George Wagstaffe

Sculpture in city church is a poignant return for Coventry artist George Wagstaffe

A Coventry artist has returned to a church where two pieces of his work already stand, to create a new sculpture which was blessed today.

George Wagstaffe has made a new water stoup for St Mary Magdalen Church in Chapelfields in Coventry, the ‘church with the blue roof’ on the corner of St Thomas Whites and Hearsall Lane.

An exhibition of his recent work including preliminary drawings for the design of the stoup, plus some older pieces, were put on show at a cheese and wine evening in the church’s Magdalen Centre, where George was also present to talk to parishioners about his work.

His works already in the church are a tall stand for the Paschal Candle, and a Mary Magdalen sculpture, which was dedicated on September 28 2003. George was working on this when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York on September 11 2001, and this influenced his work, with the bronze cast to reflect the light to appear as if she is weeping. A personal tragedy influenced his planning for the stoup, as during the 18 months he was working on it he was caring for his ill wife, and then mourning her loss.

Some of his paintings from this time reflect this, with previous motifs of a woman and horse returning, but now with the waters of separation flowing between them, and a trinity of trees on the hill, in one piece called Atonement.

George said the eventual design for the stoup, which is cast in bronze, represents the wood of the Cross, the sun and the moon which are a constant, and when worshippers dip their fingers in they are touching the thorns of the crown of thorns from the crucifixion. The design includes the constant flow of water, and laurel leaves.

The design is detailed and meaningful, and comes from deep personal feelings and a lifetime of work in Coventry, and fits in well with George’s two other sculptures in the church. It was blessed in a service at 10am today.

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

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

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

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

Adrift Adrift by Nancy Upshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In In In   MichaelCarrMessagetoyourudy Foremark Reservoir IIShufflebotham

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Kern Baby’s second position, by the lake.

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

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

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

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

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

Skateboarder John Blakemore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coventry and Warwickshire’s art world in 2014 – a quick look back

A tour with Jeremy Deller, an evening with a KLF star, a camp parade, champagne on the terrace – and an embarrassing slip into an art work. Some of my memories of 2014.

As most galleries stay closed today, it’s time to look back at some of the highlights of the last year in the local art world – or my take on them anyway.

I can’t believe it’s nearly a year since I set out on a horrible January night to see George Wagstaffe and Michala Gyetvai’s exhibition at the Michael Heseltine Gallery in Middleton Cheney, near Banbury.

Their combination of sculpture and textiles work well together and it was lovely to see how they’ve inspired and revitalised each other’s art careers.

I ran into them several more times during the year too, at Ragley Hall where artist Dawn Harris had a residency which produced some interesting exhibitions and some fun openings, and where Michala was one of several artists working from studios in the stable block.

Champagne on the terrace outside the Hall in the sun before a tour of the first (and now only) Open exhibition was particularly memorable. It’s a shame that with a year’s worth of events planned Dawn and the other artists were asked to leave a few weeks ago – I hope they find somewhere else soon, but I fear it won’t be so attractive.

As openings go, the best had to be Qasim Riza Shaheen’s exhibition The Last Known Post at the mac in Birmingham. Vodka and orange, live Sufi music, a highly glamorous and camp parade – what’s not to enjoy!

Walking art featured strongly at the start of the year, with exhibitions of various artists’ work at the Mead, the mac in Birmingham and a Richard Long exhibition at The New Art Gallery, Walsall. Long held an In Conversation in Walsall which showed his non-nonsense nature, and the thought of his long walks, carrying everything he needs with him, was very impressive. The New Art Gallery also held an exhibition dedicated to the history of its Garman Ryan Collection and it was great to see the influence of two women on Midlands art.

Nuneaton’s Museum & Art Gallery continued to offer up some little gems of exhibitions in its own quiet way. At the start of the year I enjoyed Shaun Morris’s exhibition of paintings mostly of the underneath of the M6, and later in the year explored the varied world of illustration and some expansive works by Paul Newman.

Romanian-born Coventry University graduate Mircea Teleaga exhibited his moody paintings influenced by his home country at the Lewis Gallery in Rugby School, an attractive gallery which often has interesting exhibitions but is unfortunately only open weekday afternoons.

Other Coventry University graduates were chosen to have their work exhibited as part of New Art West Midlands, and I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of Lucy Hutchinson’s work in future. Her striking golden wallpaper telling stories of family across the world was a highlight of the show at the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum.

At Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, Professor David Carpanini brought Welsh valley life into focus in gritty paintings. The Compton Verney the season opened with Moore Rodin, including some striking large works in the grounds which made a great impression, and continued with the Folk Art exhibition which moved up from London later in the year.

At Rugby Art Gallery & Museum the annual show of the Rugby Collection was enlivened with a focus on conservation work, and the end of the year show It’s A Wrap looked at the tradition of wrapping in Japan, furoshiki.

In March, I saw Bill Drummond begin his 12-year world tour at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, which was a fun and predictably wacky occasion – let’s hope we’re both back there for the planned end of it in 2025.

At the Mead, a personal highlight was being shown around the All That is Solid Melts Into Air exhibition by its creator Jeremy Deller, while I interviewed him, then also hearing him talk about it at the Herbert, before being bussed back for the official opening. Very entertaining and interesting.

At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, the interactive exhibition Is This A Dagger? Was a good idea for an exhibition, and a nice excuse to visit the theatre again. And at Packwood House in the summer, Hilary Jack created some great installations to enhance a tour of the lovely grounds.

Coventry Artspace launched a programme of exhibitions looking at Coventry in the former Coventry Blaze shop in the City Arcade in the autumn, and at one event there I stepped back to clap a speech and ingnominously stepped back into Kathryn Hawkins’s installation, river …. splashing water all up the wall. Sorry about that (again).

There were closures too; the Gallery Upstairs in Henley-in-Arden, run by brother and sister Carey and Paul Moon, and previously owned by their parents, closed with a final exhibition in May and the beautiful building was put up for sale.

In Coventry, a group of artists calling themselves Through the Wall Projects, including another New Art West Midlands artist James Birkin, who paints great paintings of mostly derelict buildings, set up shop in one of Coventry’s fairly derelict areas in Bishop Street. Matthew Macaulay of Pluspace got involved to hold a couple more exhibitions there, but unfortunately the threat of business rates saw them having to move out.

The Lanchester Gallery Projects project ended at the building in The Hub after a varied and often challenging series of exhibitions but the university has continued to run it as a gallery, ending the year with a bright exhibition of paintings by John Devane including some influenced by American movies. The American influence was also strong in the closing exhibition of the year at the White Room in Leamington, in which Horace Panter – day job: bassist with the Specials – showed is growing catalogue of paintings.

So that’s it for 2014 – an interesting, if not stand out year. Here’s looking forward to more in 2015 – preview in the Coventry Telegraph, January 2.

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)

George Wagstaffe and Michala Gyetvai brighten January with joint exhibition

Michala and George 2
An artistic relationship which has helped two artists to become newly-inspired and revitalized has led to a joint exhibition in a great setting.
Michala Gyetvai and George Wagstaffe opened their show Powerful Forces with a talk about their work. The exhibition is open to the public until February 13 – and well worth the journey.
It is on at the Michael Heseltine Gallery at the Chenderit School, a visual arts college in Middleton Cheney, near Banbury. The gallery is made from glass and galvanized steel with cedar panelling, and is built in lean-to style against the school wall, offering wall spaces and plenty of room to display Michala’s large textiles and George’s sculptures in a way that looks like it was designed around them.

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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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Missing Naiad is ‘locked away’ reveals Coventry sculptor George Wagstaffe

EXCLUSIVE
The mystery of the missing Naiad has been partly solved, but it’s not a happy ending.
For years the sculpture of a the dreamy nymph sat in the pool in Priory Square in Coventry city centre, but after suffering vandalism and the removal of the water, which exposed the fact she has no lower limbs, she was moved to Lady Herbert’s garden.
Recently, the Roots gallery in Priory Square showed an exhibition including work by artist Caroline James – which Naiad artist George Wagstaffe visited and enjoyed – which focused on the square. At the opening Caroline lamented what it had become since her childhood memories of it. One of her photographs was of the pool, now lacking water and its Naiad, and she wondered where it was now.
Speaking at the opening of the new Ragley Gallery and Studios at Ragley Hall, where he is showing two sculptures and a painting in the inaugural exhibition, George Wagstaffe said: “The council have got her locked away somewhere.

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Exhibition in stables gallery launches artist in residence at Ragley Hall

Stables
Dawn Harris (left) and Kitty Kovacevic arts tour guide at Ragley in the gallery
It has to be the most impressive Private View I’ve ever sipped a glass of wine at. But then I’ve never been to an art exhibition opening at a stately home before.
I drove through the large Capability Brown-designed parklands to park right in front of the very impressive portico of Ragley Hall. Inside, along with the other guests I enjoyed lovely nibbles, a glass of wine and a wander around some of the rooms of the Hall, which dates from 1680. The massive Great Hall, with baroque plasterwork by James Gibbs dating from 1750, has several other State Rooms leading off it, including one set for dinner for 24, a bedroom used by visiting royalty in the past and sitting rooms with old masters on the walls. From some of the windows the vistas stretch for miles across parkland, woods and a lake.

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