The Mead Gallery

Reality Dimmed or just disrupted in new exhibition at Mead Gallery

Eight large paintings dominate the undivided space of the Mead Gallery for a new exhibition by British artist Clare Woods.

Reality Dimmed is the title of the exhibition, and the new series of paintings were apparently inspired by found imagery which the artist collects. The new works are described as being concerned with “vulnerability, mortality and disability”, and the title comes from psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s text Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he wrote about his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz, which led him to believe in the importance of finding meaning in all types of existence and so a reason to keep living.

If that sounds heavy, then the paintings do not force any explicit brutality on the viewer, but it’s what you don’t see or what they seem to be trying to hide which makes them a bit disturbing.

The eight works are oil on aluminium, with the paint often applied it thick strokes, in big swathes or explosions of colour. The Dementor is the most worrying, with the naked torso of a man shown, the bottom of his face visible, the stripes of his tracksuit bottoms suggesting casualness but the oddly pointing finger at the bottom of the work raising questions. The fact that it’s three metres high adds to its strength.

Smoke and Daggers has what looks like a hand (except it has too many fingers) thrust outwards as if fending off attention of some sort, and what could be a blurry head trying to get away from our gaze.

Something Bigger suggests colourful flowers, and The Last Word looks like a chair obscured by a sheet covering something or someone on top of it. English Murder is an explosive scene of yellow and black paint, and Reality Dimmed may be two plumped up pillows waiting for someone to return to them – or maybe not.

It’s an interesting exhibition which makes you want to return to lose yourself further in the great fields of colour and investigate more.

*The exhibition is on at the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, until March 10.


The Human Document makes engrossing study of suffering and desperation


Photographs of people facing despair and suffering, decades and thousands of miles apart, make up the engrossing exhibition The Human Document.

Subtitled The Photography of Persuasion from 1930s America to Present Day, the exhibition at the Mead Gallery, is based largely on works shown at a 1962 New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition, The Bitter Years.

This used 200 images taken in the 1930s by a group of photographers working for the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration Programme, with the aim of proving to better-off Americans the desperate state of rural communities and the need for the New Deal programme.

During the Second World War 70,000 prints and 170,000 negatives were transferred into the Library of Congress in Washington (and many are now available to be downloaded).

This exhibition shows many of the images from The Bitter Years exhibition, alongside photographs by contemporary photographers also documenting sides of life that would otherwise remain hidden to many people.


The American photographs are fascinating. All small and black and white, they show an unimaginable life. In the first image inside the door, by Arthur Rothstein, two wagon wheels lie in a pile of dust in front of abandoned farm, making the point that the resident of the shack behind isn’t going anywhere useful on their cart any more. Rothstein’s other images include an animal skull on cracked ground, and a withered crop. He also showed people being forcibly moved from living alongside a road to land between the Mississippi and the levee, and abandoned furniture of those on the move.

Marion Post Wolcott’s Old Negro shows a miserable man picking at a thread on his worn clothing. Ben Shahn has captured images of destitute Ozark people in Arkansas, including a girl clutching a damaged doll, itself wearing rags, and a little boy cuddling two kittens, his clothes as ragged as the those of the doll.

Dorothea Lange’s many images are some I kept returning to. She has photographed a sharecropping family on the move, mum in a bonnet clutching her baby, a sad little boy and anguished father.

She also pictured black cotton pickers, who worked from 6am-7pm for $1, and the image is hung next to another of hers, showing a fat white plantation owner with his car; the documentary and persuasive nature of the photographs is important to note too.

However it wasn’t as simple as black vs white; a white tenant family’s home is shown, a plain bed on the porch of a house propped up with bricks. Lange is particularly good at capturing images of young mothers, old before their time, trailing across the country with their husbands and children in search of any sort of better life.


Her photograph of the 32-year-old ‘migrant mother’ of seven children, Florence Thompson, pictured (above) with a baby and two young children in a pea picking camp, became a famous image, her tough life leaving her looking more like 45, and is included here, as well as a fascinating interview with Florence in the accompanying free catalogue. Despite her incredibly hard life she lived to 80, though her own mother had made 108.

Lange also photographed an old woman in Kern County migrant camp in California, her only comfort a rocking chair in an open-fronted tent.

There are countless images here all showing homelessness and suffering seen many times around the world, including of course now on the daily news.

The works by contemporary artists are mostly also from the west, and show a side of life missed by many. Three sets stand out.

Chris Killip’s photographs from the north of England from the 1970s-90s, show bleak back streets in Tynemouth, and what appear to be travellers but are specifically sea coalers, people who harvest then sell washed-up coal. Their messy camp and a little girl playing with a hoola-hoop next to a burnt-out fire and wrecked furniture document a difficult way of life at the time.

Paul Graham’s colour collection, Beyond Caring, is made up of covertly-taken photographs of people in social security offices. Fed-up faces, and bored body language dominate here. People forced into a community in the offices where they don’t communicate with anyone.

Richard Billingham’s Ray’s A Laugh series are painful for the knowledge they feature his own family. His dad falls from a chair in their cramped flat, or glares at a cat hissing on a cabinet cluttered with ornaments. His mum hand feeds a kitten, and his brother licks yoghurt from the lid of a basic brand.

Different times, and different viewpoints set the more recent works apart, but it’s a show not to be missed for work by talented photographers capturing images from the times they lived in, and looking to tell a story to others.

* Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, until December 10.

Spectacular dramatic end to exhibition – kicked down by artist Aeneas Wilder


kick down pic
Picture of a kick-down at another gallery – but very similar to today’s event
WOW – stunning – spectacular. It was hard to think in more than single words as I watched the deafening end of Aeneas Wilder’s exhibition at the Mead gallery at Warwick Arts Centre.
Untitled #162 was a huge installation built entirely from small, identical lengths of wood in the gallery. It took the form of two rooms and a narrow corridor connecting them, several feet above head height. Wilder created this and his previous works with no fixings.
At the end of every exhibition he has a kick down – and attending it was the hottest ticket in town today, and an unforgettable sight.



First nights for Mead, LGP and Brink – you can join the party even if I can’t!

So January comes around and I’m looking forward to looking at paintings with a glass of wine in my hand, writing the odd note. Then what happens – on a weekend with three art show openings two of them coincide with long-arranged plans which mean I can’t get to either of them. Sigh.
But, YOU can still go along to all three and see for yourselves what’s on.