors again to shine light on some of the stars of the region’s art colleges – with one of the exhibitions having a particular theme this year.

The exhibition is held across four venues and shows works by artists who have graduated from the region’s six art schools – Coventry University, Birmingham City University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester, Staffordshire University and Hereford College of Arts – in the past four years.

More than 180 people entered and just 31 were chosen to show their work across this year’s galleries: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, mac Birmingham, Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

NAWM was launched this year with a private view at mac, and it was soon clear there was a thematic choice to the works. The mac exhibition had been curated by Jessica Litherland who moved there from Rugby Art Gallery and Museum last year. She said she noticed a lot of artists were working with environmental themes, and she thought this would link in with the gallery being in a park, and wanting to get more involved in its setting.

I could only find one Coventry University graduate showing at the mac, and she is Renata Juroszva, whose works explore the “relationship between femininity and domesticity” and are based on her photographs of domestic spaces filled with female models. Domestic Routine is a set of nine monochrome drawings showing women doing small tasks such as taking a bath or going upstairs, creating ideas of privacy and intrusion.

Jade Hamilton (ex University of Wolverhampton) has combined (above) various found objects around the idea of a post-apocalyptic future where humans have used up the earth’s resources to such an extent they have created an environment where it’s virtually impossible to breath normally. Mannequins wear gas masks attached to small ‘microcosm planted biomes’, glass domes full of greenery. They are impressive if sobering.

Some of the other works on show at the mac are not easy to look at.

Megan Evans (ex BCU), is showing Natural Collection, a selection of works made from pastel, and cosmetics, looking at people’s ideas of self presentation through deciding to change their appearance. There are some slightly gruesome images of faces cut open for facelifts, dental work and other facial surgery. They make their point about the ugliness and unpleasantness gone through in the search for beauty.

Halina Dominska’s work is quite fun. It looked at first like a big pink canopy, with flesh picky bits hanging from it; it relates to the skin, to senses and reactions. Called Bound to, it is made of soft silicone, fishing wire and pressure sensors, with bits that start pulsing in a triffid-like manor if you stand close to them.

Sarah Zacharek (ex University of Wolverhampton), is interested in travel, and also inspired by the work of Hamish Fulton. In Re:Discovery she traced a route determined by photographic negatives of her late father’s journey to Torun, his home town in Poland, although she had no first-hand memories of him and no connection to his heritage. She has combined his photographs with ones taken where he had stood, also photographing the street she stood on, together with sounds from the journeys.

Hair stitched on hand.

Natalie Ramus (ex Hereford College of Arts) has produced large photographs of hands that at a distance look as though they are painted with henna; but no, it’s a hand stitched lightly with human hairs. Hand Stitched is apparently about using shock to prompt the spectator to reconnect with their body. It’s certainly quick shocking.

 

Jenna Naylor (ex Staffordshire University), has created some charcoal and marker pen drawings, one bravely on tracing paper reaching across the room and others on the wall, called Botanical Hybrids, which show her interest in classificatory systems and taxonomy, and “use the space between fact and fiction”. They look like a mix of under sea life and plants.

All four exhibitions of NAWM are on until May 14. Looking at the exhibition catalogue other works I’d like to track down (both by Coventry University graduates) are some colourful mixed-media anti-capitalist, anti-austerity landscapes created by Coventry University graduate Daniel Smart, and Natalie Seymour’s digital photo collages of an empty college building in Smethwick which fuse images of the interior and exterior to create monumental images.

 

 

 

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Come face to face with images from Coventry and the country’s past

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, 1590-1610

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, 1590-1610

A new exhibition at The Herbert in Coventry brings together some paintings from the gallery’s collection that are not regularly seen, and some loaned from major collections in London.

In Face-to-Face – Portraits Through Time it’s fascinating to see paintings in particular of figures from the city’s historical past. The exhibition is organised into groups under headings, though many works could really fit in several sections.

In status there is a portrait of Simon Norton, dyer and former mayor of Coventry was dated 1641, the year he died and left money to Bond’s Hospital in the city, as the caption explains, and also I’ve read elsewhere to pay for a C of E minister at St John’s Church if it ever became a parish church; at the time it had been handed over to the council to administer. Amazing to see him in his rich red robes.

There is also John Rotherham of the watch making family, painted with a horse and dog in 1832 by locally-based painter David Gee, really in the pose of a country gent, showing the class his family’s work and wealth meant he now aspired to.

The Waters family of Coventry, behind the well-known wine business, are also depicted.

Alfred Herbert, industrialist and head of the Coventry business, was painted by Leonard Boden at the age of about 90, showing confidence and self assuredness and also nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. By contrast, also from the Herbert’s own collection is Peter Howson’s Man With Cigarette, a non-realistic depiction of a hard-done-by looking man with downtrodden eyes, dragging on the cigarette, with most of the colours different shades of red.
Another Arthur Gee painting shows the children of Arthur Gregory of Styvechale Hall in Coventry playing with their old dog Nelson from 1838, an idealised image of well-off people at leisure.

In contrast, a Christine Vogle photograph from 1975 shows a family group in a women’s hostel, their bags still packed in a cramped room.

Masterji, Coventry’s recently much-celebrated portrait photographer has a work included, Mr and Mrs Khan, a couple posing smartly before the camera.

A section on commissions includes Miss Newark, but David Gee again, a young woman painted in 1859 with her hands on a book, showing her studiousness, and a Stanley Spencer portrait showing Priscilla, a young woman from Cookham depicted at home, complete with roadworks visible through the window. It was a commission from her family, painted while the teenager was undergoing cancer treatment, and died soon afterwards.

In the power section there is Bearded Man with a Falcon from 1500, on loan from the Courtauld, and showing the strong-looking central figure painted in rich colours, attributed to Lazzano Bastiani. The National Portrait Gallery has loaned a typically-tough looking Henrvy VIII, and the Herbert’s own more than life sized portrait of Queen Mary II dominates that wall of the gallery, not a very human image but showing the richness of her powerful position.

Bryan Organ’s 1981 painting of Diana, Princess of Wales, painted the year of her marriage to Charles shows her seated, central amongst well-decorated surroundings, and we are reminded it was a very different image at the time as she was seated casually and wearing trousers, representative of what she brought fresh to the royal family.

The “Recognised” section features portraits of people done because the artist wanted to depict them, rather than anyone commissioning the work. It includes Giant Head of Gbenga, painted by Naham Shoa, a huge 2001-2, a large close-up portrait with the light falling on one side of his face. Coventry-based Jason Scott Tilley’s 2012 photograph of a graceful dancer in Jaipur is also included.

Self portraits include Sarah Lucas’s Self Portrait with Mug of Tea from 1993, an image showing her in more traditional male pose, legs apart and dressed in masculine style. Thomas Gainsborough’s 1758-9 self portrait was painted probably while he was looking for work after moving to Bath and wanted to show off his skills at accurate representation. Victoria, a photo by Lisa Gunn, challenges images of disability and sexuality, the artist pictured from behind in her wheelchair, wearing a half-open corset.

The Fame section includes an 1806 mezzotint image of Horatio Nelson on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, a picture showing him looking heroic, and distributed on his death. The Creative area includes a photo of author Jacqueline Wilson by Maud Sulter, her large silver jewellery showing her independence, and a great Germaine Greer painted by Paula Rego from 1995, traditional images of graceful or regal portraiture going out the window, with the academic in a comfortable shapeless dress, her legs splayed as she things of more intellectual things than what she looks like.

The exhibition seeks to explore an apparent age-old obsession with the human image, showing some interesting locally-held paintings which most people are unlikely to have seen before, and asking questions about why people are depicted as they are, why at all and what messages are being conveyed.

The exhibition is on until June 4.

by Bryan Organ, acrylic on canvas, 1981

by Bryan Organ, acrylic on canvas, 1981

Colourful landscapes star in David Howell’s return to exhibiting

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Eyes of Slate, oil on canvas 2015

Coventry-based artist David Howell could not be accused of rushing into having an exhibition, as it’s 23 years since his last one – however it has been worth the wait.

Black Mountain Red River captures David’s interest in investigating ideas of landscape. The large to very large colourful paintings work very well in the open white spaces of the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School.

As he explains in his artist’s statement: “I’m interested in how perceptions of both nature and landscape have been shaped through time, how we experience landscape in its physical sense, how we record it visually through maps, photography and the painted image, and the resulting affect this has on our psyche.”

David’s colour use has changed over the years, with brighter hues now filling the canvas. Mineral Memory from 1996 shows this, a large mainly dark green painting with a lozenge-shaped block in the middle. Other older works are also generally darker in colour.

The painting style involves what looks like a confident application of the paint, generally in thick lines. Falling Water features green, blue, purple and orange paint streaming down the canvas to the bottom. Palimpest features a line across the canvas with brighter colours across the top.

Some of the paintings have the look of lines of different strata in rocks or cliff faces. One work has a grey background with a blue river running through it, and Above the Shivver features yellows towards the base and thickly-applied broad swathes of coloured paint with more greys and purples up top. You can imagine fields, or vistas opening up, with various skies and weather conditions.

David, who took a Fine Art degree at the then Lanchester Polyechnic in the 1980s and who was a prizewinner in John Moores 18 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 1993, said his influences are broad, “ranging from a fascination with geology and deep time, the scientific understanding of the ongoing processes that have shaped and continue to shape the land around us.” Influences include maps, satellite images, historic paintings and mineral samples.

It feels a lifetime ago since David’s works have been seen in public, and at the busy opening a lot of people were glad they had been brought out of his studio at the Canal Basin in Coventry. Don’t miss the chance to see them at the gallery, which is open Monday to Friday afternoons until March 2 (half term excepted).

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Tidal Pink oil on canvas 2014

Nash and Rauschenberg exhibitions fascinating contrast for day out

A trip to London meant a chance to catch up on two exhibitions which began last year and are worth seeing before they end in the next couple of months. Coincidentally the ones that caught my eye are at both the Tates.

At Tate Britain, there’s a large Paul Nash exhibition. Nash, who lived from 1889-1946, was involved in various artistic groupings in the 1930s and a leading figure in British surrealism, though his war paintings were what I knew him for, and after seeing the exhibition still seem to be his most powerful works.

Early works such as The Pyramid in the Sea and Night Landscape saw him influenced by the symbolists and exploring dream-like, often moonlit landscapes.

His First World War paintings and his own experiences made his works bigger, bolder and more dramatically coloured. We Are Making A New World from 1918 has a brave sun peeking over blood-red mountains, a churned up foreground and trees with only the trunks remaining. Ypres Salient at Night is a geometric painting, with light flooding from a sky alight with explosions. The Menin Road has a landscape of destroyed trees, toxic pools of water, a few struggling figures, smoke and light flooding through the devastated sky in straight lines. Spring in the Trenches, Wood Hill 1917 depicts new growth and sun shining over soldiers stuck in a trench. In these paintings dramatic colours not true to life and angular shapes are stunning and spectacular.

After the war, Nash became obsessed with certain places, such as Dymchurch, where he painted The Shore as long straight concrete lines, huge patches of yellow sand and a floaty sky. Other works included still lifes, such as Dead Spring, a plant’s dying greenery soft and twirling against harsh straight lines in the background.

Later works included compositions of objects such as driftwood and stones, and then landscape paintings including objects such as the Avebury stones, or objects representing them.

The Second World War brought along starkness to his work again, including Totes Meer (Dead Sea), inspired by the piles of metal from crashed planes he saw at the Cowley Dump in Oxford, making it into a new shiny sea full of waves.

His final paintings were a return to landscapes involving the moon or sun, and flowers in the sky as precursors of death. It’s a fascinating exhibition and if like me you knew Nash mainly for his war paintings its eye opening.

At Tate Modern, the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition couldn’t be more of a contrast. The artist lived from 1925-2008, and began his career in the 1950s. He came from Texas and only went to an art gallery for the first time after being drafted into the navy.

His first works included a car tyre coated in paint driven over a long strip of paper. Works developed into paintings incorporating found items, and then larger free-standing collages and some works he created live on stage.

There is also the infamous stuffed goad he acquired, and was initially unsure how to evolve it into an art work; eventually it became wrapped in a tyre and stood over a painting. Another work shows a single bed, sheet pulled enticingly back, but the whole coated in paint.

He also worked across art forms, creating sets for more than a decade for the Merce Cunningham dance group, who performed to compositions by John Cage.

Later works included silkscreens consisting of photos enlarged on to canvas, including the recently assassinated President Kennedy, and images from space, science and sport. Another departure was to create Mud Muse, a large tank of clay and water which pops and bubbles as air is released.

Later works took on a political hue, involving influences from countries with repressive governments, and also sculptures made from discarded scarp metal from his home state of Texas, then suffering after an oil crisis.

It’s a hugely varied exhibition and again a learning experience for someone only familiar with a few aspects of his work.

* Nash at Tate Britain continues until March 5, and Rauschenberg at Tate Modern until April 2.