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Rendezvous Goldsmiths

Ruthin Craft Centre

21 September – 1 December 2013

“This is a major exhibition which will celebrate the work of Goldsmiths College Textile Department during the period 1975–88 when Audrey Walker was Head of Department. Some 25 years later, it is clear that this was a very special time involving an exceptional group of people, both staff and students. It features a mix of new work and classic pieces from over 30 seminal makers – including Jeanette Appleton, Heather Belcher, Michael Brennand-Wood, Dawn Dupree, Matthew Harris, Rozanne Hawksley, James Hunting, Alice Kettle, Mary Restieaux, Lynn Setterington, Eirian and Dennis Short, with new work from Audrey Walker.”       Press release.

‘Rendezvous Goldsmiths’ is not simply a testament to the influence of a major artist and educator at a particular point in time. That would have been of great interest, but Walker’s influence is such that this show stands as a state of the nation address on the broad creative activity in the field of contemporary textiles and embroidery fine art craft.

There is so much to enthuse about here; indeed, there is nothing, which does not merit serious consideration.

Of course the centrepiece of the show is the section representing Walker with recent pieces. Those of us who live within striking distance of North Pembrokeshire region had been gifted a preview of these works at Tregwynt Mansion in August. On this second viewing, I adopted a macro viewpoint; looking more closely at the network of threads across the surface, mixing optically with the precision of a ‘divisioniste’ work by Seurat.

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It is always a pleasure to see an artist’s drawings. I make no apologies for my unfashionable belief that drawing skills are the bedrock of any visual edifice. Walker’s self-portrait is not the woman I have got to know over the past seven years or so, with kindly eyes and ready smile. This is the artist at work; jaw set firmly; a penetrating gaze; sizing up her quarry, preparing to cut sharply and deeply to the essence of her motif. The drawing is constructed with a most delightful variety of mark-making. This can also be seen in the companion works on paper here.

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Alice Kettle provides the largest work in the exhibition. It anchors the whole show insofar as it would conform to that consensus view of  textile and embroidery arts which visitors might have arrived with. Similarly, Dionne Swift operates in the mainstream and it is illuminating to see what changes were made by the artist during the transformation between preparatory study and finished artwork.

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Louise Baldwin  provides a dense landscape built up from field patterns, tree-shaped hieroglyphs and flow lines; observed largely, though not exclusively from above. The multi-layering of translucent material and choice of colour scheme makes this picture among the most lyrical on display here.

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Like Baldwin, James Hunting displays a consummate sense of colour; In the same way that Matisse’s ‘Red Room’ uses the quality of ‘red-ness’ rather than red pigment, he imbues  his hanging with a greater sense of ‘blue-ness’ than a pure cobalt panel.

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Shadowplay enlivens the delicacy of Atsuko Yamamoto’s hangings. Light casts a duplicate of the fabric onto the wall a metre behind. The fabric, with its striking threads of red on cream, responds to any slight draught and creates an ever-changing continuum of pattern and tonal distribution.

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An arresting mixed-media painting by Michael Brennand-Wood occupies the wall opposite the entrance to the gallery. On close inspection, the surface is of wood, its layers of coloured paint allowed to show through an overlay of scumbled white. The surface has been fret-worked into a lace pattern, the trenches inlaid with a range of dark, fraying fabrics to produce a lace pattern -tonally reversed against expectation. “I first made lace in or around 1973; bobbin lace followed by a short spell working on an industrial machine in Nottingham. I loved the diagrammatic, schematic linear designs that a lace maker worked from. They reminded me of graphic contemporary music scores”.

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Nicola Henley’s hangings incisively capture in heraldic form the delight of watching small groups of increasingly agitated Curlew facing a turning tide. The lustrous silvers and hints of sage green convey the effect of high key light across wet mudflats.

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There is a story [I wish I could find the actual reference] that Jackson Pollock, having been absorbed in the pages of a monograph on Picasso for the better part of a day, abruptly threw the book across the studio with the anguished cry, “That b*****d always got there first!” I know how he feels. For three years or so, I have been struggling to construct a satisfactory base for a series of lenticulated views of the Kansai conurbation as seen from a moving train. Two images are interlaced across vertical strips affixed to a right-angled corrugated surface: walking from the left of the work to the right gives a gradual transformation between these two images. Denys Short has pre-empted my efforts with the magnificent memento mori self-portrait on display here. The portrait would have held its own with its confident technique and observational rigour, quite without the skull motif which looms into view as one moves from left to right in front of the construction.

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Eirian Short’s greyhound looks at all this from across the room with quizzical indifference. This canine portrait would not be out of place on an oak panelled hallway in Chatsworth or Harewood. What particularly draws me to this image is the understated and yet  convincing foreshortening of the patterned elipse of the mat on which the beast reclines.

Rozanne Hawksley: “Captain Coram and Mr Handel”

“I have been moved by the philanthropy of Captain Coram and Mr Handel. Also closely involved in the foundation and early years of the Hospital was William Hogarth. He had backed the idea of the Hospital, had donated some of his paintings to the cause and was one of the first governors. The three men contacted many wealthy, landed people and The Coram Foundation, as it is called, continues to help needy children and families today. My own small contribution is of my time, work and materials in the hope that I can myself in a small way help the Foundation to continue.” Rozanne Hawksley.

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Like a great modern novel, “Captain Coram & Mr Handel” provides a plethora of allusions; and a multiplicity of symbol for the viewer to ponder as it shifts from historical archive to contemporary experience. In an oeuvre which often provides soundings in the channels of personal loss, civil suffering in war, and the duplicitous acts of those in positions of power, Hawksley interprets heart-rending themes.

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In this installation, a skeletal hand holds three balls. These represent the lottery introduced to admit foundlings, after the open-door policy had to be changed owing to the staggeringly high numbers of children abandoned at the institution’s gates. Human suffering indeed. However, “Coram and Handel” is perhaps  Rozanne’s most uplifting piece in years; a meditation on philanthropy and compassion developed from a footnote in the historical record and writ large. I left the table with a greater sense of optimism than on my approach, and this is what great art can do..

As usual, the same old question arises; where is the national reviewing for this important exhibition? Had it been shown within the M25, it would have been acclaimed on Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’, ‘Saturday Review’ and  the T.V. ‘Review show’. All I can do in the absence of such coverage is to urge a visit to Ruthin if at all possible. This show demands your attention and will repay in full; it will provide inspiration, no matter your field of creative endeavour.

Ruthin Craft Centre

The Centre for the Applied Arts

Park Road, Ruthin   Denbighshire  LL15 1BB

T: +44 (0)1824 704774

open daily  10.00am – 5.30pm  admission free

free on-site parking

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