Nancy Upshall

Rugby Open provides showcase for local talent in lots of media

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Graham Grimmett’s Tread Lightly, Walk True (Nature Morte)

The Rugby Open exhibition is on again, showing an interesting diversity of works.

Apparently 236 items were entered, and 97 have made it through to the exhibition, with a few artists showing two or three pieces. Paintings not surprisingly dominate, but there is a good variety of style and content, plus works in other mediums.

Tony Baker’s We Are Sailing is one of the few photographs, and taken from an interesting angle, looking down at a selection of balconies on a cruise boat, and the people on them. Another photograph is Jean Sutton’s Patterns of Birmingham, showing swirly reflections in metal.

Linda Cavan’s The Red Speck is strangely compelling, a small red speck on an inkpen drawing of what looks like some sort of bag or container.

Lilly Martina Gardener, a former winner of the Rugby Open, has two works on show, Winter Snows over Weedon, showing people walking along in a snowy scene at her home village, and Blackbirds and Tea. Both are in her distinctive style, which appears to be influenced by Henri Rousseau, with every bit of the canvas covered in activity and colour, with dense fronds of greenery.

Julie Bett’s Reflections is a landscape in mixed media, a bit Piper-esque. Nancy Upshall has two colourful abstract paintings in the show including The Bridge, a collection of small shaped colours creating a path across the canvas.

Eric Gaskell is another familiar name at Rugby Opens, and he has three linocuts featured, including one which called Boxed Boundaries – a linocut slider game, which is unusual. Helena Godwins’s sculpture Cat & Mice is made out of a breeze block so has a strange, holey, texture to it.

Roger Griffiths is also a known name from Rugby exhibitions, and his Rugby Cement from King’s Newnham watercolour shows a well-known Rugby site too, the huge building towering over colourful out-of-perspective landscapes. Val Hunt’s sculptures made from drink can metal are familiar and the one on show here is particularly charming, entitled “A conference of endangered birds discussing their future. Nightingale, lapwing, barn owl, cuckoo and house sparrow”, with the birds, looking very knowing, sitting on a branch together.

I’ve seen Bryan B Kelly’s work in Leamington before and The Folly is in his usual exuberant style, with lots of colour, the paint applied in dots, and a regular pattern to the scene.

Linda Keller has created Coventry Cathedral out of acrylic paint and mixed media, and Susan Moreton’s In the Footsteps of Monks is also a mixed media of what looks like a monastery or cloister.

Helen McChesney’s three oil painted landscapes are very pleasant to view, with pale colours, entitled Summer, The Wheat Field and The Ploughed Field. Neil Moore, former Leamington Open winner, is exhibiting The Lightness of Darkness, an oil painting of a person lying down in his highly realistic style.

Gérard Mermoz, a former winner of both Rugby and Coventry Opens, is showing Interior, two classic old paintings of women in domestic scenes becoming one by being placed on top of each other.

Teresa Wells’s Hashtag Tragedy Take 2 is an unusual sculptural installation of several small naked models on the floor, some enacting a boat capsizing tragedy and others watching it or filming it. Graham Grimmett’s Tread Lightly, Walk True (Nature More) is a plastic resin creation, sticking out from the wall full of colourful bright flowers.

It’s an interesting variety of work with something for all to enjoy, and is on until January 14.

  • The exhibition winner was David Broadfield, for his charcoal work Lime, Newnham Paddox. David Kearney won the World Rugby award for his watercolour and pen and ink work Winter Trees, Val Hunt’s drink can metal sculpture mentioned above won the Rugby Decorative and Fine Art Society award and Roger Griffiths won the Brethertons LLP award for Newton Rugby.
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Nina Cashmore’s Lisa

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Summer is here for artists at Deasil gallery in Leamington, anyway

Sea Moon

The Summer Exhibition at Deasil in Leamington brings together some artists from their stable of regulars whose works are shown in venues such as restaurants around the Midlands, plus some newer artists.

With pieces by about 14 people on show there is quite a variety of themes and styles of working.

Nancy Upshall

Coventry-based artist Nancy Upshall has three pieces here, including the oil painting Twisted Flax, a small work with a concentration on the turns in a material, and a larger work, Motley.

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Susannah Rourke’s April Showers (above) are four paint and mixed media works of splashes of movement and colour, which can be rearranged into a different pattern if preferred, as can another set called Here I Am.

Chris Putt’s large digital print of St Ives is recognisably the resort, with colour added to the buildings. Stuart Ellis’s Sea Moon (top) has a gold base, with purples, oranges and golds going up into the sky, and is very effective.

Sonia Bublaitis’s works are very colourful, with vivid paint patterns on Perspex. In contrast, Mark Allan is showing close-up wildlife photographs to make the keen amateur envious.

Paul Jordan

Paul Jordan’s City Limits (above) is a mixed media piece, with buildings drawn in black lines over a board on which newspaper has been stuck, and painted over white. You can tell it’s recently done from the headlines about Johnson and May visible underneath.

It’s another enjoyable and varied exhibition from the gallery which changes its exhibitions every three weeks.

 

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.

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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!

Excellent Nancy Upshall exhibition puts Deasil gallery on the map

Adrift

A Coventry-based artist is holding a retrospective of her work with paintings and drawings going back to the 1960s.

Nancy Upshall moved to the city from Dorset to teach art at the then Barkers Butts School in the 1950s.

She said: “I left my first job very easily – I was teaching art and they had a polished floor in the art room and the caretaker would grumble (about it getting dirty) so I gave my notice in. After about two months I thought I better get another job and when I applied for Coventry I thought that’s the furthest north I am going to go. It was a secondary modern school, and they had been told by an inspector their art and music was useless. They wanted to get a graduate in and I thought when I was being shown round, this job is mine!

“I came from a small town in Dorset and coming to Coventry it was so industrial … I couldn’t believe people lived like that, it was a real eye opener for me.”

Nancy thought she might stay in Coventry for a couple of years, but then, as she put it, “love struck” and she has been in the city ever since.

A few of the works in the exhibition are from the early years. Nancy said: “Some of them go back quite a time, and some of the early ones are from when I was first married and living in Coventry.”

She recalled going out on a Sunday morning when she only had her first daughter, Jane, and Nancy would draw and Jane took her drawing book along too, but it got too complicated by the time her second daughter came along.

The post-war reconstruction was going on in earnest. She said: “I remember being on the roof of Broadgate House and painting – there’s one in the Herbert in Coventry which I did of Smithford Street.

“There were car parks which for me were ready made abstracts, you got a space and beyond it another space.”

Now retired but still painting in Earlsdon, Coventry, Nancy taught for many years at Coventry Technical College, a Lanchester Polytechnic annex, Rugby School of Art and until recently on open studies classes at the University of Warwick.

This exhibition at the recently-opened Deasil Art Gallery in The Warehouse in Oxford Street, Leamington, has around 50 paintings, prints and drawings on the walls, plus 70 prints in racks.

The early works include a pen and ink drawing of the Owen Owen building being constructed, with the old stone of Holy Trinity also visible, from 1962, and a painting of the rebuilding made of lots of bright squares from 1964. Portrait of Greta, a delicate close up of a woman with a beehive hairdo is also an early work from 1962.

Later works develop her familiar wide palette of colours, usually including purples. Some works are entirely abstract, others more figurative but in the same colour-filled style. Others stand out as very different.

Mind the Gap from 2004 has what looks like a large cut-away bit of earth so you can see what’s below ground, while the words ‘mind the gap’ are repeated and fall into a hole. Not Waving but Drowning of 1976 is a rather symbolic pencil drawing showing a small hand waving from behind a curtain in a house, which in front of it has a hedge and two fences. Green Belt of 1981 is a larger-than-normal work with a green bit in the middle, dividing many overlapping pencil-drawn houses.

Le Plongeur

There are also a few works inspired by a visit to Ayers Rock in Australia in the 1990s, including Tree Ancestors, a delicate screenprint of strange-faced creatures.

Geranium from 1980 is an identifiable plant, and Inkwells from 1983 uses what is now a flaking orange paint as the background colour, with three inkwells painted on. Other more abstract works feature brightly coloured shapes and swathes of colour, some in series like the Division series of 2007, or the large Rift from 2004. And it’s good to see Nancy’s still working, as the Poseidon’s Kingdom, with what look like watery bubbles, from 2015.

It’s a wide-ranging exhibition from an interesting and popular artist which shows the variety of her work from over the decades, in a pleasant, fresh-looking space which plans to show new exhibitions every three weeks.

The retrospective is the third exhibition at Deasil Art Gallery, a pleasant, clean-looking space on the ground floor of what was Oceans nightclub, and is now occupied by creative businesses,a design company and social media firm.

Deasil is run by Kate Livingston and Kate Bramwell, and the name Deasil apparently comes from the meaning of the direction of the sun’s movement clockwise, moving forward, to tie in with the Kates’ aim of being an Art Agency and displaying art in different venues across the Midlands – moving art forward. I look forward to hearing more from them, and seeing what other exhibitions they put on in the future.