Monday, 25 May 2015

More exhibitions - open studios and degree shows

Open studios

It is that time of year again - the artists and arts organisations in my area open their doors to visitors, and this gives you an opportunity to look at what they are now doing, whether they are changing direction or in some other way showing new works.

With limited time I try to find places to go that show several artists at once. This means you can cover more work, that going to someone's house, and spares you any embarrassment that might be in being a single visitor and finding the work uninteresting.

There is one small group of three artists who show together every year, who hold their exhibition in a very beautiful place that alone would draw me there - the sun was shining, it was warm and the grasses, meadow flowers and birds all evoked the height of spring. The three people are respectively a flower painter, a ceramicist and an architect who is a talented water colourist. I like the variety of their work and they are good at showing both shared projects and individual works.

The combined exhibition of a work or two by each artist in the scheme is quite comprehensive. However I do find the work a bit patchy, the good work is still good but the bad is surprising, because you wonder how this work was passed for the show, I am not sure they have an assessment panel to select works, it seems as if everyone who wants to join gets in. So, maybe one day......

I took one useful thing away from these shows this year - I decided to learn a bit more about water colour. Look at Isabel Carmona's watercolours I liked the way she uses colour and then defines shapes with pen afterwards. I had a go with some drawings later in my work on trees. Another useful thing that I found was a small display of shared sketchbooks shown at the local museum. Here the sketchbooks were themed and a number of artists and contributed work in a defined period of time. That meant that each small book had a number of different styles in it, and one on the idea of text and texture had a contribution of text and scribbles drawn on acetate and then layered across coloured paper and other similar acetates. A useful technique to try.

UCA Farnham  Final degree show

I also went to Farnham to the art college there to see what the textile students had on show for their final degree show. usually I go to Winchester School of Art, but this year I seem to have missed it and besides, I like Farnham and the school there, and the Crafts Study Centre had a textile exhibition on which I wanted to see.

The school runs courses in textiles for fashion and interiors and the foundation degree in hand embroidery under the auspices of the Royal School of Needlework. The first display ranged from traditional weavings to contemporary prints, using computer designs and texture puff printing dyes. I liked the traditional weaves, there was ones collection in particular that looked as if the dye was natural and the weaves textured. I know this is probably a conventional things to say, but I feel relieved and encouraged that some young students are embracing the hand woven as their own, and uses it for a contemporary language. I did like the puff printing on computerised designs, but actually, when I got to the second student's use of this technique I did wonder how differentiated you could get using this material, the raised surface is interesting, but I did not see a strong diversity in the use of it.

Sadly there were not many visitors to the show - I guess a bank holiday Saturday is distracting for most, but there were many people shopping in town, so one might have wished for the students that more would have come to the show.

The hand embroidered collection of work had some stronger pieces in it. I liked the framed pieces of translucent fabric with long running and seed stitches made in fine hand spun wools and silks. There were also pieces looking at using hand embroidery in jewellery and white work, which is quite delicate. I often wish I was more inclined towards the tonal qualities of white work and I have been planning to do something on tones and texture for the final sample in the weaving project so it was good to be reminded how this work can look. There was also a work looking at textile and memory. I know this might sound a bit philistine but the memory paradigm in textile art is now so well-worn that many themes under this heading seem stereotypical and uninventive. There are/must be many other feelings and thoughts that textiles can evoke that need not be about personal subjectivity - grandmothers and mothers. I guess that is why I prefer expressive textiles about the stuff of textiles art works rather than works that aspire to speak of the deeply personal.

After the textile displays I popped in to look at the ceramics and glass work. Here I particularly liked some bottles standing on inverted wooden cones and some white balls of glass with transparent interiors of small balls of coloured glass. The opaque white exterior was then removed in a long line to allow the viewer to peer into the core of the work to see the coloured core.

TRAUMA, GRIEF, LOSS: The Art of Bereavement - Craft Study Centre

Around of the corner from the college lies the Crafts Study Centre, which houses a couple of small galleries that are often worth visiting. The exhibition was on the theme of bereavement, and yes, some statements about personal loss and the memory of lost family members were on show, some of it made in a narrative form, others abstracted. There were a series of photographs aiming at something bigger: textile remainders from dramatic deaths or accidents, heart attacks, seizures - the pictures showed stains and marks from bodily fluids and there was something visceral and human about this. These pictures were not about the made object but about the physicality of loss of human life, which evoked something more than just the bodily death. It was not a personalised statement, but spoke of the way we will all go and reminds us that we will not always be here as living, breathing bodies, although we are also more than that.

I recently went home to see my parents. My mother was very keen that I take stuff back with me, stuff that had belonged to my grandmother. My grandmother was an aspirational person who followed the Danish tradition of collecting bottom drawer stuff, including a pile of silver plated cutlery which I am not sure to whom she was collecting, as my mother was a single child living abroad at the time when she collected all these things. She was also an accomplished needle woman and knitter, but the stuff we were looking at were these forks, spoons, teaspoons. My grandmother died many years ago, but what this meeting of her objects reminded me of more than anything is her disappearance as a person in body and in mind. When my mother and I are no more she will be forgotten - and so will we eventually. It is a difficult to think about - of all those people that came before us, only a handful are remembered. In history we remember the politician, the general and the king, not the farmer's son who battled it out on the field; we see the opulent brocade dress worn by a duchess in a painting by a famous artists, but not the hand of the seamstress or wigmaker who made these things.

So what I am trying to say I guess is that creating a memento mori for a deceased son, as someone had done in the exhibition, is a way of holding on to that person in a personal way.
I think this is a very personal thing, and I feel ambivalent about how these things are made so public.

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