Exhibition co-curated by George Shaw is fitting tribute to much-admired director

Per Speculum

Per Speculum, by Adrian Paci

An exhibition dedicated to the memory of an inspirational gallery curator and director who died too young brings together works by nearly 50 artists.

Michael Stanley was Director of Modern Art Oxford when he died in 2012, but had previously been a curator at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire, and the Ikon in Birmingham and it is at the Ikon that the exhibition entitled The Aerodrome is being held.

The majority of the artists whose work is shown were personally connected with Stanley, in that he had worked with them or been responsible for exhibitions where their work was shown. There is though Study of Clouds by John Constable (1837) (below), an artist whose work he had wanted to exhibit.

Study of Clouds

The exhibition is co-curated by artists David Austen and George Shaw. George and Michael Stanley has known each other since George’s show at the Ikon in 2003, and they worked together when George curated an exhibition of Graham Sutherland works at Modern Art Oxford, An Unfinished World, back in 2011. (Review here)

In the bar at The Aerodrome opening, George explained: “Michael Stanley had given me a book, and then I mentioned the book to David Austin and then David read it much more closely than I did.”

The book was The Aerodrome, written by Rex Warner in 1941, and which had made a great impression on Michael Stanley. The Ikon describes it as “an allegorical novel whose young hero is faced with the disintegration of certainties about his loved ones and with a choice between the earthy, animalistic life of his home village and the pure, efficient, emotionally detached life of an airman. Its dystopian vision was very influential on writers such as Orwell, Burgess and Ballard.”

From The Passion New Red Starr

Scenes from the Passion; The New Red Starr, by George Shaw

David found links in it between how Michael created exhibitions, and with things they were all interested in including English modernism, the post-war period, works of writers such as Auden, and Catholicism. George said he liked the religious imagery, relationships, and the fact that it wasn’t class-based but looked at the country from different sides.

“The nearest thing to it is the comparison with Brexit now”, he said.

“I found the Englishness and the attitude to modernity really intriguing and it mirrors up with my own inability to deal with the contemporary.”

The idea of an exhibition came up a long time ago: “We were thinking back through the history of Michael’s career as a curator and not forcing it into an agenda, but once we’d started it fitted very neatly and naturally together. It was a way of looking at a lifetime of a person’s career through the prism of one particular book.”

The exhibition they have created spreads through three floors of the Ikon and the Tower Room and contains a lot of varied art.

One of the first works on the first floor is Chair Falling, a Super 8 film by Michael Stanley from 1995, presumably from his degree show.

Fallen Man

There is a painting by George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The New Red Starr, a still-standing but lost looking pub. David Austen’s contribution is Fallen Man (above), an image of a man gone so far forward his head has disappeared.

Preserve Beauty


Anya Gallacio’s Preserve Beauty, 1991-2003, (above)  is an installation of beautiful but fading flowers behind glass.

There is a Graham Sutherland drawing of Cornstack in Landscape from 1945-6, to mark the exhibition George Shaw curated at Oxford.

A subtle and attractive Paul Nash drawing, Nostalgic Landscape, from 1925 (below) also features.

Nostalgic Landscape

Adrian Paci’s Per Speculum, a six minute film, features scary youngsters, unnerving stares and a mix of reality and mirrors.

Jenny Saville held her first solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2012 (review) but is showing a work from this year, Portrait of Lola, a graphite drawing of a woman.

The Tower Room has been filled with a huge amount of salt, in an installation by Linder Sterling called Salt Shrine 2007/19. It was originally commissioned by Michael Stanley and created with 40 tons of salt to be placed in the RE classroom of his high school the week before the school was demolished. It apparently features the same crucifix as in the original installation.

I hope he would appreciate that touch, and the effort, commitment and thought that has gone into creating this exhibition which should draw more people in to appreciate the artists he valued.

The exhibition continues until September 8.


Exhibition finally shows Val’s pottery talents to wider audience


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.


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My tips for getting the most out of the day:

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


Exhibitions are a delight of an escape from festive shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone for tennis? Barber Institute exhibition reveals art on court

So where is the true birthplace of lawn tennis – Royal Leamington Spa or Edgbaston in Birmingham? Those with a view on the matter could bat that debate about all day, and it’s something that’s looked at in a wonderful exhibition at the Barber Institute in Birmingham.
It seems that Thomas Gem and his friend Jean Batista Augurio Perera played on Perrera’s lawn in Edgbaston in 1859 – but both moved to Leamington in 1872 where they formed Leamington Lawn Tennis Club with two local doctors.
Gem himself drew a sketch of their first match as a foursome, at the Manor House Hotel, at the first club in the world formed specifically for playing lawn tennis. The exhibition features a photograph of the sketch which was presented to the Manor House in 1957 and sadly subsequently ‘lost’.
As the original club is no longer going, the Edgbaston Archery & Lawn Tennis Society is now the oldest surviving lawn tennis club in the world – but on the strength of this exhibition and accompanying catalogue I can forgive Birmingham its boasting.