Reviews

Dramatic exhibition asks how much society has really moved on since the 80s

Before the Rain

Oh the irony. An exhibition of paintings criticised 34 years ago in a newspaper editorial as “smut not art” is now on show in the building where that editorial was written and printed.

What’s The Meaning of This? is the title of the ‘selective retrospective’ by John Yeadon, a show to mark reaching 70 and also look back at what may or may not have changed over the years. Is society more tolerant and open minded, is Coventry more enlightened and less provincial, he asks?

Leader article

The front page story of 1984 in which a Tory councillor raged against an exhibition of Yeadon’s paintings as “overtly pornographic” is put on show on the wall, alongside the editorial. The exhibition was called Dirty Tricks and was on at what Yeadon calls the high point of Aids paranoia and ‘gay blame’; he describes the works as allegorical Grotesque Realist paintings.

John says the exhibition of his works at The Herbert increased attendance 40 per cent afterwards. Some of the paintings from that exhibition are on show here in what was the paper’s last news room on its Corporation Street site, before it moved to smaller premises reflecting the decline of print journalism.

It’s a trip down memory lane for me after nearly 19 years spent working at the Cov Tel, though the newsroom moved within the Corporation Street building during those years so the critical editorial wouldn’t have been written in the same room where the paintings are now displayed.

However the room is perfectly proportioned for them, the largest ones fitting brilliantly almost floor to what was the ceiling; the low, oppressive false ceiling fellow journalists will remember has been removed to show the industrial spaces above and the blinds – always closed to stop glare on the computers – are now open. I’ve seen a lot of John’s works over the past 20 years but this earlier period of his was new to me and the dramatic works are stunning and mesmerising.

The Deluge

The Beach Party (before the rain) and The Deluge (after the rain) from 1981 and 82 (top and above) start the show, the first depicting men on a beach, frolicking and partying but in a strange contorted way, playing on a seesaw and dancing around, lots of them semi-naked. The Deluge is darker, literally and metaphorically, with one man being carried by others, their heads covered in bags; the fun is over.

Another painting from 1981, the year of the Charles and Diana royal wedding, the march for jobs and hunger strikes, is called The British Scene/summer 1981, and ironic British flags pop up all over the strange groups of people.

State Apartments       Boy Venus and Midnight of Freedom

Democratic Circus from 1982 features two panels, State Apartments and Assembly Rooms (above) , the official titles at odds with the depictions of men having sex, maybe showing what’s really going on behind the official scenes.

Suicide Street is another dark work, a man created from black intense swirls to show his outline and torso, with Zombie on Suicide Street written on it.

Boy Venus (Sunday Draws In) of 1987 shows a good looking naked young man starting straight at the artist, as another man enters the room through the curtains. Midnight of Freedom shows a naked black man crouched on a television, looking wary.

There’s also a whole corner of large paintings of naked men in various scenes.

Range of pics

John’s series of paintings of his family and his ventriloquist dummies aren’t included in this selective exhibition, nor his digital pieces concentrating on food and obesity (which also gathered negative press attention), but there are a number from his Englandia series, showing pleasant small paintings; a duck house to again reflect a political scandal of a few years ago, plus pastoral fields of English countryside, and other fields with human invasions of pylons and powerlines, railway tracks and windfarms.

Even more recent paintings – a Control Room at Sellafield, showing one man in charge of a bank of screens and buttons, and It’s Alive!, his 2017 version of a much older paintings of the WITCH computer at Bletchley – also feature.

I wouldn’t even think of trying to answer John’s questions about society and Coventry in particular and how it’s changed over the years. But after what will probably be more than half my working lifetime spent at the Coventry Evening Telegraph building it was interesting to visit for the last time before it’s conversion to a hotel and see in particular some works from an exhibition I wasn’t in Coventry for the first time around, and hope that such an editorial would never be written today.

Fascinating paintings to see too if you’re only familiar with John’s works from the last couple of decades – the show is on until June 14, Mondays to Saturdays 12-4pm.

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Behind the scenes at the museum …. for real

An opportunity to learn about what’s not usually on show, as well as see some things for the first time, is offered by a Warwickshire gallery.

Unlocked! Behind the Scenes at the Art Gallery & Museum is the current exhibition at Leamington Spa’s Art Gallery & Museum.

It is billed as a chance to see items that are rarely displayed, and others that are undergoing conservation work.

It seemed strange then that the first painting you see is The Three Generations by Sarkis Katchadourian, which featured in a recent exhibition of works donated to the gallery by Alderman Holt. It is justified though by its appearance in a book of 1,000 paintings to see “before you die”, and the fact that this means the gallery gets requests to see it. And the painting of three Muslim women in varied looks means it is a highlight of the Leamington collection.

The first item listed in the gallery’s collection was a copy of The Antiquities of Warwickshire by Sir William Dugdale, but the real first item is thought to be a mug commemorating a boxing match in the 1860s, when the collection began. It now amounts to 12,500 items, acquired through a mix of donations and some acquisitions. The most recent acquisition is the stunning Satellite II by Noémie Goudal, a large photographic print combining real and imaginary scenery which is on show in the main gallery.

The exhibition moves on to show ethnographical items from around the world, donated over the years (and no longer accepted as gifts), all rather incongruous and not forming a coherent collection, plus ceramics from different eras and countries.

One fascinating item is a Buddhist text in a long scroll, held together with string and a wooden front to it; but in a mixed eclectic collection like this there’s bound to be something to please all tastes.

The Dancing Bear, a painting by William Lee Hankey (1869-1952), is used as an example of conservation work, with what looks like tissue paper currently stuck to parts of it as an element of the work.

Natural History and Archaeology is seen as an orphaned collection, with no new items being accepted, and featuring both local and national pieces. It includes a lovely book showing a drawing of a Blue Heron and Little Egret.

More up to date there’s a photograph of a work created by former artist-in-residence Gerard Mermoz, taking a damaged old portrait and superimposing a comptometer machine on top of it to create a new work, in his familiar style of bringing two things together to create a third.

One area looks at how things have changed over the years; there’s Simeon Solomon’s 1870 painting of The Sleepers and the One That Watcheth, three people embracing, plus Ralph Nicholas Chubb’s Contemplation, and Reclining Nude, the latter featuring a naked young man painted from behind laying in a field where rabbits gambol, both from the 1920s. They all hint at a love that could not then speak its name.

A well-known image of Leamington graffiti, Avoid Cider, features amongst several photos from a Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane exhibition.

It’s interesting to see what’s in the stores and also slightly disappointing there’s no amazing new surprises – but then if there were it would be a scandal they had been hidden away so long. An enjoyable visit, and interesting to learn more about collecting policy and conservation and storage work.

The exhibition is on until July 15.

Seeing faces behind the art brings new look to annual exhibition

LS Lowry, Head of a Man (copyright The Lowry Collection, Salford)

The Rugby Collection is on show again at the town’s art gallery, curated as every year around a different theme – and this year with some additional loans to add more lustre.

The theme this year is portraiture, and the exhibition is split into three themed areas: A Face Behind the Name, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Portraits and Inside Stories, featuring figurative works that have a narrative.
The first of these includes loans from the National Portrait Gallery and The Lowry, which are all portraits of artists whose work is included in the Rugby Collection, with the works shown together.

Most striking of these is Head of a Man (With Red Eyes) by LS Lowry from 1938 (top), showing the artist with blood shot eyes, matching red scarf and a troubled forehead. It was completed during a worrying time in his life, when his father had died and he had become responsible for caring for his ailing mother, who was dying after his six years of care, as his career was taking off. He started the self-portrait, and found that an unsettling process too. It is shown alongside the Rugby Collection’s Monday Morning, an oil from 1946, showing a lot of people trudging to work in a factory which is already throwing out smoke from the chimneys.

Also borrowed, is Leon Kossoff’s self portrait from 1981, showing a rather miserable look through the heavy impasto, and also looking very much like the mirror image of Head of Father from 1978, which is on show from the town’s collection.

A Lucian Freud self portrait painted in 1963, and on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, is in his recognisable style, whereas The Fig Treet, a chalk drawing from 1943, is less recognisable and dates from a trip to Greece where he drew lot of trees and landscapes.

Edward Bawden’s self-portrait shows him very much as an artist, a board up blocking our full view of him drawing himself in pen and watercolour in 1986, and the gallery’s own Glenties, The Old Graveyard, shows a colourful scene of tombstone and sky from 1962.

Richard Hamilton’s self portrait from 1970 is a screen/collotype, showing the artist unrecognisable through distorting his features. His print from 1993, Just what is it that makes today’s homes, so different? Features disparate images all in one room, including a female bodybuilder with a lollipop sign, and microwave decorating a table.

There are others too, all worth seeing to observe the person behind a work that has probably featured in a Rugby Art Gallery & Museum show before.

Joseph Herman, Head of a Miner (copyright Joseph Herman, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Coun

The section of Rugby Collection’s own portraits not surprisingly features a large variety of works, including Josef Herman’s Head of a Miner (above), painted in oil on a range of brown and ochres, showing the angular figure looking sideways.

Winston Branch, West Indian (copyright Winston Branch, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Council)

By contrast, Winston Branch’s West Indian from 1973, shows the man in a pink spotted hat, surrounded by a huge variety of colour.

Paul Richards, Portrait of Michael Burley, 1988 (copyright Paul Richards, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rug

Paul Richards’s Portrait of Michael Burleigh from 1988 shows the author and historian in a blur of yellows, greens and blacks apparently mixed directly on the canvas, giving the image a vibrant, busy look but recognisably human.
In the Inside Stories section, works are again varied, but including The Bride’s Secret Diary, a wild oil painting by Paula Rego from 1981 featuring hints of skulls and folklore characters, and The Wild Duck, a sinister 1990 etching of a young girl sat on a man’s lap, being watched by characters in the shadows.

Other contrasting works include Two Beach Babies, 1933 oil by Wyndham Lewis, showing two women featuring elements of Cubist and Futurist influence, and Cockerel in a Landscape, a 1948 lithograph by Michael Rothenstein, showing the bird in the foreground apparently fleeing its owner at her cottage.

The exhibition includes lots of excellent lengthy introductions to the different sections, and captions, plus a lovely colour catalogue, and is well worth a visit to see the Rugby Collection’s latest re-invention. The show is on until June 16.

Beach-found items feature in new art show conjuring up sea images

Echoes of the seaside feature in the new exhibition at The White Room Gallery in Leamington.

Entitled Land and Sea, the show in the Regent Street gallery includes a lot of works by Philip Goddard, with some works by other artists too.

Birmingham-born Goddard studied at The Slade School of Fine Art and Chelsea School of Art, and has been a White Room favourite since the gallery opened 15 years ago. In his collection in this exhibition, The Constructed Landscape, he uses found objects from along the Kent coast where he once lived, paint and other materials to conjure up images of a landscape or coastal scene.

There are small bits of wood, and lots of mesh metalwork, sometimes painted over or painted through, with some constructions looking like part of a boat, or a distant boat afloat. There is lots of blue and yellow paint, and constructed landscapes in box frames. There are monoprints again using the mesh pattern, and some with a dark stripe to one side looking like a flag. They are refreshing to look at and definitely bring a feel of the sea to the Midands.

Other artists in the exhibition include Adrian Bradbury, who studied art at Goldsmiths and went on to work for Bauer, DuPont and others, and who is showing a set of prints entitled Coast, which feature layers of colour.

Tim Southall is a regular exhibitor at The White Room Gallery, and is showing some more of his drawings in this show. It also features works by his great uncle, Sir Frank Job Short, who was born in 1857 in Stourbridge and trained as an engineer, but his passion was for art. He became Professor of Engraving at The Royal College of Art in 1913, and this exhibition shows several of his etchings, lovely scenes of long-ago life; seaside folk on a quay, a windmill, a village with churchtower and a man at work.

In the centre is Coming Home, by Tim Southall, showing someone in a lit-up night walking towards a house.

The exhibition is on until May 25, and worth visiting for the variety of works by a number of talented artists.

Eric Ravilious and his talented circle are rightly celebrated in this densely-packed exhibition

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

A fascinating artist and his circle of talented friends are the focus of an excellent new exhibition at Compton Verney art gallery which you really must not miss.

Ravilious and Co: The Pattern of Friendship is a densely-packed exhibition, with dozens of paintings and engravings, plus textiles, ceramics, book covers and illustrations by the circle of artists who were active in the early 20s.

Curated by Andy Friend and Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, where Eric Ravilious grew up and which houses the largest collection of his work, it consists of more than 400 items, with 90 of them not seen before. They are shown chronologically so you can follow through the artists’ stories, and see where they interact, with their artistic influences, political involvements, friendships, marriages and affairs.

The exhibition opens with Ravilious’s The Greenhouse: Cyclamens and Tomatoes which illustrates his mastery of colour and style, with the rows of identical ceramic pots filled with pink flowers, and plants hanging heavy with green tomatoes overhead.

It then backtracks to the Royal College of Art, and the many artists Ravilious interacted with professionally and personally. It includes the influence of Paul Nash on the development of his wood engraving, and his prolific output, with a later mocked-up bookshop containing nearly 100 books, covers and illustrations by Ravilious, Paul and John Nash, Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman to show the influence they had in the 1920s and 30s, and the incredibly stylish work they produced.

 

Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

 

Their work was transferable to other materials as well, with a huge bowl created for Wedgwood by Ravilious to commemorate the Boat Race also featuring, and looking more like an item from the 1950s than 30s.

There are paintings from brothers John and Paul Nash, with Whiteleaf from 1921 by the former showing a dark brown countryside with movement in the trees, and Paul’s The Shore, Dymchurch, a recurring subject appearing twice in the exhibition, with variations on the distant sea, birds aloft and breakwaters. Other paintings by Barnett Freedman show his developing painting work throughout the 1920s.

Waterwheel, a watercolour of 1934 by Ravilious, shows his style of muted colours, and clear texture, though apparently he’d artistically ‘moved’ the wheel in question to fit in with what he wanted to paint. Westbury Horse of 1939 is equally attractive, though a freight train rushes by the ancient English scene, showing new developments and possibly a portent of war.

Women artists feature well in the exhibition, and there are designs on show by Enid Marx (who also features heavily in Compton Verney’s excellent and re-hanged Folk Art collection), including a headscarf in Spanish Republican colours, and designs by Diana Low. A wood engraving by Helen Binyon, The Wire Fence, of 1935, shows the odd subject matter of a woman climbing through a fence, in a similar pose to Ravilious’s Boy Bird Nesting from 1926. Later, Diana Low became close to the 40-year older William Nicholson and they painted each others’ portraits; she is shown standing, attractive and vibrant, but she paints him looking portly, laying full out on a sofa.

Ravilious went into teaching after the Royal College of Art, in his early 20s, and one 17-and-a-half-year-old student made a particular impression on him; he apparently spent several years sure of his feelings for Tirzah Garwood, but not sure if they were reciprocated. There is a fantastic engraving of the bleak attic room she lived in while studying, The Boxroom of 1929, where he used to visit her, with a woman pictured laying on the bed under some drying washing. It contrasts with another fantasy engraving of a woman on a sumptious bed with fantasy-forest wall hangings surrounding her.

A striking portrait by Phyllis Dodd shows Tirzah in a green coat and hat, looking like a woman who knows her own mind; Ravilous and Tirzah later married and there are paintings and other works by her on show too, demonstrating her clear style and interest in different subject matter to Ravilious’s landscape passion. Her work include paintings of the Four Seasons, with spring seen as spring cleaning, and others showing the good people of Eastbourne, some more as caricatures than characters.

New areas of countryside and coast, and house moves, inspired Ravilious and visiting friends at different times, as selections of their work shows. There is his only known surviving pastel work, Study of a Sussex Woodland from 1924, showing shade under a low canopy of trees. He went on an Italian tour, and the engraving of San Gimignano from 1925 includes its recognisable towers, though his image of a Sussex Church, framed between trees, is just as beautiful.

Helen Binyon painted watercolours of Furlongs, East Sussex, when the Ravilious’s lived there in the early 1930s, and there is Furlongs by Ravilious, showing horses pulling towering carts of hay. He subsequently had an affair with Binyon, depicted by her friend Peggy Angus in 1940, with him looking pensive at the bottom of the stairs, she with her chin in her hands and a cup of tea beside her.

The exhibition also includes a design shop made to look like Dunbar Hay, a London retailer which sold works by Ravilious, Enid Marx, Tirzah, Bawden, Diana Low, Peggy Angus and others, with them designing for organisations such as the BBC, London Transport, Wedgwood and the GPO.

 

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Church, 1924. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Church, 1924, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

 

As the Second World War approached, the Artists’ International Association was formed, flirting with communism, and led by Helen Binyon, with other artists taking in refugees. Her affair with Ravilious had ended but they remained close and there is a letter praising her illustrations for Pride and Prejudice. A poignant 1939 lithograph by Binyon called The Flower Show is said to be based on an Eastbourne event, and to show a man who looks like Ravilious carrying a small child.

There is a selection of Ravilious’s pre-war watercolours showing scenes such as Beachy Head and Rye Harbour, next to his work as a war artist; the same colours are there, but there’s suddenly the jarring notes of barbed wire on the beaches and barrage balloons above. Corporal Stediford’s Mobile Pigeon Loft is a different subject matter for Ravilious, showing lots of the birds.

Ravilious went on an RAF reconnaissance flight off Iceland on 2 September 1942, and disappeared; a few days later a jolly letter he had written to Tirzah arrived at her home, including instructions for her to draw round her hand so he could buy her gloves. Left alone with three children, she had already survived cancer once, but went on to remarry a few years later before succumbing to the disease. The exhibition closes with her painting The Springtime of Flight, showing a plane in a brilliant blue sky over a sea of colourful flowers.

This really is an exhibition not to be missed, packing in fantastic paintings by Ravilious and the Nashs in particular, plus more of their contemporaries and lots of great engravings, ceramics and textile works too. It continues until June 10.

Eric Ravilious, Portrait of Edward Bawden, 1930 (c) Royal College of Art

Eric Ravilious, Portrait of Edward Bawden, 1930 C Royal College of Art. 

 

Modern life -and its downsides – is theme of New Art West Midlands

Gem Douglas - But home is the mouth of a shark

It’s New Art West Midlands time again, when there’s a chance to see winning work selected by a judging panel from applicants who have all graduated in the past three years from the region’s art schools.

This year the work is on show at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (until May 13), AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (until March 31), and at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, which is so far the only space I have visited.

Unfortunately there’s no work on show there by Coventry University graduates, but there is work by 10 artists out of the 28 from 130 who applied this year.

Keri Jayne -One Day 1

They include works which of course reflect themes and changes of our times. Kerri Jayne’s work (above) called One Day features 148 framed pieces of work highlighting the overwhelming number of news items that can come at you on one day online from traditional and social media. There’s ‘real’ news, as well as fake, celebrity and life advice. They are presented in a variety of ways and highlight the claustrophobic effect this can have.

Lucy Hanrahan’s work We Are The Social Media Generation also looks at the influence of social media, with a few words displayed on a big blue background-type screen, and a ubiquitous phone screen, with one eye reflected back at you. More of her work is on show at the other two venues.

Ephemera install shot 2

Lisa Kemp’s Ephemera 1, 2 and 3 (above) also looks at the bombardment of information which comes at us every day through many sources including billboards and advertising. Different sources are used to create three large boards of overlapping information, including one where the background is entirely the Wolverhampton Express and Star.

Gem Douglas’s But How Is The Mouth of the Shark (top) also looks at a big contemporary concern, creating what could be an abode of a homeless person, hung with scraps of material, but also includes poetry by Somali poet Warsan Shire who has written of the plight of refugees.

SAILS 2

Maggie Shutter has used canvas in different ways to challenge the use of materials in art (above), creating Square, a piece of what looks like fabric not quite falling in a square shape, and Three Sails, brightly coloured works filling a corner.

Valerija Zukova’s work is hard to look at clearly, being a work in Perspex, held together with small clips, and able to be formed into different shapes. She is questioning the variety of different types of sculpture and use of materials.

Another couple of artists are featured in a corridor, and they include Jez Dolan, exploring queerness and language, with altered wording used in reports by John Wolfenden, who chaired the 1957 committee which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

The exhibition demonstrates some common themes, but also the variety of work being produced in the West Midlands art colleges. The show at The Herbert is on until May 13.

Don’t miss seeing great pop art collection on its tour to Coventry

If you’ve never been to Wolverhampton Art Gallery to see their excellent collection of Pop Art, fear not – it’s come to you.

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry has created, in partnership with the Wolverhampton gallery, Pop! British and American Art 1960-1975, a lavish explosion of colour in its largest gallery space.

There are also a few additions from Birmingham’s collection too, including the lovely Big Red Bus, a 1962 work by Allen Jones, which features the colours and sloping shape of a speeding vehicle rushing past you.

There is one work by Pauline Boty, recently rediscovered and celebrated for her contribution to the male-dominated world of pop art, Colour Her Gone, a gorgeous 1962 painting of Marilyn Monroe in which the actress is depicted as if smiling happily towards the artist, backed by flowers, and framed between two painted panels. It’s a shame there’s not a few more in the show.

However there are works by major artists including Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton. There’s a work by David Hockney, a man in the shower, and quite daring for the time it was painted. There are lots of collages and prints by Eduardo Paolozzi, plus a metallic sculpture Greek Hero II, loaned from the Birmingham collection.

Several Patrick Caulfields are great additions, including a 1964 representation of modern ruins, and a fantastic and very large 1971 work Tandoori Restaurant, with all the familiar items reduced to their outline shapes.

The exhibition has some lengthy and very useful captions to each work to explain the artist’s background and influences, and the evolution and ideas of Pop Art, which greatly enhance the exhibition. Definitely one not to miss – and on until June 3.

Reality Dimmed or just disrupted in new exhibition at Mead Gallery

Eight large paintings dominate the undivided space of the Mead Gallery for a new exhibition by British artist Clare Woods.

Reality Dimmed is the title of the exhibition, and the new series of paintings were apparently inspired by found imagery which the artist collects. The new works are described as being concerned with “vulnerability, mortality and disability”, and the title comes from psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s text Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he wrote about his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz, which led him to believe in the importance of finding meaning in all types of existence and so a reason to keep living.

If that sounds heavy, then the paintings do not force any explicit brutality on the viewer, but it’s what you don’t see or what they seem to be trying to hide which makes them a bit disturbing.

The eight works are oil on aluminium, with the paint often applied it thick strokes, in big swathes or explosions of colour. The Dementor is the most worrying, with the naked torso of a man shown, the bottom of his face visible, the stripes of his tracksuit bottoms suggesting casualness but the oddly pointing finger at the bottom of the work raising questions. The fact that it’s three metres high adds to its strength.

Smoke and Daggers has what looks like a hand (except it has too many fingers) thrust outwards as if fending off attention of some sort, and what could be a blurry head trying to get away from our gaze.

Something Bigger suggests colourful flowers, and The Last Word looks like a chair obscured by a sheet covering something or someone on top of it. English Murder is an explosive scene of yellow and black paint, and Reality Dimmed may be two plumped up pillows waiting for someone to return to them – or maybe not.

It’s an interesting exhibition which makes you want to return to lose yourself further in the great fields of colour and investigate more.

*The exhibition is on at the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, until March 10.

Let there be light for mixed exhibition inspired by town festival

A slightly puzzling exhibition starts the new year at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

Back in the 1950s, Leamington’s response to the Festival of Britain was its own festival called The Lights of Leamington, which apparently drew 300,000 visitors to the town. Jephson Gardens was lit up with thousands of coloured electric lights to create a wonderland, with the event so popular it was repeated up until October 1961. It only came to an end then as it was a victim of its own success, increasingly costly to run, and with complaints about visitor rowdiness. There was even an attempt to revive it in the 1980s but it was too expensive.

So as the gallery’s new exhibition Lights of Leamington was inspired by it, I’d expected to see more photos of this amazing creation, and it was a bit disappointing to find only one cabinet of black and white photos, showing what looks like lovely scenes of characters, creatures and lit-up trees and walkways.

The exhibition, described in its own publicity as eclectic, has been selected and curated by Birmingham-based artist Stuart Whipps who has gone through the gallery’s collection and followed the theme of light through it.

This means the rest of the display has this general theme. Whipps himself has added one work involving burned bits of photo negative found in the collection.
There are paintings, including some of people or things lit by candlight; Godfried Schlacker’s self portrait by candlelight is a striking work dating back to 1695, and Christmas Roses by James Valentine Jelley from 1856 shows the flowers gently illuminated.

A painting entitled Moonlight showing two boats under the night sky was one donated by Alderman Holt, the subject of a previous exhibition, and a travel poster shows the bright lights of the Ostend Casino as a draw to visit Belgium.

Kathlen Mary Lamphier Calcutt’s Park Farm, Stareton, is an attractive watercolour, and Catherine Yass’s colourful lightbox work shows a figure and a strange flash of light at Guy’s Cliffe, near Warwick.

Many people have happy memories of Leamington’s Toytown shop, and Stuart Whipps has found the letters from its sign in the archive, and displayed them with LED flashing lights included in the exhibition, but in the order they came out of the storeroom, so not spelling out the word – still it’s a good reminder!

Other additions include metal candlesticks and a collection of photos of streetlamps in Leamington.

Eclectic is certainly one word for this slightly strange connected, yet rather disconnected, exhibition. Hopefully visitors will come forward with more memories and pictures from the 1950s show for a follow up.

*The exhibition runs until April 15.

Crafts of the Punjab are given showcase in Coventry exhibition

Golden Throne of the first Sikh Maharajah of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh

Take a cultural journey to enjoy beautiful creations from across the world, some of them dating back centuries.

The Herbert in Coventry is showing Crafts of the Punjab until January 21. It is a wide-ranging collection of pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum in an exhibition put together specially for the gallery, with items from the second to nineteenth centuries. Some are by craftspeople from the region, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim, and others by colonialists who depicted what they saw at the time, and whose paintings serve as a useful historical record too.

The first items seen in the gallery are some lovely Buddhist stone carvings, including one from the second century depicting the infant Buddha’s first bath, plus a Bodhisattva Maitreya sculpture from the Swat Valley in the second-fourth century. There’s also a Buddha head carving from the third-fifth century.

The collection swiftly moves on to sculptures of Hindu deities Krishna and Balarama, amongst others from the ninth and tenth centuries, and small and delicate carvings of figures from the Jain religion.

Again there is a big jump forward in time, to the Punjab seen through the eyes of watercolourist William Carpenter in around 1856, with crowded street scenes in Lahore, and the mosque, all painted in attractive bright colours. The city in the 1860s and 70s is also depicted in monochrome pictures, capturing the mosque and the monument on the site where first Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh was cremated. Other photos depict 1870s Amritsar, site of the important Golden Temple which he renovated.

A section on Arms and Armour includes an early nineteenth century shield with small birds and animals engraved on it, and other intricately-patterned pieces of metalwork.

A textiles section includes a watercolour of various carpet designs, and some flower designs from 1905. There are nineteenth century clothes, beautifully embroidered, including one item with little figures and Muslim, Hindu and Sikh imagery combined, from 1835. Some items of furniture complete the exhibition, including wooden ones with inlaid ebony and ivory. The most dramatic exhibit is the Golden Throne made for the Ranjit Singh.

The exhibition briefly tells the history of the Punjab, through its ancient times, the reign of Singh, then the annexation of the Punjab to the British ten years after his death in 1839, and the fact that it’s now split between India and Pakistan. A lot of different areas of creativity are covered in the displays, which necessarily means they can’t go into depth but it’s a useful introduction to lots of art forms and types of detailed work, which could be explored in more depth presumably in the full V&A collection.