Monday, 27 March 2017

Into the Wild...

The independent artists’ book HIVE IV is to be released into the wild on Saturday 1st April 2017. The publication of the book will coincide with an exhibition featuring each contributor’s original artwork at The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington, Somerset, throughout the first week of April.
The exhibition Private View / Book Launch will take place on Saturday 1st April, 18.00 - 20.30. A limited edition, signed copy of the book will also be auctioned on the  night.
HIVE is an ever-expanding group of artists associated with the occasionally-published artists’ book of the same name. Since 2014 there have been three issues of HIVE, each edited by different artists who have also set the theme for each issue. Past themes include: ‘Track 6’, ‘The Wrong Side of 15 Minutes’ and ‘Out of Line’. The concept of HIVE [that has since inspired the spin-off publication SWARM] was originally initiated by artist/educator Stuart Rosamond and artist Frank Edmunds to promote creativity and give exposure to the work of an eclectic group of artists, photographers and designers based in the South West and beyond. HIVE IV will feature the work of twenty artists;
Rico Ajao,  Chris Dart,  Roger Dean,  Frank Edmunds,  Jon England,  Tony Girardot,  Nina Gronw-Lewis,  Kevin Hawker,  Martin Jackson,  James Marsden,  Tim Martin,  Jane Mowat,  Natalie Parsley,  Eileen Rosamond,  Stuart Rosamond,  Ruby Rowswell,  Chris Taylor,  John Watling,  Rob Watts,  Deborah Westmancoat.
 and the list of potential contributors to future editions is constantly growing. HIVE IV is edited by graphic designer Rob Watts and will feature artworks responding to the theme of ‘Lost &  Found’.
Visitors are invited to celebrate the launch of HIVE IV with the artists at the Private View of the exhibition at The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington, Somerset, on Saturday 1st April, 18.00 - 20.30, where they can view the original artworks from HIVE IV [Lost & Found] created by its twenty contributing artists. This will be the first time that contributors’ works have been publicly exhibited. During the evening there will be a live auction when visitors can bid for a limited edition, signed copy of HIVE IV, as one of 22 copies only ever to be produced; proceeds of which will go towards funding future HIVE publications. The exhibition will remain open to the public to view for free from Monday 3rd April to Saturday 8th April, open 11.00 - 16.30.
Graphics and Photo by Rob Watts
The Old Brick Workshop
Higher Poole, Wellington, Somerset TA21 9HW Monday 3rd April - Saturday 8th April 2017 Open 11.00 - 16.30
PRIVATE VIEW / BOOK LAUNCH / HIVE AUCTION Saturday 1st April 2017 18.00 - 20.30
For further information please visit


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Of Mutability

Agricultural objects, detritus, artefacts from the consumer-age lay to rust, surfaces weathered, worn and washed with time, light travels across coastal vales, misty veils and illusions of by-gone places, nostalgia, memories, horizons, distances and journeys. Nothing is ever fixed. Nothing stays ever the same. In the words of Percy Shelley's famous poem, ‘Nought may endure but mutability’.
Mutability is a good word, I’ve decided. Its official that I also think it is a good word to describe the transformations of the landscape and our place as equally changeable beings within it; and how that process works both ways for both better and sometimes not. This should be nothing of a revelation to many, countless poets, writers and artists have been writing on mutability and the landscape for years before the idea settled into my post-arts degree addled brain. In fact, it was the word,  muted rather than mutability, that first sprang to mind upon seeing the work exhibited in ‘The Transformed Land’ currently on show at The Brewhouse Arts Centre in Taunton.
Eleanor Goulding, Linn O'Carroll and Russell Denman's work
exhibited as part of 'The Transformed Land' 
 Muted, in that the colour (or lack-of) and general sense of a feeling of quiet or mute distilment, permeated the works within this exhibition. Featuring the work of 14 artists there are one or two exceptions to this observation, notably David Daniels’s bold, bright, graphic, stylised, Julian Opie-like digital prints of lonely winding rivers, streams and hillsides. Where there is colour in other works it is controlled, reserved, sparing. Jason Miller’s watercolours quietly hum with the delicate quivering, glow of a Rothko and David Smith’s collaged mixed-media pieces also use traces of colour but in a formalistic way. They appear considered and reflective rather than spontaneous. Andrew George’s egg tempera pieces of big, dramatic coastal landscapes are executed with superb scale and technical ability with a colour palette that is both natural but also nostalgic and reminiscent of post-war landscape artists such as Eric Ravillious’s paintings. And they really are BIG paintings with fine detail that do a great job at drawing the viewer in.
Andrew George 'Coastal Path Dorset' Egg tempera on gesso panel. 
I have no problems with my perceived lack of colour in this exhibition, it demonstrates that the work within it is on the whole very contemplative; these are artists whose work reflects that they must spend time in the places they depict, go for walks, take photos, make sketches, match colours, collect objects, materials and see how the landscape changes over time. The only perhaps pitfall to this is that perhaps there is too much work in this exhibition that is careful and not enough that appears as a spontaneous or immediate reaction or capturing of the landscape. This reflects perhaps, the interests of the exhibition’s curator, Paul Newman whose own work, graphite drawings of trees and landscapes is very precise and technically masterful as they are sensitively observed. Similarly, the wood engravings of Howard Phipps are competent as they are crowd-pleasing images of countryside it’s just that personally I would like to have seen in addition to these some more work that took less caution, reflection and tranquillity and perhaps demonstrated an immediate reaction or the wildness and sometimes fearful relationship we have with land and landscape.

Howard Phipps 'Malacombe Bottom' Wood engraving.
One artist’s work who does counterbalance this slightly in this exhibition is Andrew Lansley whose drawings show a lot of personality and are taken from views sometimes literally on his doorstep. They have more of that sense of immediacy that I was looking for, the other is Clive Walley whose depictions of trees are amongst the more painterly works in the exhibition. The other, for me personally is Linn O’Carroll. Based on the lived-experience of walking in South Wiltshire where the artist has lived for the last twenty years; found, discarded rusty objects ranging from a shopping basket, hay forks, hooks, pliers and hundreds of nails lay seemingly systematically placed in a circular motif on a weathered (what I presume were former carpet tiles) surface on the gallery floor. It is a calendar, a Tony Cragg meets Goldsworthy and amazing Dutch artist herman de vries all at once; an infinity of lists and one of possibly three pieces in the whole exhibition that refers to the manmade in the environment and that our relationship with land may not always be a harmonious one. These are honest fragments, readymade art in some ways and for me, greater reflect a real sense of time, weather and the relationship some humans have with land than some of the representational or abstract works.   
Linn O'Carroll
Elsewhere in the exhibition Russell Denman’s wooden models of huts continue the manmade theme and whilst fascinatingly constructed I am a bit less sure of where they fit into the overall exhibition other than as posing as possible designs for dwellings within the landscape? Eleanor Goulding’s digital HD video ‘Spring Observances’ is beautifully shot depicting a stranded, made derelict  by rust, ship on the coast. I am visually biased being drawn to such images, finding the traces of where humans have interacted with land more fascinating than the idealised, haunting or romantic emptiness of ones without. Is it possible, I wonder to ‘know’ the landscape without the human in it? If not then it seems a relevant decision that so many artists try to detach the human presence from their work.
Andrew Lansley 'Leaving Dartmoor' Egg tempera
Where ‘The Transformed Land’ really excels is at having a diverse array of mediums on display, from woodcut, to painting, to drawing, sculpture and conceptual as well as representational based practices. At the more conceptual end of the scale, Deborah Westmancoat’s work combines weather-like processes of evaporation and flooding with materials of handmade oak gall ink and collected water from glaciers. It shares its approach with several other works in this exhibition that imply a response to landscape that is seasonal, site specific or one of measuring, collecting and documenting. It feels museum-like, a form of attempting to preserve it through documentation.
It is rewarding to have been introduced to the work of so many new artists in this exhibition, my only small regret is the unfortunate timing that makes this exhibition the third show in a row at The Brewhouse to explore the theme of land, landscape, the sea or the environment and I hope that it doesn't dilute people's interest in seeing this exhibition or thinking it is the same as previous ones, as it is quietly captivating and deserves to be seen with open eyes. 
You can visit ‘The Transformed Land’ at The Brewhouse Arts Centre, Taunton until April 29th 2017

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

They came from outer Somerton...

In Jack Finney’s 1950s sci-fi classic ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ alien seeds invade Earth from outer-space replacing people with perfect physical duplicates grown from plantlike pods. The novel become a metaphor for the paranoia and fears of communist-like conformity present in US society at the time; an examination of our fear of 'the other'. In the year 2017 I explore what can a 1950’s sci-fi novel and an exhibition featuring human-sized, interactive and immersive sculptures have in common and what relevance, if any, that has today.....

The human mind searches for cause and effect, always; and we all prefer the weird and thrilling to the dull and commonplace as an answer.”

Where did they come from? Why are they here?

The podules lie dormant, an almost engulfing presence but one that is so strange that it beckons further investigation from sight and touch of their contours and hairs, intestinal-like villi and skins of varying colours and textures. I pluck up the courage to step-inside one and climb into another -Ooer! Perhaps never to be seen again like a fly lured into a venus flytrap... inside I’m enveloped in a soft-padded walled membrane, an outer-shell covered in veins that seem to pulse and thrum with a subtle glow that suggests the presence of life or an otherworldly-ness. Though there is nothing sinister about these pods if anything they are more bodily, womb-like, relaxing. Far bigger than a man but ergonomically proportioned to fit the cup of a hand or enclose the shape of a seated human-figure. There is an indistinct sound generated from within the pods that I cannot quite place and a smell, not unpleasant, but another sensory distraction in what is already an unusual encounter. 
Sometimes fiction is more remarkable than fact.The fact is, the day is Tuesday 28th February and I am visiting Somerton’s Ace Arts Gallery to view an exhibition by Jan Nedojadlo. What I am confronted with are a series of large fabric clad, textured pod-like or utopian structures that are interactive, designed with places within which to sit, rest and explore (the only ingredient missing probably was a mist machine). These pods, like their sci-fi counterpart are designed to inhabit the human form in which the viewer can become miniaturised into a sensorial innerworld of lights, textures and smells. Thankfully with these pods there is no threat of menace or intent on creating body-doubles to take over the world, but they do have the ability to change or alter those who choose to spend time in them offering unique spaces for rest, reflection and relax. In some ways the pods do contend with the notion of ‘fear of the other’ by creating spaces that help people confront fears of disability and/or mental health. I’d like to see some really political pods, out of context in the gallery and for example in campsites in Calais for refugees, made with refugees and other minority groups and the possible outcomes that could produce.
Their form,derived from human organs, hands and the liver,
commissioned by a pharmaceutical company, another, a spine built working with patients in mind for the Stoke Mandiville Spinal Unit. That in itself should be enough reason to want to investigate but I was almost disappointed to accept the grown-up reality that these imaginative things had not landed from space and as far as I am aware at least, made by an artist who is human of some sort (I’ve met a few artists who I’d be less sure!). The illusion of organic form being made from common place or recycled materials such as the bristles from brooms, towels and wire was no less fantastical in its inventiveness and transformation, in fact perhaps unintentionally it links well with the environmental themes in ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ but nonetheless I was left with the overwhelming feeling that this work is better confronted not knowing that this red furry husk-shaped thing I’d taken fascination in exploring from every angle for the last ten minutes is meant to be a liver or that their purpose of creation arose from a utilitarian practicality around its funding as either a health-care tool or science fair exhibit,
both of which for me turn it into a holistic form of glorified interactive furniture. I want to believe the pods are art objects in their own right, my critique more perhaps on the way in which audiences are invited to think about these objects, the amount of information that is presented, is what I am questioning. Sure, one can choose not to read artist statements, but I think why have them there at all if they’re not meant to be read. This exhibition had me thinking a lot about interpretation and the imaginativeness of it, sometimes the overly prescriptive nature of how an art work is rationalised can alienate (if you pardon the pun) an audience rather than present one distinct concept as a point from which many meanings can proliferate. I do not need to know that the piece central to this exhibition titled ‘Hand's of God’ was created from a Christian ‘experience’ in order for me to relate to it in a spiritual way. 
When modern men and women lost religious faith, they lost the associated belief that human beings are special, that we were created with purpose to undertake a life with meaning. Science, technology, and politics have not yet filled that void and probably never will be able to do so, especially not if they continue to be powered by the ideologies that have thus far informed them. If we believe that we are just animals, without immortal souls, we are already but one step removed from pod people.” Dean Koontz writing about ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’

I’ve tried to use ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ as a way of framing the themes and ideas I feel has been explored in this work. It is a different approach to how I normally write and viewers visiting the actual exhibition may experience the it very differently. I would just ask that sometimes art is at its most creative for the questions that it raises or the interpretations it ignites rather than knowing its answers. Answers are boring.

Forth into the unknown...
Catch the podules before the beam of to another galaxy near you at Ace Arts, Somerton until March 11th.