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

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