Warwickshire events

Faye Claridge’s Kern Baby is striking sight at Compton Verney this year

A haunting vision greets visitors to Compton Verney art gallery in South Warwickshire all this year.

Kern Baby is the creation of Warwickshire-based artist Faye Claridge. She stands five metres tall, wears a long white gown – and has just wheat for her hands and head. The lack of a face as you approach and realize there is none there is the most striking thing.

The installation is backed up by an exhibition in the café area at the gallery, which explains where she comes from. Faye has had a residency at Library of Birmingham where she was working on the Sir Benjamin Stone photograph collection. Stone was a former Birmingham MP and Mayor of Sutton Coldfield who also travelled widely in the UK to photograph important historical places, festivals and pageants to record them for future generations in the late 1800s and early 1900s.Thousands of his prints are at the V&A and in Birmingham.

Faye said growing up with her Morris dancer father and folk singer mother she can remember a book of Stone’s photographs in the house as they gained a temporary popularity in the 1970s. She said: “To me they are very much about personal identity. Painting was felt to be in decline and photography was the new way of capturing something that was going to be lost.”

One of Stone’s photographs was of a Kern Baby, or corn dolly, from a festival called The Harvest Home in Northumberland in 1901. The community celebrated the wheat harvest by using the last gathered crop to create a human shape dressed in good clothes, and called it the Kern Baby. It was then kept over winter, then buried the next year: “It was buried in the first ploughing and planting in the new ground so the spirits of harvest went back in so she would grow again. I decided it should be revived.”

The work also chimes with the large British Folk Art collection at Compton Verney, and with the “Britishness” theme of the first two other new exhibitions of the year, Canaletto: Celebrating Britain, and The Non-Conformists, photographs by Martin Parr of Hebden Bridge in the 1970s.

The tall Kern Baby can be seen from the distance as you approach the gallery, and from a distance looks like she’s just escaped the building. She’s striking and unsettling, and worth circling to see from all angles and against different backdrops, some including the house and others just the trees and lake.

The structure is Faye’s biggest work to date, and involves more than 30 metres of theatre-grade polyester in the dress, which she sewed herself “on my ancient sewing machine”, and later added an underskirt as the structure underneath could be seen too easily. There is a yellow sash to reference the oilseed rape so prevalent these days.

The metal and water tank ballast which holds her in place was made with the help of a structural engineer and theatre design company, and she took four people six hours to put in place. It is hoped she will withstand the weather between now and December, though she will weather a bit and some wheat might be replaced.

Ironically, the Kern Doll was not conceived as the main part of the exhibition.

In the exhibition, Benjamin Stone’s photo The Harvest Home, Kern Baby, from 1901 is shown, a three foot white-clad figure in a plant bed, and Faye’s is a much bigger version of it. There is also an image of children holding hands around a huge pile of wood, entitled Northumberland Baal Fires: St John’s Eve, the prepared faggots, in what looks like a very strange scene from 1903.

Faye said: “I decided it would be fun to make a great prop to produce a new photo and to create a sculpture, but it was incredibly naïve but it got commissioned. I’ve done nothing on this scale before.”

She has though involved local schoolchildren from Welcombe Hills School and Hampton Lucy C of E primary to make her own version of the photo, with the uniform-clad youngsters solemnly surrounding the Kern Baby on a cold February day at Compton Verney. The photo was taken after working with them so they weren’t spooked by it.

She said: “My children (aged three and five) saw it when it was going dark and it was a full moon and she did look pretty ethereal.”

They gripped her hands tight, asked why she didn’t have a face and turned down an offer to touch!

Other photographs of Faye’s in the exhibition come under the title of A Child for Sacrifice, again inspired by Stone and photographs he took of youngsters in the Warwick pageant, and of the Wroth Silver ceremony. These depict youngsters from Marton, in Warwickshire, posing for her camera. Faye received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to work with Marton’s Museum of Country Bygones to use some off their items to recreate pictures by Benjamin Stone.

These are the ones, when I’m trying to find the right word, Faye suggests are “edgy”, though parents were always on hand, and the children photographed picked their costumes. It is their confidence in strange garb and poses which is quite unsettling.

In one, a girl sits on a throne in a cornfield, corn sceptre and orb in hand, and in some she has lace obscuring her face. A boy becomes a scarecrow with a blacked-up face, and another boy in Plough’s Demon has some anonymous arms reaching round him. Another very young boy in a field is Faye’s own son.

The Kern Baby is immediately impressive and striking in the landscape but the Stone photos, the stories behind them and Faye’s own photographs inside are also intriguing and throw out questions about traditions from the past and how we relate to them.

* Next year Kern Baby will get a new dress and go on show at Birmingham Library – changing her setting from rural to urban, and where visitors will be able to glide past her on escalators. Three showcases about Faye’s residency in the library are on show at the moment.

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Cardboard ‘canvases’ are a feature of Terry Williams show at Lewis Gallery

         Terry Williams1

An unusual material forms the basis for a new set of paintings by Coventry-based Terry Williams.

Entitled An Old Bird Still Sings, the exhibition includes a number of works painted on what appears to be unfolded cardboard boxes.

Terry said he started off experimentally with the works, then decided they were good enough to keep and exhibit – but then of course began the problems with keeping them safe and in a condition to be displayed on the wall.

They were created at the Artspace Artists Studios in Lower Holyhead Road in Coventry city centre where he is the longest-lasting studio holder. He graduated from Coventry University’s Fine Art degree in the 1980s.

The cardboard-based works in question have an American feel to them – something that seems to be occurring a lot in Coventry and Warwickshire exhibitions recently. Using photographs from various sources, Terry has painted people at leisure, enjoying the sun. The rippling cardboard as the basis for some adds a depth of texture which works well with the ideas of sand and sea. Terry said they were part of a set where he wanted to capture people “in the midst of life”.

Some people are in rows of deckchairs on the beach, with plenty of sunglasses and overflowing swim suits on show, and one shows a cheerful couple in the sea, the man improbably dangling a fish he looks very pleased to have, and it’s called appropriately, Proud. A fat man from one of the pictures is shown in more than one image, including a facial close up, and Terry said he keeps returning to him for more works. A couple in a car, called To The Beach, have a stylish 50s look to them. Sunset shows children frolicking on the beach

Terry’s main interests are figurative, and these works are skilled and show an interest in capturing people at rest but in situations which when put in close focus do appear strange and rather unrelaxed.

Terry Williams2

The exhibition also includes a set of works which have been on show before at the Pluspace Gallery in Coventry in 2012. There’s Cadet with Flag, then the same young man with Roses, Poppies and Brown Background.

Other works are more abstract, representing his other favoured style, lots with heavy impasto. Crazy Golf Mark One is a strange piece with what look like rocky islands bursting out of the sea with little golf flags on them. Fecundity Mark One, and Two, are two small abstracts which work well.

The title, An Old Bird Still Sings, comes from one particular work, which features a fairly abstract pile of computer hardware – but at the opening Terry said rather dryly that people had decided to interpret it as being rather a more personal title.

The exhibition fills the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School in Rugby, and the exhibition is on this week, 2-5pm.

terry williams jpeg poster

Bitter-sweet retrospective shows variety of artist’s work

Margarita Rubra work  Seed

Retrospective’s of an artist’s work are always interesting as it’s good to see what they may have created over a long working life, and how their work has changed over time.

I was impressed a couple of years ago to meet the charming Avril Moore and interview her in her retrospective exhibition at the late lamented Roots gallery in Coventry. When I asked why she was holding her retrospective then she said she was over 80 and wanted to plan it herself, which was a good point. Sadly she died a few months later.

I didn’t meet the artist Margarita Rubra (pictured below), whose retrospective exhibition is taking place this week at the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School in Rugby, but I wish I had. There was a good turnout at the exhibition opening of people who obviously knew, liked and respected her.

Margarita was born in 1933 and died last year. She lived in Long Buckby in Northamptonshire but not far from Rugby.

She had exhibited before at the Lewis Gallery with 97 Rush, and the Tantalus Project, and at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum’s Floor One gallery. She trained as a mature student and completed an Art Foundation course and HND in Craft Design Technology.

The work in this exhibition is very varied. There are lots of pieces, many for sale, and varying between £25 and £500 in price, but with more towards the lower end of the scale. She used wood, ceramics, metal and other materials including one remarkable large wood and rope structure.

There’s also an attractive mobile, and lots of smaller pieces with pleasing curves, plus one item which seemed very different, a set of boxes with quotes in them, and what looked like lights attached to them – though I didn’t dare press the switches to see.

Tomorrow is the last day to see the exhibition, 2-5pm, though I’m glad I got to the opening and raised a glass to an artist I was sorry not to have come across before.

Margarita Rubra  Gesture 2

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

Ragley Gallery and Studios’ first Open is a sunny success

Dawn Harris (left) with Janet Rose, highly commended,               Judge George Wagstaffe (left) with winner Brian Cook

Dawn Harris (left) with highly commended Janet Rose and judge George Wagstaffe with winner Brian Cook (right)

If location is everything, then Ragley Gallery and Studios is way ahead of the crowd.

The opening of the first Ragley Open Art Competition began with glasses of chilled Cava on the terrace of Ragley Hall

the beautiful stately home just outside Alcester. The sun shone and there was a brisk breeze but the views across the long path leading into the distance, the woods and big skies was stunning.

Dawn Harris is enjoying her second year as artist in residence at Ragley Hall, and she works alongside four other artists in studios in the lovely old stable block. Earlier this year she announced the first Ragley Open, and it attracted an impressive 209 entries, with 54 artists chosen to exhibit their works in the gallery which is also in the stables.

The theme of the exhibition is Spirit of Place, and Dawn has described this as fitting into three different categories: “all works refer to the tangible physical aspects of place, (monuments, boundaries, rivers, woods, architectural style, rural crafts styles, pathways, views, and so on); to the invisible weave of culture (stories, art, memories, beliefs, histories, etc.) and to the presence of people (the presence of relatives, friends, kindred spirits, and the like)”.

You could say that encapsulates pretty much everything, but while I was looking around the theme slipped from my mind anyway, and I was impressed with the general high standard of works on show.

One of the judges of the Open was Coventry-based artist and sculptor George Wagstaffe, who attended the opening event. He has previously exhibited recent sculpture at Ragley, and at the Michael Heseltine Gallery in Banbury, and is currently working on some paintings which I look forward to seeing in a future exhibition.

Textile artist Michala Gyetvai who works from a studio at Ragley presented the winners with their prizes – though luckily first prize winner Brian Cook was late arriving from his home near Malvern, so gave us a bit more time to enjoy the Cava and the view!

Brian’s winning work was Two Soldiers in a Supportive Conversation, a small abstract sculpture made mostly of concrete, but also including oak showing two shapes leaning in towards each other.

Brian studied as a mature student at Worcester University between 2009-12. He said: “I graduated, and since then I’ve been enjoying making art.

“I came across concrete when I was at uni. I was working in ceramics but I wanted to make things bigger. My pieces were originally a lot heavier – when you are at university you are in this bubble and can create and there’s no worry about transporting things. I won the Foundation final award and since them I have progressed a bit and come into polishing and looking more at the shape.

“This relates to the First World War and it’s something I have been interested in and wanted to make things to do with, and it’s come at the right time.”

There were four highly commended awards.  Denise Startin, who has previously studied at Coventry University and the Royal College of Art in London,  won for Charlotte’s Locks, a very close-up limited-edition screenprint of a key hanging from a lichen-covered wall, and Linda Davies for Bawley Bay, a large mixed media on board showing an industrial scene of cranes, barbed wire, the Thames and a union safety notice.

Contrastingly, also highly commended was Janet Rose for her gentle, colourful textile work, Walled Garden, and Janet Tryner for Field C, a mixed media work which struck a chord with me and any other festival-goers as it included some lovely aquamarine and yellow colours, depicting tents crammed together at a festival with bright lights in the distance, and a muddy ground.

Field C by Janet Tryner, highly commended   Linda Davies, highly commended

Highly commended works Field C by Janet Tryner, and Linda Davies with her work Bawley Bay

Other notable works include Neil Spalding’s Raiw Pottery, small models including some of Cornish mine buildings, Julie Robertson’s photograph at Ragley of flowers in a well-lit window and Sally Larke’s two framed sets of small ceramic pots, each with a different coloured inside to them.

Maureen Grimwade has contributed A Cornish Haven, an oil on board work of a peaceful holiday beach, and Fiona Payne’s Washday is a vivid, bright work showing red and yellow houses against a bright background, and her Vacant is a heavily-worked oil.

Michelle Carruthers is showing an unusual work of lines and shapes made up of tiny pieces of pollen on paper, thankfully behind glass.

Shaun Morris who recently exhibited in Nuneaton’s Museum & Art Gallery is exhibiting Silence, showing the shadows underneath a motorway with the artificial yellow of lights showing in the background. Earth Spirit by Pam White is a watercolour showing a warped person and unnatural vegetation.

Open exhibitions can be very mixed and this has a lot of variety, but a good high standard to the work which combined with the interesting setting, and the possible chance to meet the artists currently working in studios in the same building, makes it well worth the trip out. The exhibition is on until September 7.

Charlotte-sLocks_DStartin 72dpi (2)

Charlotte’s Locks by Denise Startin (highly commended)

Dreams Part I: A surprise house in the woods and a bed in a field – Packwood House installations intrigue

Embedded close up
Dreams – so important for all of us, as two art shows visited on the same evening showed.
At the National Trust property, Packwood House, near Lapworth in Warwickshire, the sun shone as artist Hilary Jack led visitors on a tour of her installations in the grounds. One is a large wooden four-poster bed which was inspired by a quote from a 1930s visitor’s book at the house, which described it as “a house to dream of, a garden to dream in”.
More of this exhibition below, but it was soon off to The New Art Gallery in Walsall for Dealing with Dreams, the Garman Ryan Collection’s 40th anniversary exhibition. As one of the women, Lady Kathleen (Garman) Epstein wrote in 1973, the year before the collection was first exhibited in Walsall “I feel we are dealing with dreams and about to house them in a solid Midlands setting for posterity. How delightful.” More about this exhibition here.
Delightful would also be one word to describe Hilary Jack’s installations at Packwood House. Although based in Manchester, her work has recently been seen in Empty Nest at Compton Verney, and she was afterwards asked to work at Packwood, and Packwood Follies is the result.

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Ragley Hall artist’s talk before France Brodeur exhibition a real treat

France Brodeur and Dawn Harris
France Brodeur (left) with Dawn Harris, artist in residence at Ragley
Knowledge can really help illuminate an artist’s work, and hearing her talk for nearly an hour about how passionate she is for her work was certainly a good introduction to a new exhibition in Warwickshrie.
France Brodeur gave an illustrated talk about her exhibition, fittingly called A Lasting Passion, at Ragley Hall, before her exhibition opened in the Ragley Studio, in the picturesque nearby stable block, all organised by Dawn Harris who has an arts residency there and runs arts events on site.
The invitation also included a cream tea in the tearoom and, well, it didn’t tie in with my current diet plan, but it was too alluring an opportunity to miss.

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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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Canaletto paintings return to Warwick Castle for Arts at the Castle show

mick jagger
Mick Jagger and friend with one of the Canalettos visible in the background – now it is back without the rock star

After a varied past featuring Mick Jagger and Capability Brown, Canaletto has come home to the castle, for a month anyway.
At an atmospherically-lit opening night with prosecco, canapés and the great and good of Warwickshire for company it was a charming welcome back for the works.
Two paintings of Warwick Castle by Canaletto from 1752, owned by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, have been loaned to go on show in the room they used to hang in until November 29, and can be seen by all paying visitors.

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Ragley Hall Studio stables exhibition is superb end to inspiring summer

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Michala Gyetvai with some of her works
Location is everything so they say, and you can’t beat the setting of another exhibition by a lucky group of artists.
Back in the spring, I was lucky enough to go to the private view at the start of Dawn Harris’s time as artist in residence at Ragley Hall, near Alcester. She explained then that the residency was called Negotiating Heritage, and she would be considering why heritage was important to the community. Along with Deb Catesby and Michala Gyetvai, she would be working from studios in stables at the Hall to create works there.
The summer has ended with an exhibition from Dawn, Deb and Michala and eight other artists, all working around the Negotiating Heritage theme.

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