Ten Reasons to Visit a Gallery

Why visit an art show? On the drive home from a gallery yesterday, that was what I was asking myself. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I thought I would reflect on my own reasons. Turns out, it’s not all about the art!

Reason one was pretty straightforward. They are excellent meeting places. I have kept in touch with students from the OCA where I took a home study course in textiles and yesterday I met up with two of them. Home study can be pretty isolating and every few months a few of us would gather to talk about our current work and share worries about deadlines and assessments. The face-to-face contact and support was important to me and I would always go home feeling encouraged and enthused. Regarding the art itself, I found that our conversations and often differing viewpoints often gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding of work I may have originally overlooked.

Galleries in my experience also tend to have particularly good eateries with a laid back comfortable feel, ideal for conversation.  They are often in very beautiful buildings which are inspiring themselves in their history and architecture. Leeds Art Gallery where we were yesterday, has its cafe in this magnificent Victorian tiled hall.

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Thirdly, galleries are somewhere you can enjoy silence.  It’s rare in a city to find a haven where the sounds are switched off so you can really focus on enjoying the visual. Mobile phones are present of course but generally being used for research and recording rather than for distracting, noisy conversation.

They are also safe places to draw in public Many of us are shy and uncomfortable about this but in a gallery there’s likely to be plenty of other people drawing and making notes too, particularly during the week when there are students about. They are a good place to begin overcoming that nervousness – with the added benefit of being warm and dry. Usually admission is free too, at least to the permanent exhibits.

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Caroline Achaintre’s Hand Tufted Wool ‘paintings’ 2015

Of course the art itself deserves a mention! I wrote in a recent post how privileged I felt to see the true colours, brushstrokes and proficiency in masterpieces by the likes of Van Gogh and Jacques-Louis David on my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On that visit, the pleasure was simply to admire the beauty of the work and the skill behind it.

Yesterday’s exhibition was something different though. The exhibition guide for the British Art Show explains that it ‘features work by artists who have made a significant contribution to art in this country over the past five years’. Contemporary art is not always conventionally beautiful and the narrative can seem difficult to comprehend. I pondered just how accessible it is to the interested general public, like me. As I read for the second and third time some of the artists statements and attempted to deduce which work belonged to which statement, I grumbled about why these are never written in simple language. Why does it have to be such hard work?

We observed that the exhibits in the show generally fell into two categories – craft and digital. Though the films were considered high quality, some of the craft-based skills seemed rather lacking, so what does make a work of art stand up in its own right? Maybe noticing some interesting detail, a clue to deciphering what the artist has responded to is part of the appeal?

When I see a piece of work I am drawn to, I enjoy the process of considering what caused that personal response. Am I reacting to an expression or posture, a shape or colour perhaps? Perhaps this is linked to an experience or memory?

Being interested in textiles generally, I was drawn to the tactile qualities of some of the work. It was extremely difficult not to touch! (Later when we crossed the walkway to the Henry Moore Institute and looked around the current Paul Neagu exhibition, my friend pointed out the ironic placement of the ‘Please do not touch the exhibits’ sign. It was right next to a piece of work called ‘Object Tactile 1970’!)

In the case of ‘Kentucky 2010’ (below), by Alexandre da Cuhna, we did admire the craftmanship and I recognised the material as that squeaky thick cotton string from the mop head at work. The pattern also evoked long-buried memories of a little woven string stool I vaguely remember from childhood.

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When you work with textiles it can be a bit of a headache working out how to mount them. When I sent work for assessment, sometimes it took almost as long to display a piece as it did to create it.   Therefore from a practical point of view, it’s useful to notice how exhibits are displayed and sympathetically lit. I thought these metal hangers worked particularly well and also enjoyed the shadows created by da Cuhna’s Fatigue (diagram 1) 2014.

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Caroline Achaintre‘s work also attracted me. This ceramic mask ‘Skwash 2014’ appeared to me like folded, discarded reptile skin and made me chuckle because it’s expression kind of reminded me of ‘Oscar the Grouch’ from Sesame Street!
IMG_3911Sometimes images, drawings or notes recorded at an exhibition will be inspiration for a future project. If I go on a workshop, I find it useful to have images with me as a starting point. Often it is the colour or texture that interests me, but this time I found potential in the shapes on Simon Fugiwara’s ‘Fabulous Beasts 2015’ series.  What these thick black lines are, I don’t know, but they made me think of the hieroglyphics I saw in the Ancient Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.IMG_3897

Choosing interesting areas to repeat and rotate I am beginning to create a series of patterns like this one below. Maybe this is something I will develop, maybe not, but ideas always come from somewhere and these will be added to my bank of source material.

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Yarndale 2015 – Hooky Heaven and Woolly Wonders

The third annual Yarndale festival has just been celebrated. Founded and superbly organised by a small team that includes Lucy of Attic 24 blog fame, Yarndale is a wonderful, colourful fusion of all things woolly and creative in the world of textile art and craft.  Appropriately, the festival is held in Skipton’s auction mart where pens are taken over by exhibitors tempting us with all sorts of inspirational yarns and related goodies.

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Visitors could also choose spend an hour or two learning new skills on a workshop. This year I signed up for ‘Slow Stitching’ with Jaki Bogg. This was loosely based on the Japanese boro and sashiko mending techniques. Simple running stitches are used to decoratively re-inforce or attach worn and patched fabrics often in geometric patterns.

We were each given scraps of hand-dyed fabric and thread and the idea was to relax and get into an almost meditative state. As you get into a rhythm and with practise, your stitches become increasingly regular and even.

I didn’t get very far as it is, well slow. But I enjoyed letting my needle meander while I chatted to like-minded coursemates. This would be a great technique I thought, for attaching fragments of delicate fabric from my various rust print experiments and to highlight the interesting marks. The piece of fabric I took home from the workshop will be made into a purse with a clasp I later bought at the Bag Clasps Ltd stall, along with some lovely yellow leather bag handles for a project yet-to-be-decided.

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Next stop was to meet up with a friend at the Yarndale hub to admire the collaborative community exhibitions. Anyone is welcome to contribute to these and this year’s was made up of knitted and crocheted contributions from all over the world. ‘Flowers for Memories’ was the theme and the spectacular display has been raising awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Society – over £1800 so far!

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Both my grandmothers and an aunt died from this cruel disease and I have been a volunteer at our local memory cafe for dementia sufferers and their carers, so this charity is close to my heart. I was only too happy to contribute the flowers I made in their memory. We had great fun trying to spot our own creations amongst the rainbow of flowers. There’s definitely at least two of them in this first photo!

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How fortunate we were, just like last year, to have a beautiful warm and sunny autumn day. Out came the picnic table and chairs, the Thermos and the buns as I met up with friends from our knit and natter group for lunch. The level of excitement about Yarndale when we had met earlier in the week had been off the scale and we were all still giddy as kippers as we had a show-and-tell of our purchases so far. Lots of oohs and aahs and stroking of beautiful yarns followed.

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My first purchase wasn’t actually wool at all but some Rico Essentials 2ply crochet cotton. I’ve never used anything so fine before but it was very good value so good for experimenting with and it won’t be the end of the world if my plan to make a lampshade with it doesn’t come off.  I also bought the glitzy version to have a go at crocheting around Christmas baubles.

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At the other end of the scale I treated myself to two balls of incredibly soft and light angora/merino yarn from Bigwigs Angora (do check out their website, even if just to see photos of gorgeous rabbits!). Yes it’s expensive, but totally worth it for a luxury project and the reassurance that the animals are well cared for. I plan to design and make myself a luxury scarf with this – lacy to make the yarn go further.  I’ve never got on well with lacy patterns before so will definitely be trying out some samples with something cheaper first.

Along with the bunnies, these handsome alpacas from Why Not Alpacas were attracting an adoring crowd with their big brown eyes, and helping to educate visitors on the benefits of alpaca farming in the UK.

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Other highlights from the day were returning to Jenny Barnett‘s stall. Last year I bought one of her kits to make a needlefelted hare. The instructions were really clear and it turned out very well. This year I couldn’t decide which to make so came home with her inspirational book instead.  I just love how she stages her stall and the characterful poses and expressions she gives to her creatures.

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Marmalade Rose also works with felt and features animals and nature, but in a 2-dimensional way using the wet felting technique. This year she has added printed cushions to her range. I wish you could feel their lovely velvety flock texture.

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Earlier this year I posted about going on Anne Brooke’s ‘Print, Collage, Stitch‘ workshop so it was good to see some of her new work and say hello.

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Amanda Perkins Crochet Design has gorgeous and uplifting patterned blankets. As a fan of Kaffe Fassett’s work and abundant colour in general, these really appeal to me. In fact a photo I took last year of one of them has been my phone screensaver for the last year! I felt I definitely owed her a purchase after that and bought a couple of her patterns. (You can also find these in her Etsy shop). Realistically I can’t imagine ever having time to complete one myself – but you never know!

IMG_3770 IMG_3771IMG_3774IMG_3773All in all, a wonderful day out for anyone interested in textiles. Next year’s festival dates are already confirmed as 24th and 25th September. I can’t recommend it enough.