Saturday, 5 October 2013

Bhaam, the corvids and the marvellous Magnet Man of Alma St

This week's action-packed episode sees our heroine reunited with the Combat Art Kid as they venture into the depths of uncharted Chard and further afield. Be prepared to gasp in awe as they do battle with the sat-nav, puppetry and the unexpected in search for the rare, beautiful and mysterious contemporary arts of the Somerset vale!

Or at least that's one way of explaining my Saturday afternoon spent visiting three Somerset Art Weeks venues...
What this post lacks in the way of images I hope to make up for in words. No mean feat when you've spent an entire Saturday afternoon seeing rich plaster-clad surfaces, painted and sewn into; 10ft charred wooden poles laden in Indian-ink dipped teasels, pots, hand woven fabrics, pantone chart poetry, corn dollies, wooden collages and rags transformed into wolves and women. It doesn't really quite do it justice! Where to begin? But then that's Somerset Art Weeks for you and I am pleased that once again there was the usual mixture of the weird and the wonderful on top of three fantastic locations in some of the remotest parts of Somerset that I'm sort of glad I'd probably never be able to find again!

Without further ado, whistle stop tour number one of the day was 'Corvids at the Jackdaw Studio' (Venue 67) in Wambrook, Chard. It's a diverse exhibition of photography, mixed media, pottery, paintings, drawings and books featuring the work of artists Alice Crane, Michael de Friez, Hilary Dixon, Sarah Hitchens and Nigel Vincent. It was exciting to see a theme used for this group exhibition. Each artist had work around the theme of corvids that were (in most cases) directly present in each of the artists work. Personally I particularly loved Alice Crane's mixed media pieces which were created on pillow cases with stitching and paint; the surfaces were mesmerising to look at and generated a few ideas of things I'd like to try myself. The playful addition to the outside of the gallery space (pictured above) created by a local shepherd, Nigel Vincent was also particularly charming and fun making for an overall good exhibition. If truth be told, I'd have liked to have seen as well as the more representational work some more challenging work that maybe presented a different way of thinking about corvids other than what they look like. Then, that's probably more a reflection of how I have changed in my art tastes over the last few years as I am always now kind of hoping to see something more from the representational or abstract painting that has become so familiar in Somerset. Alas, if you've not grown as cynical as me (thankfully few are) then you'll be in for a treat. 


Onwards now and up, down and around several ever more labyrinthine country lanes and we arrive Bhaam! 'Skills Unearthed' (venue 66) is an exhibition from the Blackdown Hills Artists and Makers (Bhaam) in (an old favourite of mine) the spectacular, Cotley Tithe Barn. Intrepid Art Weekers' beware this ain't the easiest of places to find, but it is ALWAYS well worth the perseverance as when you do get there you're efforts are rewarded by a truly impressive exhibition venue and, perhaps more importantly, some researched, rewarding and contemporary art! Hurrah!

So what's the deal? You ask. Well,  ten artists received commissions to make work in response to the theme, 'Skills unearthed' exploring the crafts and industry of the Blackdown Hills encompassing the interests of those living and working in this area of outstanding natural beauty (in their words not mine). The chosen artists were, Carly Batchelor (Photography), Catherine Bass (Music), Ruth Bell (Contemporary Dance/Film), Louise Cottey (Textiles), Jon England Painting/Film), Sarah Hitchens (Ceramics), Tim Martin (Film/Drawing), Bryony Tidball (Sculpture), Andre Wallace (Sculpture) and Gillian Widden (Sculpture). Individually the artists created work around, nature in industry (teasel cultivation and hand weaving), local folk traditions (corn dolly making), farming history (managing the land), ecclesiastical architecture and World War Two (airfields past and present). The results make for a diverse and rich show which did an impressive job at filling and contending with the overwhelming presence of the Tithe Barn itself (and I should know, I exhibited in it twice for Art Weeks myself, it's difficult to not let the barn swallow your work whole!).

I was particularly interested in Louise Cottey's work, a hand woven fabric made using  traditional (nearly all but lost) techniques which showed great commitment, time and skill that to me represents some of the loss in our patience and dedication to making things that has been replaced by the demand and need for quicker, more economic means of production. Gillian Widden's teasel poles can really only be described as epic, because they are physically huge things and whilst I cannot get out of my mind the association that they look like gigantic burnt corn on the cobs are also completely fascinating sculptures. Historically they also educate about the lost art of teasel picking and I enjoyed looking to see where moths had emerged from the teasels seemingly surviving their Indian ink dipping (a testament to nature!). My patient and generous chauffeur for the day, Jon England presented new portrait works in this exhibition using his trade mark quality of finding authentic and poignant materials to create images of World War Two soldiers on bandages using iodine. The resulting image on the bandage, like the wounds it was once intended to heal, eventually fade away leaving a ghostly trace or scare of what was once there. The haunting process is also captured in a stop-motion film alongside the original work.    


And last, but by no means least we come to 'Stitched' (venue 54) starring Gary Dickins, Nina Gronw-Lewis, Emma Riley and Susan M Wallis. Do you know the Magnet Man? He also goes by the name of Gary Dickins and is somewhat of a prolific (some might say obsessed) maker of unique hand collaged magnets made from magazine cut outs and accompanying (often subtlety subversive) text. In a conversation with the artist I couldn't quite make up my mind whether he is mad or a genius, but is perhaps a bit of both, for never have I spent so long looking through a box of magnets with such joy at their witty, surreal and plain bizarre juxtapositions of phrases with images. I love it! I only wish I had some photos to show you, but rest assured they are a cross between Dada and punk and are probably one of the funniest and most original things I've come across in Art Weeks in a long time. Such a joy to see so much work with an element of humour to it and all of Gary's work is witty but also demonstrating an enthusiasm for process (in this case stitching) as well. In the 'Cunning Cavaliers' (detail pictured above) series of works, Gary has used antique silk brocade that he has hand stitched over the wear and tear from behind which we see glimpses of a scene depicting the cavaliers plotting away.

In keeping with the wit and stitched theme, Nina Gronw-Lewis presents hand sewn and knitted works that are beginning to edge out of the frame and take on a life of their own inhabiting the wall and space that surrounds them as cloud-like forms rain down fabric raindrops directly on the floor and woollen jumpers unravel spelling out worn. Alongside these are  Emma Riley's ceramic, tessellated tiles that have been stitched together. Topping off an eventful day was a performance by Susan M Wallis done with great aplomb to her audience as she animated and told a story with her sewn-together puppet creations. Admittedly, watching a one woman wrestle with several puppets to create a performance was impressive and the heightened weirdness of it all (coming from someone, like me that takes themselves probably far too seriously) certainly made me smile.

And what more from Art Weeks could I ask for?

Thus ended a remarkable day and indeed our tale for the time being.

* Image from Somerset Art Works :  
** Image from Gary Dickins:

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