Rugby

Colourful landscapes star in David Howell’s return to exhibiting

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Eyes of Slate, oil on canvas 2015

Coventry-based artist David Howell could not be accused of rushing into having an exhibition, as it’s 23 years since his last one – however it has been worth the wait.

Black Mountain Red River captures David’s interest in investigating ideas of landscape. The large to very large colourful paintings work very well in the open white spaces of the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School.

As he explains in his artist’s statement: “I’m interested in how perceptions of both nature and landscape have been shaped through time, how we experience landscape in its physical sense, how we record it visually through maps, photography and the painted image, and the resulting affect this has on our psyche.”

David’s colour use has changed over the years, with brighter hues now filling the canvas. Mineral Memory from 1996 shows this, a large mainly dark green painting with a lozenge-shaped block in the middle. Other older works are also generally darker in colour.

The painting style involves what looks like a confident application of the paint, generally in thick lines. Falling Water features green, blue, purple and orange paint streaming down the canvas to the bottom. Palimpest features a line across the canvas with brighter colours across the top.

Some of the paintings have the look of lines of different strata in rocks or cliff faces. One work has a grey background with a blue river running through it, and Above the Shivver features yellows towards the base and thickly-applied broad swathes of coloured paint with more greys and purples up top. You can imagine fields, or vistas opening up, with various skies and weather conditions.

David, who took a Fine Art degree at the then Lanchester Polyechnic in the 1980s and who was a prizewinner in John Moores 18 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 1993, said his influences are broad, “ranging from a fascination with geology and deep time, the scientific understanding of the ongoing processes that have shaped and continue to shape the land around us.” Influences include maps, satellite images, historic paintings and mineral samples.

It feels a lifetime ago since David’s works have been seen in public, and at the busy opening a lot of people were glad they had been brought out of his studio at the Canal Basin in Coventry. Don’t miss the chance to see them at the gallery, which is open Monday to Friday afternoons until March 2 (half term excepted).

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Tidal Pink oil on canvas 2014

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.

Designer Sheila’s work finally given spotlight it deserves in exhibition

Immagine Da BTREE (RT)

Wally Dogs

The dedicated life of a designer who forged a long and successful career away from the spotlight is being celebrated – and her wonderful designs receiving a new audience –  nine years after her death.

Rugby Art Gallery & Museum is showing an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Sheila Bownas, a fascinating textile designer, whose works show the different trends of several decades, and also the struggle to succeed as a woman in design.

Sheila moved from her home in Yorkshire to study at the Slade in London in 1946, then after returning home to teach she continued to do freelance designs for organisations including Liberty and Marks and Spencer. She returned to the capital towards the end of the 1950s, and produced work for the Natural History Museum and Botanical Society of the British Isles amongst others, but then she went back to her home village of Linton where she continued to work as a freelance artist.

She did not however give up hope of getting a job in a studio, as a 1959 letter in the exhibition tellingly quotes: “With reference to your desire to obtain a position in our studio, the director feels that should an appointment be made at all, a male designer would be preferable.

Bownas (below) was ‘discovered’ by Rugby-based Chelsea Cefai who bought an archive of 210 textile design prints from an auction while looking for items to decorate her home, and then set off on a quest to find out more about Bownas. Her research has discovered lots of letters and pictures, loaned from the artist’s cousins and god-daughter, as well as more of her work.

sheila bownas

Some early design works show her Linton, its buildings depicted without perspective. There are portraits, carried out to make money during the Slade years, still lifes which she excelled in, and one painting of her mother and cousin which made it into the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.

Early textile designs used plant and fern motifs, and there are some beautiful detailed flower paintings. Some items are also borrowed from the Natural History Museum, where Bownas was commissioned in 1962 to make a series of micro-studies to go with a particular exhibition, and these detailed and delicate works show her skill.

Bownas’s sketch book shows the development of her work which often began as a doodle then got advanced into a sketch on baking parchment paper, then a painting.

There are three large walls of the exhibition showing her works from different decades; the 1950-59 section includes patterns, and lots of floral motifs, plus ‘wally dogs’ designed to show the popular mantelpiece ornaments of the time, with increasing use of abstracts and a bus scene, probably inspired by trips to the capital. The 1960s works include very bright colours, and still floral, with the 1970s introducing more geometric patterns and bold colours, and then a set that were just black and white gouache.

It’s a fascinating and well researched exhibition showing the creativity and talent behind a life full of making items that were seen in public, but with the designer staying in the shadows.

*On until September 3, 2016.

Bitter-sweet retrospective shows variety of artist’s work

Margarita Rubra work  Seed

Retrospective’s of an artist’s work are always interesting as it’s good to see what they may have created over a long working life, and how their work has changed over time.

I was impressed a couple of years ago to meet the charming Avril Moore and interview her in her retrospective exhibition at the late lamented Roots gallery in Coventry. When I asked why she was holding her retrospective then she said she was over 80 and wanted to plan it herself, which was a good point. Sadly she died a few months later.

I didn’t meet the artist Margarita Rubra (pictured below), whose retrospective exhibition is taking place this week at the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School in Rugby, but I wish I had. There was a good turnout at the exhibition opening of people who obviously knew, liked and respected her.

Margarita was born in 1933 and died last year. She lived in Long Buckby in Northamptonshire but not far from Rugby.

She had exhibited before at the Lewis Gallery with 97 Rush, and the Tantalus Project, and at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum’s Floor One gallery. She trained as a mature student and completed an Art Foundation course and HND in Craft Design Technology.

The work in this exhibition is very varied. There are lots of pieces, many for sale, and varying between £25 and £500 in price, but with more towards the lower end of the scale. She used wood, ceramics, metal and other materials including one remarkable large wood and rope structure.

There’s also an attractive mobile, and lots of smaller pieces with pleasing curves, plus one item which seemed very different, a set of boxes with quotes in them, and what looked like lights attached to them – though I didn’t dare press the switches to see.

Tomorrow is the last day to see the exhibition, 2-5pm, though I’m glad I got to the opening and raised a glass to an artist I was sorry not to have come across before.

Margarita Rubra  Gesture 2

Local talent on show in Coventry and Rugby photographic exhibitions

TWO short exhibitions on in Coventry and Warwickshire are showcasing photographic talents from the area.
Both look like they’re worth a visit but aren’t on for long enough for me to be able to write about them more fully in the Friday Coventry Telegraph art column.
At Rugby’s Floor One gallery in Rugby Art Gallery & Museum until May 5, Lee Prescott is showing his photographs in an exhibition called Infinite Ephemera. He lives in Hillmorton, Rugby, and this is his first solo exhibition of travel photography, and he says the works are “documenting those ordinary moments that once captured on film become extraordinary”.

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