Monday, 14 February 2011

The Butterfly Rooms, Saltaire 12 February 2011

My friend the ceramicist Lis Holt invited me along to this newly opened gallery space above a sweet little gift shop on Bingley Road in Saltaire. I already have several pieces of her work in my collection so was delighted to see her latest pieces. She is showing her work alongside that of photographer Daniel Shiel and painter David Starley. All three artists had organised a 'meet the artist' afternoon and I spent a pleasant hour in the two sunny, white painted second floor rooms, glass of wine in hand chatting to the artists about their work.

The first room was given over entirely to David Starley's heavily impasto oil paintings. En masse the effect was rather overwhelming especially given the strong smell of drying paint and the vibrant colours of some of the work. The more brightly coloured scenes, for example the poppies in cornfields were not to my taste but the more thoughtful work like the gloomy canalway at the back of Salts Mill or the grey, rain-shined cobbles of Victoria Road in Saltaire suited the weight and mass of the technique.

Daniel Shiel 'Corrugated Iron 2'
The walls of the neighbouring room were more lightly hung with Daniel Shiel's exquisite photographs of both natural and man-made surface textures. The eye was caught by the extraordinarily beautiful patterns formed by the decayed surfaces of peeling paint, bleeding rust and bleached wood. Daniel uses the computer to further point up these patterns by creating collages and mosaics of the photographs. I particuarly loved the work called 'Saltaire iron and stone collage' showing a series of old iron staples set in lead rusting into their stone settings. It came as no surprise that Daniel, like me, trained as an archaeologist, he writes that he  "... considers the rich textures, patterns and colours evident in many everyday objects both natural and artificial: details often unseen and overlooked at first glance. The themes at the centre of my work are associations with the past, decay, destruction and loss."

Lis Holt 'Wave' next to Daniel Shiel collage
Lis Holt pots
It seemed that some of the rusty staining from Daniel's photographs had somehow made their way across into some of Lis Holt's normally mechanically-perfect matte blue glazes. Her Wave forms were all the better for it and all her pieces showed well against Daniel's work. Many of her vessel forms are inspired by those of ancient Aegean pottery and the full-bellied pots and single bowl displayed effectively in a deep recess beside the room's chimney breast looked as if they had been excavated from a sunken trading ship with their mottled or crusted surfaces and simple wave-like repetitive decoration.

The exhibition at The Butterfly Rooms continues until 26 February 2011. Details from their website 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

'Pairings: a conversation' Farfield Mill Arts & Heritage Centre, Sedbergh

I didn't have nearly enough time to appreciate this wonderful exhibition when I visited last weekend but thought I'd share a few highlights anyway as I'd really like to recommend it to everyone. 'Pairings' is co-curated by Alice Kettle and this comes as no surprise as I saw the beginnings of the idea, bringing applied artists from different disciplines together, at her 'Clay & Thread' display at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show in 2009. At that exhibition she had worked collaboratively with two ceramicists, Helen Felcey and Alex McErlain (brilliant YouTube video of Alex making pots here) both of whom appear in the Farfield show too.

The Pairings project is an interdisciplinary project conceived by Alice Kettle and other tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University, it went from one involving textile artists and ceramicists "responding to each others' marks and forms" to one involving 18 pairings of artists from a wide range of disciplines from glass to metalwork to writing.

The pairing that caught my eye immediately was that of Sharon Blakey and Ismini Samanidou "a conversation between cloth and clay". The linking theme shared by the two artists was that of antique looking spoons, gorgeous monochrome woven textiles with rows of spoons were placed underneath dark clay spoons, washed grey and cream, each flowing into the other. The textiles also had panels of scribbled words, I wondered if these were the conversations. The ceramic spoons were like archaeological artefacts, twisted, dark and broken, the textiles on the other hand appeared to have been produced on a Jacquard loom using digital programming. In spite of this the textiles achieved a similar appearance of being antique and used, indeed one lime green, orange and cream piece was worn in holes reminiscent of the work of Chiyoko Tanaka, a well-known Japanese weaver who grinds away the surfaces of her textiles with stones and bricks. The 'damaged' woven piece was mirrored by a similarly-coloured square plate with an impressed textile pattern in its delicately coloured surface. There was precious little information to go with the work of the individual artists so I was delighted to discover a blog later by Sharon Blakey in which she provides a great deal of background information on this collaboration, for instance that the spoons are based on those from the Mary Greg collection at the Manchester Art Gallery and that some of the scribbled texts are copies of Mary's inventory of the collection. Read more here

I've already mentioned Helen Felcey's collaboration with Alice Kettle at Harrogate. Here she is partnered with David Grimshaw using 3-D printing technology to recreate a slip cast cup using a variety of modern materials. Their task was "trying to make sense of the made object through exploring modern technologies". Visit the Shapeways website and search for 'slip cast cup' to order your own!

Ceramicist Duncan Ayscough had chosen to work with felt artist Helen Belcher. Three paired sets of clay and felt vessels were arranged side by side. In one the felt and the clay colours were a closely matched burnt orange, the warm colour and matt surface of the clay and felt perfectly matched, the felt cradling and cuddling up to the clay. In the next set, cold turquoise-glazed vessels reminiscent of Edmund de Waal's work contrasted sharply with the similarly coloured felt ones which tried to hug the shiny surfaces warmly but seemed to slide away. In the final set, black, hard, rough, matte clay vessels sat beside rather limp soft white felt ones which tried and failed to mirror their solid black shapes. A simple display but remarkably interesting in its use of texture and form.

Kirsteen Aubrey, Victoria Brown and Jane McFadyen rather broke the mould by working as a threesome "creating shapes that envelop each other in glass, felt, pewter and thread". They had worked together far more closely than many of the other artists putting something of themselves into each of the pieces on display which together formed an exotic, sensual collection of rounded fruit- and seed-shaped objects, thick 'rinds' of red or white felt enclosed glass 'flesh' studded with glistening red glass beads like pomegranate seeds along with shiny twisted hollow 'stems' and 'calyxes' in crocheted wire and silk yarn. Quite delightful.

Finally, I can't leave without mentioning the pieces by Alice Kettle and Alex McErlain as previously seen in Harrogate, here described as "a conversation through sketches in embroidery and clay". I'm not a massive fan of Alice Kettle's huge, densely embroidered pieces but here the partnership with the ceramicist seems to have freed  her to produce work with a delicacy and lightness of touch I usually find missing. One embroidery hangs loosely with sparsely rendered images of a vase turning gradually into a woman's body through repetition. It is a lovely, light piece and links beautifully with Alex's tiny repetitive biro sketches of vessel forms on the insides of brown envelopes which are displayed nearby.

So, a thoroughly inspiring exhibition redolent with generosity and creativity which I have really only scraped the surface of in this blog. My only niggle? The lack of  accompanying visual material. A catalogue is available from self-publishing website Blurb for £25 I discovered after a bit of Googling, however it didn't really seem to reflect much of the work on display at Farfield and for those of us on a limited budget and banned from taking our own photographs, some postcards would have been appreciated!

'Pairings: a conversation' continues at Farfield Mill Arts & Heritage Centre until 3 April 2011. Opening times and other information can be found on the mill's website.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

'Endings and Beginnings' Arts Factory Open exhibition, Love Keighley Gallery 5 February 2011

This year, Keighley Arts Factory has decamped from its main gallery on North Street and taken over an unoccupied shop in Keighley's Airedale shopping centre. The Love Keighley Gallery is all part of a town centre regeneration effort which is all too familiar in shopping centres throughout the country and pop-up galleries as they are often called are a sad reflection on the local economy. Today's preview was a jolly affair for all that and well attended by artists and friends. We will see what the rest of the town's residents make of it over the coming month.

Shops are not always ideal venues for art shows but this one with its
corner position and large glass windows showed off the work fairly well although the glass also meant that the hanging area was necessarily restricted so some work was less than ideally placed high off the ground and not so easily viewed. One artist who suffered in this respect was Linda Harrison. Her 'Beginnings' work appeared to be the tooled cover of an old book which had red tabs placed like bookmarks behind it but the piece was hung so high it was impossible to see what the words printed on them were and whether they were significant. Her 'Endings' piece on the other hand was an easy to read photograph of a wall of old glazed tiles and peeling white paint, simple but I'm a sucker for images of decay and wear.

This is why I was also drawn to the work of Stephen Capstick showing images of old peeling painted doors, one 'Untitled I' with a battered tin-plated letter box, the other 'Untitled II' with a rusty hasp and padlock. Again, they were too high for me to get a really good look and I couldn't tell if they were prints or manipulated photographs, but at £50 each I suspect the latter.

June Russell's three pieces were definitely prints and all very accomplished. 'Autumn Chimneys' was a delightful lino print rooftop view through leaves while 'Hedges at Cowgill' a simple monochrome etching and aquatint showing a drystone wall and single silhouetted tree.

Perhaps the most accomplished artist in the show was Janet McLelland whose gloomy, powerful landscapes caught the eye of all three of my guests. The photo shows them in the centre of the shot, one above the other. Janet writes in the catalogue, "In these three made-up Landscapes I evoke renewability of Land, endless circles of Beginnings and Endings that are yet to be portrayed". I'm not entirely sure what that means but for me they spoke very directly, the centre one of war-torn landscapes, the mud of the Somme with its artillery shattered trees and rain-soaked skies. The bottom one seemed to be an image of a powerful river silvered with moonlight surging past a dark forbidding forest. Again, very reasonably priced at around £100 each.

While the quality of the rest of the show is variable there is enough decent work here for me to recommend a visit. For reasons set out below, make the most of it as it may be your last for a while in Keighley.

The show continues until Wed 23 February, the gallery is open Mon-Thurs 10am to 4pm Fri 10am to12noon Sat 10am to 3pm

Postcript: While at the preview I learned from the curator Jo Whitehead that Leeds City College is closing down the KAF gallery on North Street. It will be sadly missed.