Sunday, 8 April 2012

There is a place....

The last leg of my early March adventure took me to the New Walsall Art Gallery [which funnily enough is in Walsall!] I visited last year to see the Mark Titchner exhibition and completely fell in love with the gallery - it's such a welcoming, friendly, impressive and most importantly un-pretentious space!

I was eager to get over to see the exhibition 'There is a place' a group show consisting of George Shaw, Christiane Baumgartner, Graham Chorlton, Laura Oldfield, Barry Thompson and Paul Winstanley, each dealing with... well I might as well let the gallery explain:

There is a Place...brings together a group of artists who explore our psychic connectivity to landscape.  The drawings, paintings and prints within the exhibition reveal 'a sense of place' as seemingly generic urban and suburban views evoke personal and collective memories.  The reverie of teenage hideouts, suburban housing estates and motorway junctions, each depicted in painstaking detail, are at once familiar yet unnerving for all.

The artists in this exhibition capture the most overlooked and peripheral spaces of our towns and cities, those unremarkable and unclaimed spaces that we each make our own.

[image copyright of George Shaw]

George Shaw paints using Humbrol paint - more commonly used for airfix models. Using a model-making paint to paint decaying man-made urban landscapes is beautifully poetic and although devoid of human presence are full of memories and ghosts of characters... reading the information about each painting and learning what buildings and businesses used to stand on the site depicted in the painting really struck a chord with me, its only recently that I've started to notice places I used to frequent as a child/teen been knocked down or abandoned and left to slowly decay. You can't help but draw parallels between yourself and these buildings, and the bitter realization that we are all finite, one day we will be gone and just a memory, until that memory fades and then we'll be forgotten :( 

There's an excellent article on George Shaw's relationship with his home town here

[image copyright of Barry Thompson]

I loved the concept of Barry Thompson's work - he has crafted an autobiographical alter ego called Norman, who is basically a 'what if' version of Barry if he didn't go to art school. His exquisite photo-realistic pencil drawings become the investigations into Norman's life spent bird-watching, writing poetry, going to gigs and wandering round his home town... reading his discarded notes and looking at his painstakingly rendered views, it all starts to seem rather heartbreaking and I found myself rooting for Norman from just a few small glimpses into his life, these deceptively delicate drawings have a real emotional punch packed into them!! 

[image copyright of Laura Oldfield]

Laura Oldfield's biro drawings were another big highlight for me, beautifully drawn and filled with splashes of neon light they created an alternative architectural tour of the Walsall and inspired by the drift walks around the city, incorporating scribbled graffiti and echoes of past, present and future political conflicts.
The gallery have produced a short video interview with Laura which gives a bit more insight into her process and work.

The memory of place and lamentation of past glories in the exhibition made me think back to my last visit to the gallery, whilst on a tour of the 'Home of Metal', the exhibitions although clearly a celebration of the Midlands giving birth to Heavy Metal, displaying memorabilia and artwork both from the era and inspired by, it was also a sad reminder of traditions and identities lost as de-industrialization took over an region once famous for it's industry, 'Maunfactoy' by Chris Coekin at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in-particular dealt with these issues effectively mixing photographs of workers and discarded tools with a factory sounds and spoken word accounts of a dying industry. 

It was lovely to see figurative painting/drawing and kudos given to technical skill and draughtsmanship in the exhibition, work that at first glance appeared small and fragile was in fact dealing with weighty subject matter, yet nothing was sugar coated nor was there any heavy handed political messages or condescension, just heart felt honesty. 

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