How do you define STATE? The Studio8 artists from New Greenham Arts Centre, the studio space of the Corn Exchange, Newbury, chose this as the theme for their recent annual group exhibition and their artistic interpretations of STATE were as varied as the dictionary definitions. For their initial discussions they said their ideas ranged from “stating your case or making a statement, perhaps of intention, to the solitude of personal inner space. Then material and chemical states were considered, through to more political interpretations such as head of state, the state of the country or the notion of being stateless. From the cutting edge position of state of the art to the despair of being in a sorry state.". With this influencing my state of mind, I visited this exhibition of two parts, the first smaller part at the Corn Exchange in Newbury town centre, then on to the gallery space at New Greenham Arts.
All the work at the Corn Exchange was strong, each of the artists having one or two wall mounted works in the foyer area. The venue is a hard space to show in, what with numerous doors, theatre entrances, and a hallway display area which makes it difficult to stand back and see the work. The first piece I noticed was a work by the newest member in the group, Marie Sudwell. Her print 'Vortex', a dark, intense, whirling shape drew me in for closer inspection and there I could see the characteristic scratchy line of the drypoint plate, it gave the work a heightened state of fear and anxiety. I liked Flora Gare's resin works though they were difficult to really see in the narrow space but Sally Hayne's drawings practically sprang off the paper in the bright spot lights. Shirley Eccles, a glass artist, had an impressive 'Hot Glass drawing', the work was scary, it looked like a gaping wound that had etched it's way through the paper leaving it in a painful, agitated state.
This part of the exhibition in Newbury town centre runs until the 21st November and is well worth the visit. But I wanted to make my way down to the main exhibition located a few miles south at the New Greenham Arts Centre, as this larger part of the exhibition would be closing within the next few days.
In the white cube gallery space at the art centre there is room to move around and the artists seemed to respond with larger, more colourful work, including several floor based sculptural pieces. It's a lovely venue but is located on an industrial estate 10 - 15 minute drive from Newbury town centre and the visitor count most days is low. The gallery and the work on show was deserving of more! Here each of the artists had another 2 - 3 works displayed that I could, for the most part, relate back to what I had seen in town. In some ways though the exhibition now looked and felt more like a mixed group show and less a thematic response, not that this was a detriment, just the state of affairs given the location.
Having been quite taken with Sally Hayne's technical skill and the impressive detail shown in her drawings, I thoroughly enjoyed the contrasting state of her simple wall hung installation piece, 'as red'. It was a very playful interpretation of the same red bands she had drawn, here seemingly strewn across a few twigs, so which came first? Perhaps one of the smallest pieces on display here, 'Present state' by Helen Peake, was a rather understated collage in its use of colour and materials and could easily be overlooked, but it had a special attraction for me. It seemed to be just there, tucked at the end of the wall space, not vying for attention with the other more colourful and larger works, but content in its composition and size. Her artist statement summed up the work of the group exhibition as a whole, and perhaps that of many artists working in the 'Grey Zone' in this age of austerity; “for me state is a way of being, a present existence, where I am now, a step on the path from which life will move forward”.
The Studio8 Artists showing work in 'STATE' included Shirley Eccles, Flora Gare, Chrissie Gutsell, Sally Haynes, Helen Lunn, Luke Webb, Steve Sommerville, Marie Sudwell, and Helen Peake.