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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sometimes 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.
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.