Michala Gyetvai

Nature Notes offer artists’ varying perspectives on the four seasons

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Michala Gyetvai’s work L’après midi d’une faune

An exhibition inspired by the diary of a well-known local writer aims to explore local wildlife but also has something to offer for the art lover.

Between the taxidermied birds and animals in Nature Notes at The Herbert are artworks, a mixture of new ones and others drawn from the gallery’s store rooms.

The exhibition is described as uncovering the natural world and investigating how wildlife adapts and changes throughout the seasons. There are things to touch and smell, with interactive activities, as well as lots of natural history specimens. The exhibition is split into the four seasons, and there are artworks along the way depicting nature throughout the year.

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Yellow Irises by Angela Brazil, © Independent Age and Women’s Careers Foundation

Angela Brazil, the writer of schoolgirl stories who spent most of her adult life in Coventry from 1911-1947, was also a keen watercolour painter of botanical subjects, and there are a number of her works in the exhibition. She also kept a nature diary, and it inspired the exhibition itself. Her works on show include detailed paintings of various types of fungi, wild strawberry plants, yellow iris, hawthorn, and closing with mistletoe and snowdrops.

Warwickshire-based textile artist Michala Gyetvai’s large thread and fibre on wool blanket work L’après midi d’une faune work was inspired by a walk in Hay Wood in Warwickshire, and also music by Debussy and a poem by Stéphane Mallamé. It is a swirl of greens, yellows, blues and purples and looks like nature at the midst of a weather storm.

Gillian Irving’s Summer 2 is a print with images on it including beetles, flies, wild and cultivated flowers laid out as on a specimen table. Margaret Taylor’s pencil drawings of buttercups and daisies are simple, clear and attractive.
Cora Perks’s Willowherb II from 1963 is an oil painting of this early-flowering plant, and a lively mix of red and white whisps.

Moving from summer to autumn, Chelsea Meadow’s lino printed paper from 2015 shows the clear lines of a fox, rabbit and mushrooms. Douglas Hatfield’s Duet or Duo is a dry point etching on paper of owls seeming to speak to each other. October in the Cotswolds is an oil painting by Wilfrid Hawthorn from 1949 of a girl walking down a village lane, with autumn rolling in as shown by some green trees and others where the leaves have already gone brown.

The Pike by Coventry-based Adie Blundell is a more recent work, involving marble, ink, and wood looking a bit like a traditional stuffed and framed fish, but with drawings on it.

For winter, the works include Snow in Tendring Park from 1958, a painting by Hugh Cronyn with the white snow contrasting with dark blue wintry trees and sky, painted with big splatters of colour.
Herbert Cox’s Snow Scene with Hedge is a small and pleasant 1910 painting, with cottages and trees.

In the centre of the gallery Orwell the Owl swoops, made by Chelsea Meadow with wings from old pieces of material, and the perch the base of a Christmas tree.

Whether you find the taxidermy attractive or not there are some interesting and detailed natural and botanical works in this exhibition to make it worth visiting anyway.

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Angela Brazil’s diary, which was the inspiration for the exhibition © The Herbert

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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.

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Charlotte’s Locks by Denise Startin (highly commended)

George Wagstaffe and Michala Gyetvai brighten January with joint exhibition

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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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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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Exhibition in stables gallery launches artist in residence at Ragley Hall

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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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