Review of ‘Ahead of the Curve’ exhibition, on contemporary Chinese ceramics

My review of ‘Ahead of the Curve: new china from China’, a touring exhibition on contemporary Chinese ceramics, is published on a four page spread in the latest ‘Craft Arts International’ magazine, issue no. 94. This exhibition started at The Wilson, Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum, in October 2014 and then moved on to Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, before going to The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent.

Cover page to Crafts Art International, issue no. 95

Cover page to Crafts Art International, issue no. 94

First page of my article in Craft Arts International

First page of my article in Craft Arts International

Advertisements

Writing for Gloucestershire’s local paper: Contemporary take on the Arts & Crafts Movement

My Echo article, May 2015Last week I wrote an article for Gloucestershire’s local newspaper, Echo, on a new contemporary installation by Iavor Lubomirov at The Wilson art gallery and museum in Cheltenham, as part of their contemporary art exhibition ‘the open west’. My article was published on Saturday 23 May. Lubomirov’s artwork, ‘Wallpaper by the Roll’, 2013, is in dialogue with William Morris’s own art and ethos for living. It consists of a rolled paper sculpture and framed off-cuts, each comprised of delicately layered strips of Morris & Co Marigold Cowslip Wallpaper. This is historic and domesticized wallpaper that has been made tactile and dynamic.

The Art of Textiles: Thinking about Matisse

Henri Matisse, ‘Harmony in Red’, 1908. Oil on canvas, 180 x 220 cm.

Matisse collected textiles throughout his life and had generations of weavers in his family. He wanted his work to be decorative and for it to redefine the ‘decorative’ as a positive phenomenon. Painting women and their domestic interiors in a radical way provided him with just the opportunity to explore and expound this.

Surprisingly, loose blue textile-inspired patterns dominate Matisse’s rich painting despite it being called Harmony in Red. They are expressive and organic, mirroring the rising shapes of the fruit bowl and its pot plant. It is as though they are growing out of the floor and claiming the table and walls. These patterns are wild and joyful, suggestive of potential creativity and spirit within the house. The trees framed to the left of the painting appear contained and groomed in comparison.

Despite the overall emphasis on pattern, the woman’s clothes are intriguingly plain. Her blue top compliments but in no way detracts from the blue designs. The angle of her bent head and stooped body leads the eye away from her and towards the patterns at the painting’s centre. She is very much a part of the still life and does not demand a stronger presence. Could she be a maid, or a careful mistress of the house?

In tension with the interior’s patterned promise of creativity, this subdued image of the woman could suggest that her housework – almost literally – consumes her. On the other hand, this blue harmony between her and her surroundings suggests she is at one with her home. In this way, Matisse is keen for us to see that decorative art can have a story and a weight to it. Like all genres of great artistic masterpieces, it shows you a tale just as much as it keeps you asking questions.

Matisse has been clever with this painting. It is heavily ornamented and yet not detailed, so verges towards the abstract. The table merges with the wall, the fruit seem like an extension of the random patterning and the chair is definitely missing a leg. Is it a window or a painting that occupies the left-hand side of the wall? The overall flatness and diminished perspective makes this a difficult question to answer. Pattern, colour and line come first.

The decorative is given a mind of its own; it is not about conforming, but about creativity, expression and the joy in pure colour and design. And let us not forget, the painting cries, that women have a positive – if often overlooked – place within the decorative and textiles businesses.

 

 

 

Sam Smith’s work at The Beales Bequest exhibition

Sam Smith, Fishing Boat ‘S71’, wood with enamelling and mixed media, 1971, 20cm long. And Smith’s book ‘The Secret Harbour’, Ernest Benn Limited, London and Tonbridge, 1975.

Sam Smith, Fishing Boat ‘S71’, wood with enamelling and mixed media, 1971, 20cm long. And Smith’s book ‘The Secret Harbour’, Ernest Benn Limited, London and Tonbridge, 1975.

This piece is published on The Ken Stradling Collection blog

There are many playful, colourful and humorous items on display in The Beales Bequest exhibition. This includes the pieces by Sam Smith. There is one of his fishing boats from the 1970s, made of wood and enamel-painted. Accompanying this is Smith’s book, The Secret Harbour, from 1975.

Sam Smith spent his childhood at the seaside town of Southampton. A painting of his was accepted into an exhibition at the Royal Academy when he was just 17 years old, but he became best known for his hand-carved painted wooden toys and sculpture. He was always drawn to performance and the theatrical in everyday life, which helped him to create an array of colourful characters that kept being repeated in his work.

His wooden fishing boats are both sculptures and toys for adults. Their designs started simply and became more complex and individual, with unusual characters that seem to offer stories and social insights.

Graham Stuart, Boat, wood with painting and mixed media, 19cm high

 

Nautical themes and story telling are repeated throughout The Beales Bequest exhibition. Colin and Jennifer Beales also bequest their 2D wooden boat, with painting and mixed media, made by Victor Stuart Graham. Graham had a varied training in art. He originally trained as a graphic designer followed by a postgraduate degree in textile design. His boats made of worn driftwood have been hugely popular and have been exhibited throughout the UK.

Additionally, the print entitled The Tower of London from the School Prints series, by Edwin La Dell 1947, is part of The Beales Bequest to The Ken Stradling Collection. La Dell was appointed as an official war artist during the Second World War.

Edwin La Dell, The Tower of London, from the School Prints series published by the Banyard Press, 1947, 49cm x 66cm

 

The Beales Bequest will be open to view every Wednesday 10 – 4pm and by appointment  until 11th March.

 

The opening of The Beales Bequest exhibition at The Ken Stradling Collection

The Beales Bequest PosterA version of this article is on The Ken Stradling Collection website

From tomorrow, Wednesday 14th January, the latest exhibition at The Ken Stradling Collection will be open to the public. I have co-curated this show, entitled The Beales Bequest, and wrote the gallery’s information texts. I also contribute to their blog, and will be writing a series of blog posts about individual objects featured in this exhibition.

The Beales Bequest revolves around the eclectic objects that a Bristol architect and founding trustee of The Ken Stradling Collection left with his artist wife to the Collection when they died last year.

Colin and Jennifer Beales were great friends with Ken Stradling. Colin often drove around Bristol with Ken, and they travelled together to parts of Europe, to view or purchase furniture, ceramics and art. He in particular had a long association with The Bristol Guild. Jennifer also made significant contributions, such as formulating the title of the Collection’s catalogue, “The Incidental Collector”, which Colin helped to write and edit.

On display in the exhibition there will be a great variety of ceramics by many important British makers from the 20th and 21st centuries. Think Dan Arbeid (who The Guardian has described as “one of the pioneers of unconventional vessel-based handbuilt forms”), Mick Casson, Stig Lindberg and Herbert Krenchel.

There will also be bold and often humorous pieces of glasswork and sculpture, as well photographs of Colin’s main architectural projects and some of the Beales’ own art – pottery, etchings and paintings – exhibited too.

The Beales Bequest will be open to view every Wednesday 10 – 4pm and by appointment until 11th March (the exhibition has been extended beyond the original date of the 4th February).

Pieces by Stig Lindberg, Erik Hoglund and Herbert Krenchel

Pieces by Stig Lindberg, Erik Hoglund and Herbert Krenchel

 

Crafts Magazine: another review published

I was very pleased when the editor of Crafts Magazine contacted me to commission a review of Ellen Sampson’s current exhibition at Northampton Gallery. Sampson is a shoe designer and and is also over half way through a PhD at the RCA where she is exploring the affective life of shoes.

My review is published in the January – February issue of Crafts Magazine, 2015. My copy of the magazine arrived on New Years eve: 2015 has got off to a good start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See my earlier blog post about the first writing commission that I received from my favourite crafts magazine, which is attached to Crafts Council.

 

Some thoughts on historic Pin Cushion Hearts

Victorian pin heart cushionsI’ve recently returned from a Pin Cushion Heart making course at Heartspace Studios in Bristol, after seeing some of these objects dating back to the Victorian era for the first time this year. Two of which were in Tate Britain’s exhibition on Folk Art, which I reviewed for Trebuchet Magazine.

I find pin cushion hearts both attractive with their heavily beaded patterning and slightly grotesque, mainly because they have often ‘weathered’ over time and become stained or dirty. Making one myself seemed a good way to understand the significance and possible roles of these double-edged objects, and so to appreciate them more.

Recreated solider's pin heartThe cushions are stuffed with either sawdust or sand, which, if not machine-made, involves quite a lot of force and patience. I added lavender to my sawdust, which could be smelt every time I pushed a pin into the cushion during the decorating stage. It takes a lot of sawdust to make the cushion firm and full, and because it compacts, it takes a lot more than you think you need. The sawdust is stuffed through a long slit down the centre front of the heart. When the heart is sufficiently sturdy and can withstand the pressure of pins (a floppy cushion will result in the pins falling out), it can be sewn up with diagonal stitches that crosshatch each other. This ends up looking like a harrowing scar down the heart’s middle. So although the hearts feel strong, there is a sense of fragility and even violence at their centre.  Continue reading

Through Our Hands: The third issue

Front cover of the third Through Our Hands magazineMy article about the delightful and quirky Bristol Wool Fair is published in the third issue of ‘Through Our Hands’ textile magazine.

The Bristol Wool Fair

5 – 7th September 2014, Clifton and Durdham Downs, Bristol

The marquees were an impressive size even from a distance. If you looked carefully, you also might have been able to make out some sheep milling about and being prepared for shearing demonstrations. Getting nearer to the event, the smell of wool and the bleating of sheep were strikingly evident. This was certainly peculiar for the middle of Bristol. And yet, the Bristol Wool Fair was a great success.

The Wool Fair was held over three days on Clifton and Durdham Downs, an expansive stretch of open green space in the heart of the city. It is often used for hosting touring fairgrounds and circuses, but has never before entertained such a big or ambitious art event. It is possible that this was the first arts and crafts fair that the Downs had seen.  Continue reading

Through Our Hands: The 2nd magazine

Through Our Hands magazine issue 2Through Our Hands, an online platform for contemporary quilts, art and craft, has just published the second issue of their magazine with beautiful illustrations of artists’ work. The editorial team includes Annabel Rainbow, Laura Kemshall and Linda Kemshall.

My blog post about the arrival of their first magazine back in May will tell you more about the project’s background and contains a link to the first issue.

I have been invited to contribute a regular column and my latest article is about quilts in Tate Britain’s Folk Art exhibition on pages 51-56.

The link to the magazine is here.

 

 

British Folk Art at Tate Britain

This article is published in Trebuchet Magazine.

Bellamy Quilt, 1890-1, by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springall

Bellamy Quilt, 1890-1, by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springall

Gathering together the 200 items, including paintings, textiles and sculptures, for this British Folk Art exhibition took the curators to more galleries across the country than normal, Penelope Curtis admitted at the Press View. The staggering range of geographical locations adds to the spectacular diversity of artworks and objects on display, indicating the broad spectrum of art objects that make up ‘folk art’.

This genre is particularly undefined in Britain – indeed it is much more of a discipline in America – but instead of attempting to corner off definitions, the curators are keen for this show to be seen more as a “proposition” of folk art that is made up of objects that have histories in galleries. Thus, there are also particular viewing histories acknowledged by the exhibition; Curtis claimed that having the British Folk Art show on at the same time as the Kenneth Clark exhibition is appropriate because they both have a lot to do with taste. Notions of class and gender therefore echo throughout these two summer shows and introduce other important themes: that of surplus time and surplus materials, which together, point towards the making context as an ultimate concern.  Continue reading