Tuesday, 29 March 2011

'The Art of Printmaking' The Butterfly Rooms, Saltaire 19th March 2011

View of Anna Tosney's exhibition
My second visit this year to the Butterfly Rooms’ little upstairs gallery on the main road through Saltaire. This time I was there to see the work of a long-time favourite of mine, printmaker Anna Tosney, along with that of a selection of other local printmakers (and one ceramicist). Anna’s work took over the whole of one of the upstairs rooms and it was a pleasure to see so much of it so well-displayed. A thoughtful introductory label described her technique as a mixture of drypoint and monoprint, the latter laying on the background and infill colours while the former is responsible for the scratchy textures and thick black outlines that are so characteristic of her work. Interestingly she also uses environmentally-friendly soy-based inks.

The heavy black lines described, vibrate with energy even when portraying still subjects while the monoprinting produces a simple palette of relatively dull colours perfectly suited to the rural subject matter of farmers, sheep and wild animals. All are sharply observed and the drypoint technique provides wonderful textured skies and woolly sheep coats which contrast the shimmering outlines. There is the occasional veering towards twee-ness, for example ‘ Goose Chase’ with a lamb being chased by three hissing geese but the lack of facial features and the flat cut-out shapes lift them above this. It’s quite remarkable how much energy and life she actually gets into the people and animals in her work given the 2D, almost cut out flat shapes. In one work a group of deer by moonlight have the faintest touch of silvery white on their rumps while ‘Deer 4’ has no colour at all and is almost Japanese in its simplicity, just a tiny touch of feathery detail in the grassheads surrounding the two completely motionless deer, poised just before flight.

My friend and I spent some time discussing her influences without really nailing it. We agreed that there was a hint of Japanese anime and some of the naivety of Jean Dubuffet and also perhaps of free-hand graffiti with the heavy black outlines and flat coloured infill, but it is certainly a question I would like to put to Anna next time I see her. My friend did like the work enough to treat herself to a delightful print of a wood pigeon (pictured left).

The rest of the exhibition was in the next door room with a wide selection of different styles and techniques on show. June Russell’s work was the first to catch my eye since I recognised it from the KAF Open Exhibition that I blogged about last month. She uses a mixture of techniques but my favourite from this show was ‘Holme Moss’ (etching and surface print) with its abstract representation of a pinky-grey swathe of scarred moorland. I also liked the more representational ‘Hedges in Cowgill’ which I first spotted at the KAF exhibition. Cath Brooke on the other hand showed a more coherent set of collograph/drypoint impressions of Brimham Rocks in blacks, turquoise and brick red. Being a bit of a geology nerd, I couldn’t help seeing a metaphor for the river delta origins of the rocks in the liquid flowing style of the lower half of each print with the solidifying gritstone emerging out of it in the solid lumpy shapes of the upper half. Or maybe I was just feeling a little light-headed because it was near lunchtime!

Catherine Sutcliffe-Fuller’s large prints certainly brought me down to earth. They were a long way from some of the ‘prettier’ pieces in the show. Peer into them and you see complex, slightly chaotic, definitely worrying, images. ‘Dixons Hollow’ has a distant cyclist vanishing into a looming woodland. In ‘Exposed’, two red-rucksack carrying walkers are seen heading into a maelstrom of weather on a mountain. Each print is flat in texture but full of energy and threat. Piers Browne is probably the best known of all the artists represented with a long and distinguished career as an artist-printmaker. His work has a lyrical, romantic air with its evocations of English summer days. ‘The Comet over Croagh Patrick’ with its silver moon peeping from behind a cloud called to mind the mystical visionary landscapes of Samuel Palmer, for example his ‘Cornfield by Moonlight’. Attractive work no doubt if a little backward looking for my taste.

Finally I should mention the work of the ceramicist Kath Bonson which at first sight seemed to have little connection to the work on the walls. However, a closer inspection revealed screen-printed images from her own photographs on the flat surfaces of the stoneware paper clay she uses to create her intricate forms. Again, a thoughtful piece of text placed the work in context. They form part of a project she calls ‘Cullingworth – a Sense of Place’. She goes on to explain that they represent her belief that there is no, one, definitive view of a landscape and that the various surfaces and shapes are an attempt to capture some of these interpretations. I particularly liked ‘The Viaduct’ which looked like shards of old cardboard box, printed with a multiplicity of views then torn and singed then finally reassembled with its tantalising glimpses of the old Victorian railway viaduct.

The show continues at The Butterfly Rooms until 8 April. Visit their website www.thebutterflyrooms.co.uk for opening times.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 13 March 2011

'Northweave', Platform Gallery, Clitheroe 12 March 2011

(c) Margaret Crowther
Clitheroe is always a great place to spend a Saturday morning with its superb coffee, shoe, wine and clothes shops not to mention some of the best quality charity shops for miles around! But the icing on the cake is the Platform Gallery located in the old railway station, run by the local authority and long may that last. This weekend I was there for the opening of 'Northweave', an exhibition by northern members of the British Tapestry Group. The last time I saw a BTG exhibition was Tapestry 08 in Halifax, a huge, high-quality show over two venues which dispelled a lot of my preconceptions about tapestry. Unfortunately, my first few minutes in Northweave had me feeling nervous - there were hints of the misshapen wobbly porridgey textures and crude geometric shapes and colours which remind me of school craft projects. Luckily those first impressions were quickly dispelled by the first of three superb pieces by Margaret Crowther who incidentally was one of my favourites at Tapestry 08. 'October' is made from woven and knotted paper yarn coloured the orangey-coppery brown of autumn leaves. Stare at it and within its intense deep surface you can see tumbling leaves and wind-tossed tree branches. There were also string-like yarn fragments that looked like rotted leaf ribs - I was reminded of Andy Goldsworthy's extraordinary Leaf Stalk Room at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2007-08). 'Meridian' was a smaller version of some of the 3-D work that Margaret is known for. In orange-red sisal, the detail and texture proved to be endlessly fascinating, staring at it for several minutes I suddenly saw a series of beautiful little curls along one edge that I hadn't noticed before. Stepping back, the honeycomb, folded object became almost animal-like, frozen and flopped over its plinth like a beached sea-creature barely holding up its own weight. Her final work in the exhibition was a stunning wall-mounted piece called 'Firemarks' - big, wild, chaotic with fluctuating shades of brown, orange and ochre rippling across its surface. Images of Iron Age huts with wattle walls; and dry Aboriginal landscapes came to mind along with the work of Nigerian artist Nnenna Okore. The broken curled edges had the brittle look of ancient Egyptian baskets preserved in sand. Superb work by any standard - she writes "In this creative process of weaving, knotting and wrapping I look for ways to express my fascination for the random growth and ordered chaos of the natural environment".

(c) Vasiliki Skepetari
This description might also have fitted the work of Vasiliki Skepetari. Her untitled piece was made from wrapped paper yarns from which she has created a series of hanging cords like thick tree roots penetrating through the roof of a cave but also like computer cables with the bright flashes of turquoise in amongst the bands of orange, brown black, beige and yellow. Tiny flashes of copper wiring underlined that interpretation - I thought of messages being transmitted down those wires or nerve pathways in a giant brain. She writes that trees and rocks inspire her, "Their textured surfaces reveal figures and shapes to me, I interpret them as messages coming from our ancestors through the centuries."

The next work to catch my eye was on an altogether smaller scale. Three framed tapestry 'fetishes' by Alison Carthy, two were mislabelled but once we'd got that sorted out with the gallery staff I fell in love with them all, one was mossy green with red blobs and a piece of silvery green lichen, another was themed around a moorland fire with a bird's black feather tangled in fiery red and orange yarns and the third was a grey fragment of woven wool with long dry pine needles pushed through it called 'Lodgepole Pine'. My own work currently revolves around ideas of amulets so I couldn't resist this piece of textile voodoo and bought it on the spot [photo to follow]. She writes about her work as follows: "Place is important, this being the land on which I stand. The work is driven by my concern about how I see mankind using the earth's resources with seemingly little regard for who comes next". Sounds just like a rag rug maker!

These were my highlights but honorable mention should also go to Beryl Hammill's 'Moor Lat 55N' with its pastel-coloured glimpse of a heather hillside and scribbled rush shapes like shorthand; Shirley Ross' 'Red Water' a very finely woven abstract evocation of red sunlight on grey water and Joyce Coulton's teeny tiny jewel-coloured scenes 'Underground' and 'Workings'.

In the end Northweave turned out to be an exhibition with enough really contemporary tapestry work to get even a sceptic like me excited so I'd really recommend a trip (not forgetting some shopping too!).

Northweave continues at the Platform Gallery, Clitheroe until 23 April 2011. Admission is free. For opening times see the Platform Gallery's webpage