Monday, 30 April 2012

Palimpsest - Gallery@49, Bracknell

It's been twelve months since a devastating fire spread across the Swinley Forest in Berkshire, causing the loss of thousands of trees and a dramatic change to the surrounding landscape.  Regional artist Tonia Maddison is marking this anniversary with an exhibition at Gallery@49 in Bracknell town centre of work inspired by and created as a result of the fires that licked her doorstep. She was walking back through the forest as soon as the public was allowed in "The intensity of the colours was amazing, I hadn't expected colour.  I expected grey and black, but I also found gold, copper and bronze, bright against the blackened wood and dark ashy ground.  It was as if the flames had left their ghosts behind."

detail of Incandescence, mixed media work by Tonia Maddison

The work in this exhibition is a mix of drawings, artists books and sculptural pieces, some utilising the burnt remains of the trees themselves.  There is a quiet sense of loss in the work, echoes of the greys, blacks and dull brown colours with glimmers of copper and bronze scattered in between replicating her visit to the burnt out forest. But there is also a beauty and delicacy to these fragile remains, the act of destruction that is part of the cycle of life.  The title for her show 'Palimpsest' used to describe something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form is very fitting.  Tonia sums it up eloquently "It is about layers, layers of geology, of history, of how nature layers the evidence of events.  The burnt woods will become a layer, a seam, a thin black line in the geological record.

Palimpsest exhibition by Tonia Maddison

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Turbine House, Riverside Museum, Reading

On a trip into Reading I had time to drop into a wonderful small exhibition of prints by Bracknell artist Michael Elstow in the tucked away space of the Turbine House, Riverside Museum, a venue that's part of Reading Museum.  I've seen a few exhibitions in this space, it certainly has it's own character with the turbines in the middle and the numerous windows looking out over Blakes Lock, a perfect non-white cube space.

The dozen or so prints by Mike were displayed very well using the off white display panels, were of reasonable size to compete with the windows and framed consistently in natural wood frames.  All this helped one concentrate on the art while the sound of the flowing water outside added to the ambience.  The main focus of the exhibition was his interpretation of a large oak tree explored through lino and wood cut.  These prints were impressive in their detail yet had a simple organic quality.  I thought I could hear the leaves of the ivy twisted around the trunk of the tree blowing in the wind.  His use of colour was subtle and subdued, unlike the garish Hockney leaves seen recently in London.  It was an interesting display of the various print techniques and the variation of line, tone or colour printmaking allows as an artist works through an idea.

Print by Michael Elstow
Turbine House, Reading

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A tear in the city - Gallery@49, Bracknell

Roof tops
Roof Tops by Carol Coates
I normally associate the colour pink with 'feminine', 'young', 'happy', and 'sweet', but for Carol Coates solo show of her paintings at Gallery@49 in Bracknell town centre, only the first could really apply.  As I entered the gallery, with pink the dominant colour of her new work, I was struck by a sadness, a loneliness, and the cold isolation of the deserted urban space as portrayed in the small group of new paintings for this exhibition.  

Carol's text accompanying the exhibition put my feelings into context as she states, "The word 'tear' is ambiguous and can be interpreted as crying or alternatively something that is ripped and pulled apart. The new work explores abstraction found in the reality of the everyday where urban spaces largely emptied out of detail and human life become the main focus, and buildings, weathered and scarred by life, suggest broader social divides and tensions".

Site 2 by Carol Coates
Though the work may be considered abstract in its painterly style there is a stark reality in the cold black lines of the roof tops and architectural structures glimpsed at within the paintings.  In the work 'Site 2' there appears a lone figure standing precariously on the edge of a structure, an accidental or well placed dark pink paint drip?  These are small paintings giving an intimate insight into a sad and harsh urban existence, very appropriate work for our present time. 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Drawing A Line - The North Wall, Oxford

Detail of drawing by Ruth Simons
Went to the very edge of the 'Grey Zone' recently, to Oxford, which is the home of Modern Art Oxford, a great place to see the work of some up and coming contemporary artists.  Every once in awhile I hear of a regional artist showing in some small space in or around Oxford and try to make the best use of my train fare by taking in at least two venues.  My timing wasn't great on this trip though as MAO was between shows, but I did make it to the west of the town centre to see the work of Newbury artist Ruth Simons who is currently studying Fine Art at Oxford Brookes University.  She was showing in a place I hadn't heard of before, The North Wall Arts Centre, which typical of many of the regional art centres was more of a theatre and dance venue with a bit of space near the foyer put aside as a gallery.
Drawing by Ruth Simons

I had read the text that accompanied the show and wasn't quite sure of what to expect as it stated the work explored "how apparent randomness belies the organic patterns contained within the intricacy of life, and traces the harmonics hidden in the detail, as she examines the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of the universe."  I thought that might be a lot to expect from a drawing but was quite taken with her work despite not really being any more clued up about the complexities of the universe when I left.  

The drawings had a stillness and delicacy that played against the concrete brutal surfaces they were displayed on, and yes there was a feeling of an organic pattern.  I vaguely remember looking at an onion skin under a microscope when in science class at school centuries ago. Ruth's white on white drawings used a slightly crumpled effect to create shadows which fell softly across the paper, bringing back those memories.  And there was a beautiful randomness to the pencil lines of the large piece which filled the main area of the gallery.  A good show and a nice place, shame the lighting wasn't just a bit better. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Ubiquitous Materials - South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell

Made it over to the Bracknell Gallery at South Hill Park one more time before the current exhibition by Jeannie Driver ends.  I had the pleasure of attending the talk by the artist back in February when the show opened, it was interesting to hear just how obsessed one person can be with paper!  Jeannie Driver knows her paper for sure, she told us about her visits to recycling centres, the fact that paper can only be recycled a limited number of times, and the difference between various shredders.  And the art work she does with the shredded paper is pretty interesting as well.

The Bracknell Gallery was an austere and very cold (in February) setting, echoing the mainly whites and greys of her work.  The domineering piece in the white cube of a gallery space was a shredded paper floor circle reminiscent of Richard Long.  Perhaps the work references the circular nature of paper's journey when recycled and shredded, as spoken about in her talk.

The piece that caught my eye when I first visited, and again this time, was a dramatic vertical work. It is the only work with any real colour in the room and almost looked if it was pouring from the ceiling.  Ironically it's made of shredded South Hill Park Exhibition brochures, hope that's not a reference to the state of the South Hill Park visual arts exhibition programme in light of recent funding cuts. RR.

work by Jeannie Driver
detail of shredded paper