Midlands events

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.



A look back at the art highlights of 2015 in Coventry and Warwickshire

As I take a rest before throwing myself bravely into a new year of trying to balance a wine glass, note book and pen at exhibition openings, there’s time to reflect on a year of varied shows – and meeting two gallery bosses called Kate who really suffer for their art.

In July, a retrospective exhibition by Coventry-based artist Nancy Upshall was my first experience of the Deasil Art Gallery in Oxford Street in Leamington. I talked to Nancy about her artistic career and paintings made in Coventry from the 1950s onwards, and also Kate Livingston and Kate Bramwell who run it.

Openings at Deasil are always fun, and Kate B welcomed me to one, when she had her hands full, by inviting me to pour my own Prosecco and “fill it to the brim” – a girl after my own heart. The exhibitions I’ve enjoyed the most have been Nancy’s and also Inked Palette, which brought a new audience to the gallery, as it showed works by people who normally work as tattoo artists. The two Kates really showed their commitment to their work at that exhibition, as each got a tattoo live at the opening – I’m glad to say I’d left by that point, though Kate B has an artist’s palette on her abdomen and Kate L a letter on her leg as a memento of it!

Adrift Adrift by Nancy Upshall

Earlier in the year, Gallery 150 bowed out of its central space in Leamington after Englandia, an exhibition by former Coventry University lecturer John Yeadon, an investigation into England’s national identity which John said doesn’t exist. I met up again with John at the Hunger Meal at Coventry Cathedral, organised by Artspace’s City Arcadia project, where we were among the naughty children, including Dean John Whitcombe, who didn’t join the organised conversations, but still enjoyed the talk and food enormously.

Rugby Art Gallery started the year in uncertain silence, with the Rugby Collection making an earlier than normal showing, including some new additions to the collection. Its later Open, fairly predictably inspired by the Rugby World Cup, was a bit disappointing but The Gain Line by Ravi Deepres was a mesmerising film which held my attention thoroughly, partly through merging local scenes from the town with a game at a huge venue.

The Mead Gallery at the University of the Warwick began the year with some fascinating Russian photographs from the early twentieth century, and by five contemporary photographers. And, not usually a huge fan of film installations, I was blown away by The Unfinished Conversation, a three-screen installation by John Akomfrah about cultural theorist Prof Stuart Hall. The summer exhibition focused on the Mead’s own collection, now in its 50th year. It was an excellent chance to see together works which are generally spread around the university.

I was also lucky enough, on a beautiful bright day, to be invited to the installation of a new work by David Nash at the University of Warwick’s Diamond Wood, accessible from the Coventry to Kenilworth cycle route and walkway. I talked to the artist as the work was painstakingly winched into place and David positioned it down to the last millimetre. It’s called Habitat and the idea is that local wildlife such as bats, birds and insects will use it; I must return to see how it’s bedded in.

The Mead’s final exhibition of the year, Making it: Sculpture in Britain 1977-1986 was a thorough and educational exhibition about the works in this period, but my overwhelming feeling afterwards was that this wasn’t the most interesting period of sculpture by a long way.

Nuneaton’s Museum & Art Gallery does a valiant job in staging two or three exhibitions at the same time, and it continued to show some small and interesting ones this year, including some inspired by works left to the museum. It started the year with an exhibition of miniatures, which revealed some lovely works by Lady Stott, who’d lived an interesting life. A later exhibition of works by Jhinuk Sarkar was inspired by a collection of items owned by Canon John Turner during his time as a missionary in Baffin Island early last century. It’s amazing where these things end up. Other good shows there this year included urban landscapes of Coventry, Nuneaton and Senegal painted by Sarah Moncrieff, and cartoons by Nuneaton-born professional cartoonist Noel Ford.

The White Room in Leamington continued to lay on fun opening nights, packing people, wine and nibbles into the small but perfectly formed gallery space.

The Lanchester Gallery had been in the prominent and easily accessible spot on a corner in Jordan Way in Coventry for the last couple of years, and flockOmania, which combined giant jewellery and performance, was one of the oddest. It’s a shame it’s now back inside the far less accessible art school building on the corner of Cox Street.

The RSC in Stratford continued to surprise with some good exhibitions, including one about Bruce Bairnsfather, the Warwickshire-born wartime cartoonist I had never heard of but was fascinated to learn about.

In In In   MichaelCarrMessagetoyourudy Foremark Reservoir IIShufflebotham

Works by Jade Blackstock, Michael Carr and Jennifer Shufflebotham in New Art West Midlands.

New Art West Midlands was challenging, not least to me when I found myself shut outside Birmingham Art Gallery & Museum desperate to get in early before a drive to Colchester (don’t ask). Thankfully PR Helen Stallard rescued me and it turned into a fun opening, with chats to several lovely artists including Michael Carr who I kept running to at exhibitions throughout the year.

Compton Verney had what felt like a good year, starting with an exhibition entitled Canaletto: Celebrating Britain, which showcased his paintings from 1746-55, and I was glad to have attended the official opening and heard gallery director Dr Stephen Parissien put them in their artistic, social and historical context.

Warwickshire-based artist Faye Claridge’s Kern Baby was on show outside all season, a five metre-high faceless, gowned creature, inspired by some Benjamin Stone photographs, with some of her admittedly “edgy” photos inside. I described Kern Baby at the time as looking as though she’d escaped from the building. Months later I visited to find her down by the lake; apparently her prominent position – great as an art work – didn’t go down so well with the venue’s wedding business and photo opportunities.





Kern Baby’s second position, by the lake.

The Chinese Collection enjoyed a big revamp after winning funding, and it made a huge difference, showing the importance of the collection rather than just being on a route between galleries.

Leamington Art Gallery & Museum held A Leamington Lad brought together lots of works by Terry Frost, 100 years after his birth in the town. It was brought to life by some recordings of interviews with the characterful Frost. Later in the year I chanced upon another Frost exhibition in Banbury, Frost, Family and Friends, showing works loaned by individuals rather than galleries, and the often personal stories behind them. The works were mostly smaller and not all in Frost’s usual style, which made it fascinating; it’s on until January 9 so there’s still time to see it.

Recording Britain at The Herbert was a V&A touring exhibition which showed the country in 1939 captured by artists of the time, and many lost scenes were recorded; it was poignant though that not all were lost in the war, some were drowned under reservoirs or lost as industries declined. The autumn season of remembrance at the Herbert included work by contemporary artists, but seeing John Piper’s paintings of the city the day after the Blitz were most memorable.

Away from my usual round of galleries, there were some other gems.

A photographic exhibition at the Belgrade Theatre showed the works of a class of 11 adults studying for City and Guild Level 2 Photography & Photo Imaging at City College, and included some really good works on the theme of city life.

Skateboarder John Blakemore

A skateboarder by Tony Skipper in the Belgrade Theatre exhibition, and a John Blakemore from Imagine Hillfields.

Imagine Hillfields was an exhibition which came from a research project, and brought together works by contemporary and historic photographers depicting Hillfields. Jason Tilley had created new portraits for it, Richard Sadler had documented his grandmother’s life in the 50s and Masterji had documented South East Asian families through the decades; but the most astonishing, by John Blakemore from the 1960s hadn’t been seen before. The bleakness of some of the images was at odds with the fizz-fuelled and fun opening.

Lucy Cash presented a film installation in Gosford Books in Coventry city centre as part of the Dance and Somatic Practices Conference 2015 which was being held in the city; about two people could squeeze in to view it at a time.

In the Michael Heseltine Gallery at Middleton Cheney near Banbury, Coventry artist George Wagstaffe, known for his sculptures, held his first painting exhibition at the age of 80-plus, and it was interesting to hear about how Pre-Raphaelite women he’d seen in paintings in Birmingham around the time of the Second World War were influencing him still.

I discovered CRW Nevinson at the Barber in Birmingham, and loved his attitudes and mix of futurist and cubist styles; the gallery showed German Expressionist prints at the same time, works which were derided by the Nazis and can be appreciated now for their honesty and power. On London visits, I discovered and enjoyed the art galleries at the Imperial War Museum.

My first visit to Bilston Craft Gallery was to see Bilston’s Happy Housing: Otto Neurath’s Vision for Post-War Modern Living, an examination of the plan for homes that would actually make people happy, and what happened to that inspirational idea.

There was an exhibition of photographs as part of Coventry University Romani Week in April, with an introductory talk by the late Deputy Council Leader Phil Townshend, who spoke passionately about the city’s dedication to community cohesion.

On a trip to Cornwall, I was amused to find lots of koans (you know, the pointy thing in front of the Warwick Arts Centre) on show at the Tate St Ives as part of a show of Liliane Lijn’s works. I didn’t get to London often this year but was very glad to make it to Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy; I had thought he was more interesting as a person and campaigner than artist, but seeing lots of his pieces together made me revise that view – the personal and the political merge to create really great works. An exhibition of portraiture by Giacometti found me also having to look anew at works more on paper than in clay by one of my favourite sculptors.

One of the oddest art experiences of the year was the Art Trail run as part of the Earlsdon Festival, where I paced the streets looking for some elusive art works. It was something I felt could grow and be improved upon in 2016, but with the Earlsdon Festival now not happening perhaps it won’t go ahead at all.

Anyway – thanks for the art, the laughs and the gossiping in gallery corners this year – and looking forward to what 2016 will have to offer!

BBC Good Food Show offers some tasty (and thirst quenching) treats

So, Private View II decided to take its eye off art today and concentrate on two other things close to its heart, food and drink. A press invitation to the BBC Food Show Winter at the NEC was just the ticket.

It’s on until Sunday so there’s still time to get along. It’s vast, and has an enormous number of imbibing, scoffing and shopping opportunities, plus cooks – many known for their TV shows as well as restaurant work and books – putting in appearances with live cooking demonstrations, interviews and book signings. Still to come over the next few days are, amongst others, James Martin, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, Tom Kerridge, the Hairy Bikers, Lisa Faulkner and Hemsley+Hemsley. Today I saw a bit of Phil Vickery being creative and Lorraine Pascale talking about her love of peanut butter.

I mostly enjoyed the wandering and sampling though. There are enough freebies to mean you don’t need to buy any of the admittedly-nice looking snacks for sale.

The drinks area has plenty of wintery-type drinks, including a chocolatey and flat white Martini Baileys, and other spirits infused with cream too, plus gins and vodkas, as well as wine, cider and beer brewers. There was even one vodka apparently made with milk – a side product of a dairy farmer.

I had a chat with jolly Jaspal Purewal on the Indian Brewery Company stall as I sampled the wares of his son’s company, which include Indian Summer, India Pale Ale, Peacock, Bombay Honey and Birmingham Lager. Why do they call themselves the Indian Brewery Company I asked, expecting it was something to do with the ingredients or brewing process: “Because we’re Indian” came back the reply. Ask a stupid question…. They’re currently based in Ansley in North Warwickshire but looking to move into Birmingham.

I ate a potentially nightmare-inducing amount of different cheeses, and some hot curries, sauces and cooking mixtures. There were lots of sausage-producers there and also the Linda McCartney vegetarian range. The Saucy Fish Co served me up a nice snack, and I also tried different types of smoked salmon, crab and anchovies. There seemed to be lot of gluten-free versions of every type of food you could think of. I also sampled rice pudding, ice cream and fudge. I wish all my sampling was in proper meal order but I must admit it wasn’t – thank goodness for a strong stomach.

The main difficulty was getting to the front of the stalls, through the crowds, with everyone trying to get the most for their ticket price, which started at around £20 and increased considerably for VIP packages including Supertheatre.

My tips for getting the most out of the day:

  • Don’t have much for breakfast
  • Get there as soon as it opens, before it gets busy
  • Don’t wear too much, or leave your coat in the cloakroom – it got hot in there
  • Sharpen your elbows to deal with the lurkers around the front of the stands where all the free samples are being given out
  • Try something new; I enjoyed a kale smoothie (yes really) and took home a free leaflet of recipes
  • Leave your sense of embarrassment at home – if you want to make the most of your ticket and eat and drink your way round the show you can’t have an in-depth conversation with everyone on a stall. Just dip in and depart.
  • If you don’t have access to the ‘Supertheatre’ (and the very name put me off), don’t fret, there are opportunities for seeing lots of other big names in areas such as the winter kitchen, bakes and cakes stage and Stoves live cook stage. Today there also seemed to be some giveaways of kitchen items at the start of these – but they involved audience members having to get up and dance while being filmed and shown on a big screen before the host presented the goodies. Consider whether you want a new toaster that much!
  • Don’t miss the goody bags being given out nearby when you’ve left the main exhibition area – that huge box of pasta at least will come in handy!


Happy housing exhibition shows inspiring vision for post-war homes

Homes that would just create happiness – it sounds a great idea and one that people could relate to today, when for many a permanent home is just a dream.

But the happy homes plan was one that was on the drawing board back in 1945 in Bilston, and there’s still just time to see an exhibition telling the story of this wonderful and fascinating plan.

Bilston’s Happy Housing: Otto Neurath’s Vision for Post-War Modern Living is on at Bilston Craft Gallery until May 2 and tells the unlikely story of how someone from the Vienna Circle and a leading sociologist and urban planner ended up in the Black Country.

Neurath was invited by the council in 1945 to be a consultant on plans to come up with ideas to replace the slum housing endured by many of the local people, with the area having the reputation as the slum capital of England. What was envisaged were state-of-the-art modern homes based on ones built in Vienna in the 1920s.

Neurath was born in 1882, and had experienced a successful career in Europe, then fled during the Second World War after the death of his second wife, and fears for his life. He got married again, to Marie Reidemeister who he had formerly worked with, and after a period of internment on the Isle of Man they set up the Isotype Institute in Oxford together, creating the sort of informative diagrams now so loved by newspapers and news websites seeking pictorial ways to represent information.

However they were so taken with the Bilston project that they planned to move there from Oxford. Neurath visited the town and talked to people about their new planned homes, and wrote policies which influenced the designs. People should be mixed up to avoid the creation of ghettoes, and the needs of children and the elderly should not be ignored were two of them.

Then – Neurath died suddenly and unexpectedly on December 22, 1945; a poignant letter written on December 19 and illustrated with an elephant is exhibited, mentioning no signs of ill health.

Marie used the Isotype plan to illustrate her husband’s plans for the town, and in a letter to Bilston’s town clerk said he husband’s hope had been to “provide maximum happiness for the people of your town”.

There were of course many others also involved in the plans; Professor Sir Charles Reilly had also been engaged by the council, and favoured homes around large greens, with many community facilities. He died in early 1948 with the work still unfinished. Ella Briggs, another Viennese émigrée who had worked with Neurath, had already designed some homes before the two men became involved, and it may be the final results were based on her work. The uneven land was apparently filled in partly with bricks from bombed sites in Birmingham and Coventry.

The exhibition includes lots of information on the plans for what became the Stowlawn Estate, with drawings and the Isotypes. There are pictures of what had been there before, and plans for the homes, with inside bathrooms, some with upstairs balconies, and different sized properties to cater for single people and families. Drawings show the large open spaces around the estate.

There are also books of memories and photos, mostly positive, from people who were the first to move into Stowlawn. A related part of the exhibition shows the designs of the time for items which would fill these happy homes, with stylish cutlery, ceramics, furniture, fabrics, radios and other technology to represent the ‘new look’ of the mid century style.

Nearby, Stowlawn estate still exists and the exhibition tells you which is the only street where the green space remains as planned – the others have all been infilled with buildings. You can drive round and see how the buildings stand out as different, more European than most.

It’s a fascinating exhibition at an ideal which should still be grasped today.

Poignant performance for works of talented composers killed in Gallipoli


A First World War commemoration event with an interesting approach is taking place in Warwickshire this week. It will remember the artistic creation of two people who died in the war, and what might have been had they survived.

A press release from the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum explained that as part of the Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015, the gallery is hosting a free dance performance in the Royal Pump Rooms on Wednesday, 29 April from 6-7pm.

The London Central School of Ballet will perform The Comic Spirit, a short ballet by the Leamington-born pianist, organist, critic and composer William Denis Browne. This will be the first public performance of the ballet, which Browne wrote in 1912.

There will also be the first solo dance setting of Frederick ‘Cleg’ Kelly’s Elegy for Strings: in memoriam Rupert Brooke. An introduction to the performances will be given by Nick Peacey, William Denis Browne’s great-nephew.

Senior Curator Vicki Slade said: “William Denis Browne had a promising career as a composer before the First World War broke out. 100 years after his death at Gallipoli, it is fitting that the first ever performance of his only ballet should be given in his home town.”

This event is free, though places are limited. They must be booked by phoning Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum on 01926 742700, or calling in beforehand.

This event runs in conjunction with Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum’s exhibition A Leamington Musical Meteor: The Life of William Denis Browne (1888-1915) which runs until Sunday, 10 May. The exhibition, which was organised by Nick Peacey for the Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 project, brings together family archive material alongside compositions by Browne, to celebrate his career.

Browne was born in Leamington on 3 November 1888 and grew up at Lynnwood, a large house on Lillington Road. He attended Greyfriars Preparatory School in the town and Rugby School, before attaining classical scholarship to study at Clare College, Cambridge.

It was there that his talents developed as a performer and composer. After university he was building a successful musical career, with performances at 10 Downing Street and Westminster Cathedral, when the First World War intervened. Browne was killed fighting at Gallipoli on 4 June 1915, aged just 26.

*The Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 is a unique project looking at the vastness of the First World War through one battle. It will tell the stories of nine men who fought at Gallipoli and will set their wartime experiences against their peacetime lives. All nine men pursued artistic careers, and although they fought for different causes, they were united by their experiences of the battle. The Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 project is funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Coventry graduates among winners in New Art West Midlands 2015

Foremark Reservoir IIShufflebotham

New Art West Midlands is in its third year and getting your work into it is a prestigious draw for recent art graduates – last year 100,000 people are said to have visited the exhibition across three galleries.

This year there are four involved – the Herbert in Coventry, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Barber Institute of Fine Art, showing the work of 30 people in total. All have graduates in fine art from one of the West Midlands art schools in the past three years, with successful works chosen by artists John Newling and Bedwyr Williams, and art historian Amna Malik.

There are four Coventry University graduates showing in the exhibition, and I spoke to them at the opening in Birmingham.

BA in Fine Art graduate Jennifer Shufflebotham’s work (top) had already been recognised before she was also selected for New Art West Midlands. She was offered a residency at the Pod in Coventry after her degree show last summer.

At the Birmingham gallery she I showing two paintings inspired by a box of slides she found in her grandparents’ attic in Burton on Trent about four years ago, showing family holidays in the 1960s, when photography was more of an effort than today when people can take pictures by taking their phone out.

She said: “I’d never come across them before and I was really interested in the balance of analogue photography and the easy access to photography and Instagram that we have today.”

She has re-layered them to create paintings, with blurred and slightly strange images produced. Foremark Reservoir II is particularly interesting, with one person reduced to a dark shape which could be deliberately cloaked.


Michael Carr’s work includes Instructions Not Included, a screen print of the instructions for looking after a vinyl disc, and A Message To You Rudy (above), a digital ink work showing Lynval Golding from the Specials depicted on a street map of Coventry. If you pick up the exhibition leaflet you get your own copy of this.

Michael came into the world at the Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry and said music of the Specials had been “a big influence on my life”, and puts the work in the context of “a vision of psycho-geography and how music can motivate and change lives and people”.

He started this work with an illustration of Lady Godiva on a map: “The Specials and Lady Godiva testify to the strength of the city. A lot of people speak badly about Coventry but if you look at the invention of cars, sewing machines, watches and all its industry there’s a lot of strength there.”

Michael has just finished an MA in Contemporary Art Practice but his undergraduate degree was in graphic design, and he hopes to get a studio and have some links to the university still. I’d already seen his work at a couple of exhibitions in Coventry, showing he’s getting out there already, and with his energy and enthusiasm he’s sure to go places.


Reece Kennedy’s work was inspired by talking to his Coventry University tutors about art education, studying, and the student’s audience. He chose to capture the paradigm of the art fair by creating an installation of a room from the Frieze art show entitled Greatness Engine Future Prospectus (above). Reece graduated with a BA in Fine Art and is running his own printing business in Birmingham.

SparkesAn Ode to Christian Joy

Other works on show at Birmingham Art Gallery & Museum included Emily Sparkes’s self-portrait in a colourful costume, Ode to Christian Joy (above), and she also has some paintings on show at the Herbert of Pearly Queens, relating to cross dressing and gender roles. They are interesting and keep the attention. James Turner’s reworking of paintings from the gallery’s collection sees beams of light coming from the painted women’s eyes, distorting how they are viewed and turning them into light box works.

At the Herbert in Coventry, Andrea Hannon is showing her installation works. Housekeeper is a lightshade with things hanging from it, and Territory Formula features flowered wallpaper and cut outs of women from magazines. Puppeteer includes more cut outs, an old framed mirror, and little character cut-outs, including a Victorian woman.

Coventry born and bred, Andrea has recently completed a Fine Art PhD at Coventry University. She used to do large paintings, but has now moved into multi-media installation and collage works.

She said: “It was during the masters I became interesting in structures of knowledge and how we become defined as one thing or another.”

She uses a lot of magazine and encyclopaedia images, and this set of work is based on the idea of what it means to be the ideal woman, as seen through the media, being good at cooking and housekeeping. Andrea has now moved to live near Stratford, and is teaching at the college there and working with some other former Coventry University students.


Also at the Herbert are varied works including Megan Sheridan’s documentary-style photographs depicting British people on a traditional seaside holiday (above), or having lunch on the grass in Birmingham’s St Philip’s Square. There’s also an intriguing video from Jade Blackstock entitled In, In, In (below), in which she wears white and paints her skin white and is then sprayed with white liquid foam, an unpleasant claustrophobic experience which aims to turn ‘white’ from an adjective to an actual object.

In In In

I’ve visited two of the galleries and at first sight haven’t been as impressed overall with the selection as last year. Maybe that’s because there’s nothing as stand-out impressive as Lucy Hutchinson’s masks and wallpaper, James Birkin’s paintings, or the transformative sculptures of Sikander Pervez, who is currently exhibiting at the New Art Gallery, Walsall, after being selected for a solo show.

But only time will tell whose work from the 2015 exhibition we will be seeing more of on a larger stage.

*New Art West Midlands is on at Wolverhampton until April 26, both the Birmingham galleries until May 17 and the Herbert until May 31.

Exhibitions are a delight of an escape from festive shopping

If you’re Christmas shopping in Birmingham and need something more stimulating to get you through the day, there are a few exhibitions which offer a bit of a respite. Well, they worked for me anyway.

At the Ikon gallery, Imran Qureshi’s exhibition is a mixture of his miniature paintings and site-specific installations made for the gallery.

Qureshi is known for using the disciplined miniature painting style of his native Pakistan in the Mughal courts of the sixteenth century and recreating it for the modern day. The miniatures look lovely, all delicate colours and shiny gold, but close up there’s more to see.

After watching on TV the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a marketplace in Lahore in 2010 Qureshi saw the blood-splattered surfaces, and felt a colour in his studio matched it. That red seeps into some of the miniatures, in splodges but also in delicate flower drawings or other patterns, overlaying the original image. In other miniatures, missiles are part of, and also not part of, what is drawn there.

There’s also red patterns across the floor, and on two huge gold ovals made from acrylic and gold leaf, called They Shimmer Still.

The image that has been most recreated from this exhibition in its favourable national reviews is the huge room full of thousands of sheets of crumpled paper. It’s called And They Still Seek The Traces of Blood, and is amazing in size and design.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as usual has several exhibitions on show. True to Life? New Photography from the Middle East is interesting and thought-provoking, especially in its works related to depictions of women and gender issues.

Static: Still Life Reconsidered is easy to overlook in the Waterhall gallery, and is quietly attractive, with lots of detailed and skilled works. There are also some larger more striking works by Patrick Caulfield, and for me William Nicholson’s work also stood out.

The West Midlands Open in the Gas Hall is large and varied in type of work and quality. Shaun Morris’s large and dramatic painting stood out for me. It was inspired by the land under the motorway around West Bromwich, and painted in the year of Margaret Thatcher’s death. The caption says Morris was struck by how the landscape around there had changed after she came to power, moving from manufacturing to distribution centres.

Also of interest were works by Bethany Kane. Originally from Rugby, she studied at City College Coventry, then the University of Derby. Her photographs are part of a Hidden Hunger project which looks at food poverty in the UK today. Foleshill Baptist church in Coventry and the Chace Hostel feature in this exhibition, both lacking people but with facilities provided to hopefully feed the needy. They are stark and lack warmth, but provide the sort of help no one ever wants to need.

Other paintings might be more cheery, but as a touch of reality in the run up to Christmas both Shaun Morris and Bethany Kane’s works spoke volumes.

The Last Known Pose – a camp parade makes for a memorable night at the mac

qasim riza shaheen the last known poseQasim Riza Shaheen, The last known pose of Xavier Leroy Frasier (autoportrait, photograph, 2012)

There are art exhibition opening nights – then there was the opening night of Qasim Riza Shaheen’s exhibition The Last Known Post at the mac in Birmingham.

Elegant women clad in white saris paraded slowly around a marked route. A man fell gracefully to the floor, his profile then marked out in red tape in a crime-scene style.

A tall woman in enormous spiky heels and what looked like an Asian wedding outfit joined the parade, followed by a young man with a topknot and enormous platform boots.

A woman who may or may not have been a gallery assistant approached people and recited to them, as did the man. Then another young man in, er, underpants, boots and a long trail made up of squares of paper incorporating a flag sashayed around. Camp did not begin to describe it.

Traditional Sufi music was played live, and slightly incongruously the drinks came courtesy of Absolut so for the first time ever I viewed an exhibition, and one by a Muslim artist at that, with a vodka and orange in my hand. And I rather liked it.

The performance was called One, and was apparently researched and developed earlier this year with local residents and artists at the National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

It certainly made for a memorable night, as did seeing Quasim Riza Shaheen urging on the performers, nattily dressed in a stylish outfit incorporating high boots and a neckerchief. It was no surprise at all that he’d once studied fashion, and at Central St Martins in the late 1980s-early 90s, and the outfits of the performers were all his work. Though he said that now he designs only as part of his artworks.

So on to the main show – which takes some effort to interpret, and that is best done with some careful reading of the excellent guide by mac visual arts producer Craig Ashley.

The story of the exhibition is that it’s based around a love letter to the artist before his 40th birthday, reflecting on their love and proposing marriage. The letter is part of the exhibition.

Other works include a two-screen film of the artist dressed as Amy Winehouse telling of his admiration for her in I Lost My Passport in Your Dream, and a set of photos under the title Father Rock Me, showing the artist’s father and the actor Rock Hudson.

In the photo Samson and Delilah the artist looks worried as actress Vanessa Ahmed caresses his lovely long hair, and in the two-screen film A Bride of Khusro he appears as a woman to perform Kathak Dance moves to a Qawali soundscape, in front of a Sufi shrine in Karachi.

In A World Where There Are Five Women I Am The Seventh is a new commission which allows Shaheen to display his costume-making again, showing five sari blouses around a wedding dress; this apparently leaves space for another woman, a space he describes as ‘gender atypical’.

The obvious interest in gender raises questions, but the vital exhibition guide tells us that the adoption of a feminine persona echoes the gender transformation of the Sufi saints into the eternal brides of their masters, apparently.

Shaheen is an artist who has moved away from the ideas of autobiographical work to play with ideas of what may or may not be true, and create from that. The love letter, the guide tells us, is actually a creation of the artist. At the exhibition opening he said that he likes exploring ideas of relationships, but these are always viewed as romantic relationships – whereas to him his most important relationship is with his Kathak dance teacher of the last 20 years – Nahid Siddiqui, who was at the opening and who appears in his video diptych Arya with him, where he reads the love letter aloud.

It’s a striking exhibition, with layers of meaning and misinterpretation possible. And possibly best approached with a vodka in hand.

* Opening the same night, and which I also managed to visit, was the new exhibition at Eastside Projects.

In the large gallery, Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz has created a new site- specific work called Broken Ensemble: War Damaged Musical Instruments (Brass Section).

It consists of speakers from which come the sounds of instruments damaged in various conflicts in the late nineteenth century, including the Balaklava Bugle, used to sound the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and another military bugle damaged by a bullet.

The sounds are as you might expect – but the idea is interesting.

Noémie plays with sense of time and space at The New Art Gallery, Walsall

Observatoire III

Measurements of time and space are played with to give an illusion of permanence in an exhibition by French artist Noémie Goudal.
The Geometrical Determination of the Sunrise at The New Art Gallery in Walsall comprises photographs, films and installations. In the work Goudal is described as exploring “the relationship between reality and artifice and the intersection between nature and the man made”.
In a series of black and white photographs, Observatoires 2013-14, the artist has taken her reference point from the astronomical observatories built by Maharajah Jai Singh II in Jaipur and Delhi, inspired by the sun, moon and stars and used as an astronomical observatory.


Dreams Part II: Two women’s gift which transformed a town’s landscape is celebrated 40 years later

Kathleen Garman Ryan
Lady Kathleen Epstein with some of her art collection C.1972
(Image ref: GarmanRyanCollection)

It is 40 years since the Garman Ryan collection was created and given to the people of Walsall, and put on show for everyone from further afield to enjoy.
The permanent exhibition at The New Art Gallery in Walsall has been supplemented with lots of archival material for the anniversary exhibition, entitled Dealing with Dreams, which tells more about the history of its creation by two generous and insightful women. There’s also a room dedicated to works left by another woman who is part of their complicated story.
The story of the Garman Ryan collection is one of generosity and loss.