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Double surprise with a sparkling start to exhibitions in Leamington

What’s better than one art exhibition opening with Prosecco on a Friday evening? Two! Specially when the second one was completely unexpected. And the artists are twins!

The exhibition opening at the Deasil Gallery in Oxford Street in Leamington offered pictures by about a dozen photographers and a painter.

After enjoying a chat with artists, fizz and nibbles with the two Kates who run Deasil, I was off home until I passed the Whitewall Gallery in Regent Street and was drawn in by the sight of a tray of sparkling full glasses in the window.

The occasion was the unveiling of a set of paintings by Chris and Steve Rocks, 30-year-old twins from Durham who studied art together in Leeds, and work together. The paintings are described as tributes to the power of nature, and are on a tour of Whitewall Galleries around the country, along with the artists.

Chris said they have their own technique and approach, both bringing something different to the works, with him working on textures and Steve concentrating more on detail. He said: “Some are more descriptive than others, they have that fantasy feel and maybe remind you of somewhere you have been.”

It seems the paintings will only be on show there for a few days before they and the artists move on.

At Deasil, you have until October 2 to see the new exhibition.

Stuart Ellis’s abstract paintings fill the small back room, and the photographs out front are vary varied in style. A number wouldn’t be out of place in a classy travel magazine; James Callaghan’s Antigua photographs make you long for the blue sea and sky, and Matthew Sugars’s works make St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall mysterious and Venice as attractive as it is. Hilary Roberts has, in her word, fiddled with the images digitally to make a Cuban car stand out against a fading background, and to turn wave marks in sand into trees. Ray Spence’s black and white images date from 25 years ago and use altered negatives taken on film.

Other artists use mixed media, cutting, collage and old postcards to interesting effect; more detail to follow in the Coventry Telegraph on Friday.

Leamington offers up nudity and vivid landscapes in night of two art show openings

What a fun night for the art show ligger in Leamington.

On Friday, Arts Trail Gallery in Regent Court, Livery Street, held a private view of a new exhibition entitled Le Maison Bleu, paintings by Bryan B Kelly, curated by Grazia Carano. I was invited to that so decided to visit. At the same time, Gallery 150, which has just moved across the street to different premises in Regent Court, held a opening night for its new exhibition, Human Spaces. I wasn’t invited to that, but as the galleries are only three doors apart, what the hell, I wasn’t going to miss it.

The exhibitions couldn’t be more different. Human Spaces, which I visited first, consists of works by seven artists, plus Kate Spence who gave a live performance in the window space at the opening. The exhibition was described as a figurative exhibition, which doesn’t have to mean naked, but that’s mainly what was on show.

Stand out works for me were Ray Spence’s series of photographs of life models, not in their ‘work’, but posing naked in more domestic situations. Alongside each was a question and answer session with the model. It’s refreshing to see the models have a voice, and also that they’re not all young and slight. Domenica, 58, lays back on a rooftop near a railway line, as the photo is taken from next door where a man cuddles his pet dog.

Anna, 45, lays on her kitchen worksurface, while Kadi, 28, is in two pictures while her partner and young child carry on with life oblivious. Cressida, 44, sits around while a man practises his French horn, and Arthur 79, poses imaginatively while a woman does the housework and makes a phone call around him. Only ‘H’, a heavily tattooed and, er, intimately pierced man doesn’t benefit us with his thoughts.

Ray’s works feel different for giving the models a voice, but there seems little new or different about many of the other works to show the theme of the nude has moved on at all, and some have odd overtones.

There are two paintings of Sophie, by Melvyn Warren-Smith, and the model tells, slightly worryingly, how she was persuaded to pose naked after visiting Melvyn and his wife at their home, but how liberating she found the experience ….

Neil Moore’s Release shows a naked woman with piles of ropes laying around her. It was a relief to see Emma Tooth’s paintings of a muscley breakdancer, complete with trousers.

By this time, at a packed opening, the gallery had run out of wine though there were still plenty of good-quality nibbles around. But there was more wine (and equally good nibbles) available at Arts Trail Gallery, though Gerry Smith who runs it suggested we visit his installation gallery first.

This is an empty shop within sight of the gallery where there’s a large window space. It’s been furnished brightly in a way which fits in with the paintings of Bryan B Kelly, which are all in very vivid colours. There were also some of Bryan’s accomplished pottery pieces on show there too, which were in more earthy colours and were rather stylish.

Paintings included The Little Red Butterfly, with the creature in the bottom left corner of the big, busy work showing purple and green fields. Four Sheep show the animals in one field, amidst a bigger landscape, and Herons Cove shows the bird on an island, again bottom left, on a huge expanse of aquamarine colour surrounded by fields.

The Little Red Butterfly by Bryan B Kelly

The Round Tower shows the uncharacteristically grey tower in a landscape, reminding me of a trip I made many years ago to Bryan’s home country of Ireland. Bryan studied textiles and garment design in the 1960s and has only begun painting in more recent years, and describes his paintings as “naïve with more than a hint of surrealism”. Some of the repetitive dots and patterns also suggest an interest in Aboriginal art too.

Anyway, wine drunk, nibbles eaten it was time to move on from Leamington’s busiest art quarter of the night after what had been an interesting, and certainly varied night.

Bryan and visitor in the installationPictures – The Little Red Butterfly, and Bryan with a visitor in the installation

Thanks for the memories – the year in art in Coventry and Warwickshire

So, time to raise a Private View glass of probably-questionable wine to the last days of 2013, and look back at another year.
To those who complain about Coventry in particular being a cultural desert it’s worth pointing out again that I’ve filled 52 weeks’ worth of columns with reviews of art exhibitions, plus short bits about art-related activities, and longer pieces and interviews on this blog. Yes, not all the exhibitions may have been world class but there’s a lot going on around here and new quality artists keep emerging.
One of the best bits about doing the column is going to many of the private views, or opening nights, and also experiencing some other whacky one-offs.

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Crime and closure

Not a good week in some ways for Coventry art world last week.
The Roots Gallery in Earl Street was broken into, and some electrical equipment used in two of the pieces of work was stolen.
The gallery had to close while police investigated and the council who own it were apparently going to put in extra security measure. However it’s not the first break in at the gallery – when it was just known as the glass showcase it was broken into a couple of years ago I think, and tools and other easily saleable items were stolen. You would think somewhere that is mostly glass-sided would put off burglars – but obviously not. Let’s hope this time the security measures work or it will limit what is used in exhibitions.
Emma O’Brien also announced she would be closing the Lock Gallery in the Canal Basin warehouse after a final exhibition in August.

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George Shaw’s even gettting written about in CAMRA’s Pint Sides

In the last year, George Shaw must have been written about in many places. But now he’s really made it – one of his works has been discussed in Pint Sides, the newsletter of the Coventry and North Warwickshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
It’s not your normal art criticism though. In Old Fred’s Corner, the writer says he spotted in a national paper in an article about the Turner Prize, a picture of a “derelict site that looked strangely familiar”. Of course this turned out to be a painting by George Shaw of a pub where he used to go.
Or, as ‘Fred’, told us, it was the Hawthorn Tree on Broad Lane, Lost Pubs No 36 in the Spring 2011 edition of Pint Sides.
Fred then goes on to reminisce about the history of the Hawthorn, the surrounding area and how it came to be lost, concluding “I must look out for more of Mr Shaw’s paintings of modern urban desolation”.
Luckily, the editor at this point tells us we can see the exhibition of George’s work at the Herbert until March 11, and I hope Fred has availed himself of this opportunity.

Ormeau Baths gallery closure a sad find on a good Belfast weekend

On my occasional trips away from Coventry, I like to see whatever exhibitions are on in the place I go to visit. Belfast is usually pretty reliable for a good selection but sadly not on my recent trip.
Turning up at the Ormeau Baths Gallery on Friday 13th was obviously a bad omen. The door was shut, boards were piled behind it and there was post inside the door. I had thought it was odd the website was out of date, but should have looked further – the gallery closed in October, blaming a reduction in income from sponsorship and corporate events, and a rise in costs.
It had shown exhibitions by Yoko Ono and Gilbert and George before, and a lot more obscure artists, and was a bit like the Ikon in Birmingham – an old brick building and big white spaces inside. It’s a sad lost to the Belfast art world.

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2011 was the year of George Shaw and galleries coming and going

A year ago Private View began, and before we launch ourselves into 2012 I want to look back at a year of the Coventry and Warwickshire art world, of Georges, and of galleries coming and going.
One of the early pieces I wrote on Private View focused on the find in an auction house catalogue by Coventry’s now former Conservation Officer George Demidowicz of a fantastic set of early 19th century watercolours of the city by William H Brooke, and The Herbert launched a £12,000 public appeal to buy them (George is pictured below right with Martin Roberts of The Herbert). Luckily it was a success. Sadly George is no longer with the council so one wonders if a similar set of works would be missed in future.

Martin Roberts and George Demidowicz at The Herbert

At the end of 2011, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about another George, George Shaw, who also paints Coventry, but in Humbrol paints and watercolours. His works focusing on Tile Hill featured in a major exhibition at the Baltic early in the year, and gained him a nomination for the Turner Prize. Staff at The Herbert must have been jumping for joy when they learned about this, as five years of work to stage an exhibition of his work at the gallery coincided with the prize announcement, which unfortunately he wasn’t successful in.
I make no apologies for writing so much about him when his work stands out so much, has gained national acclaim – and the opportunity to write about a local, internationally-recognised artist does not occur all that often!
The opening of an exhibition of lesser-known works by Graham Sutherland at Modern Art Oxford a few days after the Turner announcement, curated by George, was also a lucky coincidence and led to another enjoyable interview. He may be in need of a rest but I’m sure there will be much more that is entertaining, whether through paintings, writing or curating, to come from George in the future – and I’ll never forget some of the tales I heard over lunch at Oxford!
To look at galleries around the area, The Herbert staged Secret Egypt at the start of the year, which tried to cover a lot but only really managed to scratch the surface, and the summer was given over to a dinosaur exhibition aimed at the family market. Its smaller exhibitions caught my eye more – Stitch in Time, looking at the stories behind patchwork creations, the Coventry Consortium, and Lisa Gunn and Flora Parrott’s joint exhibition earlier in the year.
The Art Fund has held a number of interesting and varied fund-raising lectures in the area, which should be looked up by anyone interested in hearing about art and helping secure works for galleries.
At Rugby Art Gallery, Faye Claridge started 2011 with an exhibition inspired by Morris Dancing, and got local girls involved, which was great. The gallery’s 43 uses of drawing exhibition was also memorable.
The White Room gallery in Leamington continued to succeed with its eye for commercial exhibitions, mainly of prints, led by the enthusiasm of John and Heather Gilkes and their family. Their current exhibition of works by Specials’ bassist Horace Panter must surely be one of their most successful.
Compton Verney offered a mixed bag, starting with the wonderful Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson exhibition, continuing with Stanley Spencer landscapes, and ending with the damp squib of an exhibition about fireworks. Next year is looking promising though.
Often-overlooked Nuneaton Art Gallery and Museum put on several small but interesting exhibitions, including subjects as varied as black footballers, little fairly sculptures, lots of painters, and a tribute to local sculptor John Letts.
Leamington Art Gallery also put on several excellent exhibitions in its small temporary exhibition space, including Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland illustrations, an exhibition about the life and legacy of Robert Dudley, and the current James Edward Duggins watercolour and pastel exhibition. Its permanent collection is worth visiting for alone.
Hannah Starkey at the Mead exhibited her staged photographs of women in thoughtful situations and I was sorry flu kept me away from meeting her at the opening night. The photos tell stories and are more beautiful the more you return to them. Later in the year the Mead showed fascinating sculptures by Hupert Dalwood, and also photos by Tom Hunter, whose works were staged photos in Hackney, inspired by old masters, and also having a definite something about them.
Hunter’s work is also currently on show at the RSC in Stratford, a different set of photos showing some of Hackney’s more striking people in scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ll be writing about it in the paper soon, but it’s a captivating exhibition.
Unfortunately 2011 seems to have seen the end of some of the smaller galleries in the area. I only discovered Our White Room in Rugby had gone recently when I went to visit and found other businesses in its space. The Fishbone Gallery in Longford, Coventry, which opened with some entertaining exhibitions and even more fun opening nights, has gone all quiet, and after moving to more attractive premises in the Canal Basin the Lock Gallery hasn’t had so many exhibitions this year, though Emma O’Brien has secured more regular art fairs at the Canal Basin. The Forge at Stretton-under-Fosse succumbed to its rural location.
On a more positive note, the opening of two attractive new gallery spaces in the RSC in Stratford is a good move, and Gallery 150 continues to go from strength to strength with its excellent central location in Leamington. Its opening nights are always entertaining and it’s good to have a chat to the artists, who often have interesting stories to tell, but I do sometimes wish there was more quality control over what is staged there.
The Meter Room opened in unprepossessing premises in Coventry city centre, quickly filling its artists’ studios, and having several interesting early exhibitions. Let’s hope it can keep up its momentum. Dunchurch Art Gallery and Painting Studio is up against it, being based on a busy road in a small village, but has held a few exhibitions which have given good local artists a chance to show in the area, and I hope Mick McCormick continues with his venture.
Towards the end of the year, Matthew Macaulay exhibited in his studio space in Broadgate House in the city centre showing enterprise. Coventry Transport museum has also started showing more temporary exhibitions which is encouraging. The Association of Midland Artists held several exhibitions in Leamington of works by their many members, which were interesting to see.
BRINK, a new ‘not for profit’ arts organisation was also set up in Kenilworth and has also made some interesting first moves, though if they stage outdoor art at the Kenilworth Lions Show again in the summer I hope it’s a less windy day than this year!
And the new Lanchester Gallery Projects exhibition space in the new Coventry University building, the Hub, offers exciting opportunities. Apparently the prominent space became available out of the blue to the gallery, which has no collection of its own, so it will be interesting to see what is made of it.
All in all – it’s been lots of fun this year – and looking forward to lots more in 2012!
(You can follow me on Twitter at JulieinCov).

George Shaw exhibition opens with lots of champagne … and cider

Timing is everything, and you can’t predict the future.
So five years ago to the week when Rosie Addenbrooke, The Herbert’s Senior Events and Exhibitions Officer asked George Shaw about staging an exhibition in his home city she couldn’t have known the opening of the exhibition would coincide with his nomination for the Turner Prize.
So just 18 days before he finds out whether he has won or not, the exhibition finally opened tonight, with hundreds of people there to quaff champagne and celebrate.
George’s paintings focus on the Tile Hill estate where he grew up, and have been shown in London, hugely-successfully at the Baltic in Gateshead, and elsewhere – but never in such number in Coventry,

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First glimpse at Coventry’s new art gallery – but it stays under wraps

THE wraps are finally off and Coventry University’s new Hub is open for students – but one part still being hidden from the world is the Lanchester Gallery.
Ironically the most prominent part of the building on a glass-walled corner is still a building site, with handover planned now for December.
But when it is open it will give a whole new focus to Lanchester Gallery Projects, which until now has held exhibitions in its much-smaller gallery in the university’s School of Art. There’s always been the problem there that although its exhibitions are officially open to the public it’s often hard to get into the building unless you have a university card to open the door – hopefully this new gallery won’t have that problem.

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Art show at Gallery 150 in Leamington to help Brazilian street kids

THE opening of an exhibition at Gallery150 in Leamington is always a bit of an occasion.
It’s the only gallery where you get called sir or madam as you’re handed a glass of wine, and the canapés are always beautifully presented.
But tonight’s opening was the first where at opening time the exhibition was still being hung! LSA Chair Gerry Smith, fresh back from holiday, and an able assistant were busy fixing the last digital prints to the wall as the first drinks were poured, but they were soon all in place and in a straight line too.

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