Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Brian Steptoe - Gallery@49, Bracknell

"Although the urban allotment has its coverage, social landscape photographers have in general neglected farming in the area between town and country, a place where town dwellers are encouraged to go seek out fresh produce for their table, particularly in these times of interest in reducing carbon footprint and in more healthy eating".

These words are taken from the forward of Brian Steptoe's stunning book of photographs entitled 'A Year on Grays Farm - Artist Edition' which I had the opportunity to flip through at Brian's exhibition at Gallery@49 in Bracknell.  The exhibition 'Grays Pick-Your-Own and Farm Shop' is just a small selection of the photographs from the book, a photo documentary of his observations of the seasons and related activities on the farm located just outside Wokingham, Berkshire from July 2010 to June 2011.  Brian, a fellow with the Royal Photographic Society, says he tried to keep out of the way of the workers as they carried out their tasks while taking over 2500 exposures, many with a large format camera, on 50 separate visits to the farm.

Roadside Notice by Brian Steptoe

The gallery exhibition, with it's dozen or so photographs from the series, is really a very small sample illustrating perhaps the more obvious aspects of the activities of the farm and shop.  But there is so much more that happens behind the scenes on the farm that you'll discover once you have the opportunity to see the breath and depth of the work that is included in the book.

Brian's images follow the seasons, from eye catching maroon seeds to bright green seedlings, ghostly strawberry plants hiding under netting through to the ripe berries on the vine.  Autumn turns to deep earthy colours with the evidence of decay in the wilting leaves and crushed over ripe tomatoes.  Then there's the eye catching image of the iconic strawberry frosted with the first snow of the winter sitting under a beautiful soft blue sky.

Photograph by Brian Steptoe

There is much more to this series than just stunning fruit and veg shots though, and through these photographic images we get a sense of the hard work and dedication that goes into maintaining a small farm by the Grays family and their staff.  There are lively images of boxes and boots, detailed reflections and obscure patterns, and of course the joyous faces of children as they partake in the fruits of their labour.  All of these images and many, many more are beautifully laid out, printed with superb colour, and wonderfully displayed within this glorious hard bound book.  Brian has the trained eye of the professional photographer combined with an acute artistic vision, his editing and design skills allow both to shine through in the printed book form.

The exhibition was enjoyable, the book memorable!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

BA Degree Show - University of the Creative Arts, Farnham

Strictly speaking Farnham is not in the 'Grey Zone', perhaps on the southern fringes, but so many of the region's artists have attended the University there over the years we consider it the local art school. There were several artists graduating this year who have been involved with ReOrsa that I just had to go to this year's degree show.  I wanted to see if technical skills alongside ingenuity and creativity are still considered of any importance in obtaining a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art, as there seemed to be little evidence of this in a very disappointing visit to the RA Summer Exhibition the week before!

The degree show was spread out over the campus and was huge, there were installations tucked in nooks along the corridors, a film in the courtyard, and almost every studio bursting with displays. They have a full range of programmes from Animation to Textiles, Fine Art to Industrial Design and most things in between, I got lost weaving my way through it all.  I was suitably impressed with the Fashion and Textiles work, as well as the Ceramics, Glass and metalwork displays, good work with high technical achievement and interesting designs, but what about the Fine Arts?

Passing through the 2D displays were getting me worried, the majority of the work had subject matter that left me cold, and the level of visible technical skill minimal with a few exceptions here and there.  There were very few of the graduating students around to explain their work nor printed statements to reference, so I was at a loss as to the message or inspiration.  But my fears flew out the window when entering the room devoted to the 3D Fine Art, lots of playful, interesting and intriguing work in here!

The first piece that grabbed me was a fallen tree trunk with shining metal bolts piercing it in numerous places, this is the work of Steve Sommerville. Was this a statement of our destruction of the natural landscape? I was also taken with the work of Vanessa Fewtrell-Smith which I had first spotted in the group show in the James Hockey Gallery at the entrance to the University.  Delicate layers of glued tissue paper, fragile and light yet occupying the space with a demanding and substantial presence.

Hoard by Vanessa Fewtrell-Smith

There were several more artists of interest including the prints and installation by Marie Sudwell and the sculptural work by Susan Manuel and Hayley Martinez.  But my favourite in the room was the installation by Katelina Fusco entitled 'Eddie's Emporium', a playful assemblage of glass, ceramic, and metal objects which may have been found, sourced, or possibly artist made materials, not sure and it would have been nice to know.  They were spires of colourful patterns perched precariously on top of one another, sometimes with small figurines gracing the top like a miniature Nelson's column.  They evoked countless memories, drawing me in to investigate, identify, and observe at closer range despite the thought of knocking them over and shattering the beauty.

Thankfully I left with my faith in the creativity, as well as the technical skills of graduating students in the Fine Arts, somewhat restored.

work by Katelina Fusco