Blurred lines and bold colours shape Hichmough retrospective

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Colin Hitchmough, Dictionary of Silences (Aurora Bognorealis), 2015, acrylic on canvas

A display of bold and sometimes baffling works fills a Warwickshire gallery, showing many work’s from an artist’s long career.
Dictionary of Silences is a retrospective of paintings by Colin Hichmough, who lived in Leamington for many years, and whose works are now being shown in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum until January 8.

Hitchmough studied fine art at Liverpool College of Art in the late 1960s, and then Birmingham College of Art. He then worked in Rugby for three years, before moving to Leamington where he lived until 2009, most of the time teaching at Warwickshire College. He also taught on the Fine Art Degree Course at Leamington Warwickshire College and the University of Central England. He is married with two sons, and now lives with his wife on the West Sussex coast.

This exhibition shows works dating from the 1970s to the present day.

In a well-written and attractive brochure to go with the exhibition, senior curator Chloe Johnson writes that “the ideas underpinning Hitchmough’s works are varied, but they deal with one single, complex concern: the notion of painting”.

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Colin Hitchmough, Flag, 1982, acrylic on canvas, collection: Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum

He was also exploring the physical materials used in painting, and began to suspend canvases like banners or flags rather than stretching them. In the 1980s the focus switched apparently to the surface of paintings and fluid brush work, and in the 1990s to box-like shapes, or “containers for ideas”.

The People’s Flag from 1982 is a big mostly black canvas with white stripes, and another from 1972 is blue and textured, looking like denim, with an almost tie-dye look to it. Untitled from 1971 is the earliest work in this show, and takes up one wall of the gallery, a T-shaped work with bits pulled up and held there, subverting the idea of the flat canvas.

New York House from 2001 is very different, mostly black with a six dark grey and white, sharp-sided rectangles painted in the bottom.

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Colin Hitchmough, NY House, 2001, acrylic on canvas

Terrapins and some similar works combine wood and canvas with sticky substances to create things that look organic and wholly fake at the same time.

Small silences from 2014 is a series of small works with parallel hand-drawn black lines stacked up like papers, or further apart to change the unity of the work. This is one of the works inspired by a holiday visit where Hitchmough misheard a guide talking about what he thought was a Dictionary of Silences, and the lines represent piled up canvases. The Dictionary of Silences painting is large and black, with imposing white blurred lines across it.

It’s an interesting exhibition which in many ways I struggled with at face value, but Chloe’s writing and the useful information on the gallery walls brought more knowledge and understanding to what is a large body of work, in more ways than one.

Exhibition finally shows Val’s pottery talents to wider audience

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A potter who has left behind a large collection of works never shown in public before is amongst artists whose work is on display at an exhibition in Birmingham.

Val Gill was originally from Smethwick, but had lived in Birmingham for many years. She died on October 11, aged 63, leaving many of her creations in her flat.

She had studied at Liverpool Art College in the early 1970s and later worked behind the scenes at Birmingham Repertory Company and Birmingham Hippodrome. In more recent decades she had enjoyed working on her pottery skills in classes and then in the studios at the mac in Birmingham.

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Some of her work had been seen in a students’ show at the mac back in 2006, but she had always declined being exhibited more generally; however friends, some of whom worked alongside her at the mac, have put a number of her creations on show in the Midlands Potters open exhibition at Woodbridge Gallery in Moseley until 3pm on Sunday, December 4. Visitors can take one of her works away with them for a donation of a least £10 which will go to a cancer charity.

The works are in her very recognisable style, including some small, symmetrical raku works and others with a shiny glaze. There are also larger, typically asymmetrical, pieces, some of which look like different pots works merged together to create one. They are in a range of colours but nothing too dramatic, mostly blues and aqua, or sandy or grey earth colours. Some which look like vases are larger at the top than the bottom, and others have a Moorish look to them.

The exhibition over the two floors of the gallery also features works by other Midlands Potters members. Karen James, one of the friends behind displaying Val’s works, is showing attractive bowls and vessels with swirly, attractive internal glazes.

Sally White’s practical creations including jugs feature ship motifs, and Jennie Howe, who had a MA in fashion and textiles has created ceramics with a frilly look to them. Graham Taylor’s works are ornamental chunks depicting the sea with boats sailing on them, and in the room upstairs Mirta Vargas’s works are influenced by pre-Columbian art, with small bobbles of clay and layers built up defining the shape.

Apart from Val Gill’s works being offered to raise money for charity, all other works are for sale. It’s an interesting exhibition showing the variety of work being done by potters from across the Midlands.

Op Art from across the decades continues to confuse and educate

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Op Art may not be new, but there are some new names to savour from across the decades in Op Art Past and Present, on show into the new year at The White Room gallery in Leamington.

Gallery boss John Gilks is a fan of op art so much of what is on show has been in his possession for some time, and he has provides short biographies of the artists to further inform us.

Ivan Picelj was a Croatian artist and a particular favourite of John’s, so much so he once nearly visited Zagreb to track him down – them bitterly regretted not making the trip when the artist died in 2011. At one end of the gallery are three of his untitled works, large colourful circles, made up of coloured circles within (pictured above).

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Described as the grandfather of op art, Victor Vasarely is represented by a strange work that seems to warp and move, with net-like circles and squares (above).

Genevieve Claisse was born in 1935 in Quiévy, France, the great niece of abstract painter Auguste Herbin. Her prints on show here are large, overlapping circles.

Carlos Cruz-Diez, who was born in 1923 in Caracas, creates metallic works and there are circles and squares here in different colours which look different as you move around in front of them.

There is a swirly purple and green print by Bridget Riley, and going down the age range somewhat, Damien Hirst is represented by one of his dot paintings.

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The very present is represented in the exhibition by Carl Cashman (one work, Chanel, above), with several of his works included. Cashman is more of a street artist who is inspired by Op Art and created a long mural on a wall at the Glastonbury festival. Here there is Peace Hurts, the CND symbol hidden amongst blue and white stripes. Jam Hot and Hot are more like street art, small but with glitzy paint. Love Hurts has the letters for Love in different colours in a square.

It’s an interesting exhibition, introducing some older artists who are still not that well known except to op art aficionados.

Masterji’s photos earn him a solo show of cultural change

There’s still time (just) to see the Masterji & Coventry exhibition which has received widespread coverage including TV and national press.

The project is funded by a number of organisations including Coventry City of Culture Trust and the city council, with support from Coventry University, City College Coventry and Fargo Village. It is on show at The Box at Fargo until November 20.

Maganbhai Patel came to Coventry in 1951 from Bombay, and as the story goes he was bored with his job and decided to photograph his very different new home city. By 1969 his photographs were proving so popular he was able to set up his own studio. Anyone who has driven up Stoney Stanton Road in the past decades must have noticed Masters photo studio on the right hand side over the canal bridge, driving out of the city.

Masterji as he became known, now aged 94, had his works included in the Imagine Hillfields Exhibition in the same venue in August 2015, but this is the first solo show of his work. There are some gems here; portraits of many people from the South Asian countries, posing with their families, their possessions and their new lives, including the photo below, which apparently shows a bus conductor who later moved to Canada.

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The influence of Elvis Presley can be seen in some of the portraits from that era, with men displaying slicked back hair and quiffs. Later, weightlifters have bouffant hair and early gym wear as they lift weights to impress. In one photo a man lounges incongruously on a coffee table, with a book and some flowers, and in another a wild-eyed man stares out of shot, his moustache pulled into sharp points.

The decades pass and some people have their pictures taken in Masterji’s studio – some of which has been transplanted here for the exhibition – or crowded outside their own new homes. Perhaps they were anxious to reassure people back home they were ok, or show off their own properties.

There are also his own family photos. In one, a young boy takes a bath in the kitchen sink, and hopefully the Ajaz container nearby had been left there only by accident, and wasn’t in use.

It’s a fascinating exhibition put together by Coventry photographer Jason Tilley, Mark Cook and others who prefer to use the group name Photo Archive Miners. It’s just a shame the exhibition isn’t on for longer so more people could get to see it.

Cult Zero’s sketches become strange creatures in Deasil exhibition

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An exhibition of work created as a therapeutic “hobby” is currently filling a Leamington gallery.

Chris Putt, who lives in the town, creates most of his pieces under the name of Cult Zero. He hand sketches them, mostly strange cartoon-like or robotic creatures, then scans them and finishes off the work on computer, adding in the colour as he goes. There are also some works which are like living collages, built up in layers

Chris showed his work as part of a joint exhibition at Gallery 150 in Leamington three years ago, and is now showing in a solo show at Deasil in Oxford Street.

He said he had studied graphic design at the then Mid-Warwickshire College some years ago, but has worked in the transport business.

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Chris said, of his original sketches and inspiration: “It’s my hobby and it’s just taken off. It’s what’s in my imagination and it just comes out of my head. I doodle – it’s my own therapy. I had all these sketch books piling up. I put a couple of things in the exhibition at Gallery 15 and they sold.”

That was several years ago and this exhibition represents his body of work since.

Chris does most of his works under the name of Cult Zero but there are some new works out under this own name, some images familiar to anyone who’s been to St Ives. Fore Street and the harbour in the town are shown, with much of the texture missing; the brick walls of building in the street are a bland grey, with the people wandering about in typical seaside style are the only spots of colour.

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It’s an interesting exhibition of works which, in their final state, are hard to imagine as the original therapeutic sketches in a notebook.

The exhibition is on until November 10.

Queen Victoria, Paris and Picasso are unlikely mix of stars for Compton Verney autumn exhibition

 

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Max Berthelin, Royal Visit to Napoleon III, The Grande Galerie des Fetes at the Hotel de Ville, Paris, 23 August 1855, Royal Collection Trust 2016

Two contrasting exhibitions end the year on a high for Compton Verney art gallery in south Warwickshire.

Queen Victoria in Paris features watercolours from the Royal Collection, and Picasso on Paper: Prints from the collection of the Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf, is self explanatory.

The Victoria exhibition is an unexpected joy. It features 44 watercolours which are from three different sources. In 1855 Napoleon III sent Victoria 10 watercolours depicting her visit to Paris from 18-27 August that year, she then commissioned 15 more and the final ones were sent by Baron Haussman. They are seen together in this touring exhibition for the first time – and some have never been seen before in public. The occasion marked the first time Britain and France were fighting on the same side, in the Crimean War, and only 40 years after the Battle of Waterloo.

Compton Verney has done what it does well with this exhibition, presenting them in rooms painted a gorgeous deep blue, and with the low lighting required to protect them.

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Charles Auguste Questel, Royal Visit to-Napoleon II, The Illuminations in the gardens of-Versailles, 25-August 1855, Royal Collection Trust, 2016

This is a collection where the names of the artists are less important than what is shown or represented. Indeed in some of them, the architecture of the buildings, inside and out, is what is particularly impressive – and apparently that was entrusted to architecture students to draw. There are scenes inside from various parties, including at the Hôtel de Ville, where there were 7,000 guests, and the high ceilings and decoration inside is impressively shown; regular artists painted in the people in the bottom part of the frame.

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William Wyld, Chateau de Saint Cloud, Royal Collection Trust, 2016

Victoria’s visit is depicted from her arrival in the Royal Yacht at Boulogne, through to a huge welcome in Paris, through a fake ceremonial arch built temporarily for the occasion. There are landscapes of Saint-Cloud, where she stayed, and which was razed to the ground when Napoleon III fell in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and some gorgeous interiors of the rooms, with Victoria and Albert shown reading in one. The detail of the rooms and of clothes and hairstyles will delight those interested in the era.

There’s a fantastic nightime painting of Versailles, a packed visit to the opera, and an exaggerated image of Victoria inspecting troops on a massive parade ground. The third room is dedicated to 19 scenes from the Hôtel de Ville ball. It’s an exhibition which is a delight in many different ways.

The Picasso exhibition features 70 works from the Dusseldorf collection, created over a period of 40 years from the 1920s-60s. The exhibition seems to work in phases, marked by Picasso’s changing women, and professional collaborators.

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Pablo Picasso, Head of the Faun, Colour Linocut, Edition 19/50, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Photo: Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Horst Kolberg, ARTOTHEK and

Pablo Picasso, Françoise, 14.06.1946, Lithography, Edition 4/50, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Photo: Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Horst Kolberg, ARTOTHEK

There is a portrait of Jacqueline Roque, who featured in more than 400 of his works, and also marked the start of his collaboration with Hidalgo Annéra.

There are some cute images of his young children, Paloma and Claude, the outlines of one created with his fingertips as he didn’t have tools to hand. Motherhood is an etching, with a few simple lines creating perfectly the woman and the young boy she is feeding. The Painter on the Beach from February 3, 1955 is a humorous work of several odd characters posing.

La Tauromaquia is a seires of 16 aquatint and sugar lift works showing simple scenes of bullfighting, and there is another series, Poèmes and Lithographs, featuring portraits and stream-of-consciousness text.

A move from Paris to the south of France resulted in a new collaboration with a potter there, and there are some works loaned from Leicester Arts and Museums Service, including the lovely Yellow Face of 1947, with the sweet face drawn with his fingers again.

So clearly a pair of exhibitions with no connection, but both interesting in their own right – and on until December 11.

The Human Document makes engrossing study of suffering and desperation

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Photographs of people facing despair and suffering, decades and thousands of miles apart, make up the engrossing exhibition The Human Document.

Subtitled The Photography of Persuasion from 1930s America to Present Day, the exhibition at the Mead Gallery, is based largely on works shown at a 1962 New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition, The Bitter Years.

This used 200 images taken in the 1930s by a group of photographers working for the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration Programme, with the aim of proving to better-off Americans the desperate state of rural communities and the need for the New Deal programme.

During the Second World War 70,000 prints and 170,000 negatives were transferred into the Library of Congress in Washington (and many are now available to be downloaded).

This exhibition shows many of the images from The Bitter Years exhibition, alongside photographs by contemporary photographers also documenting sides of life that would otherwise remain hidden to many people.

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The American photographs are fascinating. All small and black and white, they show an unimaginable life. In the first image inside the door, by Arthur Rothstein, two wagon wheels lie in a pile of dust in front of abandoned farm, making the point that the resident of the shack behind isn’t going anywhere useful on their cart any more. Rothstein’s other images include an animal skull on cracked ground, and a withered crop. He also showed people being forcibly moved from living alongside a road to land between the Mississippi and the levee, and abandoned furniture of those on the move.

Marion Post Wolcott’s Old Negro shows a miserable man picking at a thread on his worn clothing. Ben Shahn has captured images of destitute Ozark people in Arkansas, including a girl clutching a damaged doll, itself wearing rags, and a little boy cuddling two kittens, his clothes as ragged as the those of the doll.

Dorothea Lange’s many images are some I kept returning to. She has photographed a sharecropping family on the move, mum in a bonnet clutching her baby, a sad little boy and anguished father.

She also pictured black cotton pickers, who worked from 6am-7pm for $1, and the image is hung next to another of hers, showing a fat white plantation owner with his car; the documentary and persuasive nature of the photographs is important to note too.

However it wasn’t as simple as black vs white; a white tenant family’s home is shown, a plain bed on the porch of a house propped up with bricks. Lange is particularly good at capturing images of young mothers, old before their time, trailing across the country with their husbands and children in search of any sort of better life.

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Her photograph of the 32-year-old ‘migrant mother’ of seven children, Florence Thompson, pictured (above) with a baby and two young children in a pea picking camp, became a famous image, her tough life leaving her looking more like 45, and is included here, as well as a fascinating interview with Florence in the accompanying free catalogue. Despite her incredibly hard life she lived to 80, though her own mother had made 108.

Lange also photographed an old woman in Kern County migrant camp in California, her only comfort a rocking chair in an open-fronted tent.

There are countless images here all showing homelessness and suffering seen many times around the world, including of course now on the daily news.

The works by contemporary artists are mostly also from the west, and show a side of life missed by many. Three sets stand out.

Chris Killip’s photographs from the north of England from the 1970s-90s, show bleak back streets in Tynemouth, and what appear to be travellers but are specifically sea coalers, people who harvest then sell washed-up coal. Their messy camp and a little girl playing with a hoola-hoop next to a burnt-out fire and wrecked furniture document a difficult way of life at the time.

Paul Graham’s colour collection, Beyond Caring, is made up of covertly-taken photographs of people in social security offices. Fed-up faces, and bored body language dominate here. People forced into a community in the offices where they don’t communicate with anyone.

Richard Billingham’s Ray’s A Laugh series are painful for the knowledge they feature his own family. His dad falls from a chair in their cramped flat, or glares at a cat hissing on a cabinet cluttered with ornaments. His mum hand feeds a kitten, and his brother licks yoghurt from the lid of a basic brand.

Different times, and different viewpoints set the more recent works apart, but it’s a show not to be missed for work by talented photographers capturing images from the times they lived in, and looking to tell a story to others.

* Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, until December 10.

Standard ideas of homes and bodies are turned inside out in interesting exhibition

Outside / Inside / Out is the title of a new exhibition by two Coventry-based artists showing their work in Warwickshire.

The works, on show at the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School, only until October 13, are by Mandy Havers, a Senior lecturer in Fine Art at Coventry University, and Andrea Hannon, who completed her PhD at the University in 2014, and was also one of the artists highlighted in New Art West Midlands that year.

They explain the title of the exhibition as “the notion of external and internal space as it is found, negotiated and experienced both physically and psychologically is an interest both artists share”. However their works are very different.

Mandy’s works largely concentrate on the human body, often in its most physical form, but with what should be inside and unseen very much on show. Some of the works appear beautiful but in a gory way; Bloodpool features a doll-like figure sitting on a red shiny ball, but then you realise its guts are spilling out of its middle and making the pretty lines down the ball.

Gold Head is a tightly stuffed leather gold head. Last Supper is a large leather and mixed media work, with a Jesus face looking out, some shiny bling, and then you realise the central body is a large loaf of crusty bread.

Dreamer is a work seeming to feature a foetus attached to a head, and other works show detailed drawings of cut-away people, their internal organs and veins visible. There are also a number of tables showing collected objects, Dreamworld from this year, features odd collections; dolls with outsized gloves suck on their hands, eyeballs, and other items relating to the body. The whole body of work is accomplished, attractive and also disturbing in parts.

Andrea Hannon’s works also vary between some on the wall and others free-standing. Her works concentrate more on the idea of physical spaces and the idea of home.

Postern is two landscape paintings, with her own collaged intervention of what looks like windows and walls.

Cluster I is a set of three 3D collages in Perspex and wood, so you can see inside to tiny figures cut from old books, wearing masks here, and with a city skyline too. In Cluster II people gather around a desk. Shoot features four images of what look like a woman in an attractive dress, but with swirls of pattern around her, distracting from the figure.

In-her is a roughly-made dolls house inhabited by cut-out figures, including one that looks like a woman doing the ironing, and in one part of the house the floor has come up in strips, and the front is completely detached, suggestion traumas and frustrations of home. Two other works feature homely items such as lampshades and wallpaper in unusual settings on the floor.

The very different works seem to complement each other, creating an interesting and thought-provoking exhibition.

*The Lewis Gallery opens weekdays 2-5pm, and the exhibition closes on Thursday, October 13.

New exhibition tells of life on the front line for Warwickshire woman

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A drawing of Lady Dorothie Feilding by General Hely d’Oissel (Warwickshire County Record Office, CR2017/c582/81)

A new exhibition at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum tells the story of a brave local woman who left behind a life of privilege to help save people on the frontline of the First World War.
Lady Dorothie Feilding was the daughter of the Earl of Denbigh and grew up on the family estate at Newnham Paddox, near Rugby, with six sisters and three brothers, two of whom were killed fighting in the war.
In 1914, when she was 24, she travelled to France as a member of the Munro Ambulance Corps after completing her training at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby. Belgium was the only country to allow women to work on the front line, so she was soon in Flanders. Dorothie’s aristocratic background also helped in gaining her this dangerous but obviously wanted job; she had three patrons, including a general whose daughter she had been with at a Paris boarding school, and another whose son had married one of her school friends.
Her daily round of picking up the wounded is detailed, and there are pictures of Dorothie, sometimes casually in the background, and other times obviously feted as someone important. In one photo she was next to a shell, in another lounging in a chair in a bomb-damaged house, and another with her little dog, who she returned to at night for a cuddle to escape the horrors of war.

Letters and photographs relating to the First World War by Dorothy Feilding.

Letters and photographs relating to the First World War by Dorothy Feilding.

This is more of a historical exhibition than an art show, with photos, letters, maps, drawings and information boards, though there are some attractive drawings friends and admirers drew of Dorothie at work.
She was on the front line from 1914-17, and was awarded the French military honour of the Croix du Guerre, and was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold I in Belgium, finally being awarded the Military Medal by the British Army.
Dorothie became engaged to an Irish captain in 1917, her engagement recorded on the front page of the Daily Sketch with a reference to her as “our Joan of Arc”, and photos of her.
After all her bravery during the war, it’s then rather sad to read that she did not live a long life; Dorothie married, lived in Ireland and had five children, before dying of heart failure aged only 46. She was brought back to Monks Kirby for burial in the Roman Catholic cemetery there.
*The exhibition is on until October 29, 2016.

High standard of works are on show in first Coventry University MA Painting exhibition

The inaugural exhibition of the MA Painting course at Coventry University has ended on a high with an exhibition of works by the first graduating students – and they have set the bar high for those that follow.

The top floor of the Graham Sutherland building on the corner of Cox Street in the city centre is the venue for the show, open Saturday, September 10 and Monday-Wednesday 12-14, and it is worth detouring to see (if you can get in the building). There are works by just three full-time and two part-time students.

The works that drew me in most were by Zhen Zhai, who also calls herself Dakota Zuch, and who comes from the south of China. She has created a number of paintings of life in China for two very different groups of people. Some of the works are ‘normal’ painting-size, but there are also dozens of small postcard-sized ones with an extraordinary amount of detail.

The whole collection is called They Don’t Want to Live With Grandparents. Some paintings feature the glamour and wealth of the big city, where a bright highway cuts through dark sky scrapers, and contrasts with village scenes of poor homes and pylons, trucks in quarries, and people gathering berries or selling fruit by the roadside. Zhen Zai told me they were about the children left behind with grandparents when parents went off to the cities for work. They stayed poor, whereas the children that grew up in the cities were rich – shown in these images of university graduation, glamorous hotels and schools. She had been to the rural north to meet the children left behind, some of whom didn’t even know what the glasses on her face were. The poignant story has created some confident, skilled paintings; Zhen is returning to China to complete another MA there.

Matthew Morrison Macaulay’s work is familiar from previous exhibitions in the city, but studying for the MA has led him to rethink and look anew at paintings, and he said this collection is “paintings about paintings”. In particular he had become interested in Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus from the Ashmolean in Oxford. Some of his works feature lines bisecting them, and this comes from the balcony and shutters in the picture, and there’s also more blurring of colours and seemingly smudging over “in a Richter-esque way”. It’s interesting to see where his works will go in his future studies.

Susa Lee works with textiles and paintings; some, which she said come from her imagination, showed cats in colourful, abstract scenes, plus one which brought back nightclub memories. The textile works involve cutting, painting and arranging in flag-like ways. She said the MA had been all she hoped it would be, and said she has realised she has to see other people’s artworks ‘live’ to be inspired by them.

Part-time MA student Andy Farr has just finished showing his work at the Deasil Gallery in Leamington, but they focused on movement and speed and the three here are very different. They are large, and more concerned with social issues, The Third of January 2015 links to Goya’s The Third of May 1808 which is shown on one wall of a room, seemingly looking over New York, and featuring an image from an IS killing on the table. Ideal Home is clearly anything but, a chair laying on its side in another room, and trails of red streaking down the painting. In the third painting, children’s toys merge with more adult videos to draw attention to the loss of innocence. They are accomplished and show his versatility.

Doris Tissington is also part-time so half way through her studies; her paintings are extremely colourful, involving lots of bright circles and patterns, one seeming almost like a mandala.

Graham Chorlton thanked the students for their commitment to the course and each other, their hard work and spirit of adventure, but he has also clearly brought out the best in them, and it will be interesting to see those who follow.