On the 29th February 2016, I will begin putting up my exhibition entitled “In Parallel” at Participate Contemporary Artspace CIC. Its located on the Ground Floor of the Riverside Shopping Centre in Shrewsbury town centre. There will be a private view on Friday 4th March 2016 (4pm – 6pm) and on Wednesday March 16th 2016, I will be giving a talk about the project from 6.30pm at the gallery.
The exhibition will effectively be my degree show for the BA(hons) in Creative Arts that I have been studying by distance learning with the Open College of Arts. I began almost 12 years ago in 2004, originally intending that the course would provide some formal structure to my art practice (not having had much in the way of formal academic education in visual art previously). As I became engrossed in the academic studies and practical development in painting and photography, I became more determined to take all 7 modules up to degree level.
The work in the exhibition represents the outcome of 2 years of research for the last module in painting. The paintings will not be assessed during the exhibition but later at the college in July.
In some ways, I was amused by the idea of having an MA in Engineering Science and BA in Creative Art. Some might see these as opposing ends of a spectrum, but having worked through both, I can see that there are so many similarities in how engineers and artists take observations of the world, develop creative ideas and then use judgement to make a statement of some kind. In the case of engineering this is normally a physical construction with some defined purpose, while art works may be real or virtual, useful or not, profound or banal or basically anything.
I adopted a working title of “Parallel Universes” because I set out to investigate the relationship between the adjacent “universes” of the office where I used to work on the Shrewsbury Business Park and the surrounding area. The area encompasses edgeland landscapes of a cycle track (formerly the Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury railway), suburban estates, the River Severn, agricultural land and post-glacial meres, one of which is below Thieves Lane and another lies in public open space next to the Mereside Community Centre.
I was interested in how a highly controlled environment co-exists in close proximity to a very different landscape with elements of wilderness.
A particular event helped define the project for me. Whilst sitting at my desk looking out of the office window, I witnessed a crow attacking, murdering and then eating a juvenile blackbird, while its parents looked on helplessly crying out. It was a truly horrific scene, which highlighted a stark difference between the office world, and the world “out there”, separated only by a pane of glass. Life, death and the everyday.
The paintings touch on issues of land ownership, opportunistic or tactical uses of space, and the experience of time and place. I explore the tensions between control and liberty, geometric order and chaos, the organic and the human-made. I consider whether these must always be viewed as polar opposites, or whether hybrid or composite situations are, perhaps, a more realistic interpretation.
During the project I researched space and place, the everyday. psychogeography, walking as art practice, ruins and entropy, paths/boundaries and various other aspects of site specific art. Key writers included Miwon Kwon, Lucy Lippard, Yi Fu Tuan, Doreen Massey, Michel de Certeau, Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, Ben Highmore, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Felix Guattari, Hal Foster, Simon Schama, Edward Soja, Tina Richardson, Phil Smith, Nick Papadimitriou, Iain Sinclair, Richard Mabey, Rebecca Solnit and Merlin Coverley .
A selection of the artists I studied includes George Shaw, Laura Oldfield Ford, Mark Bradford, Ingrid Calame, Clare Wood, Toby Paterson, Julie Mehretu, Stephen Willats and numerous cartographic artists, such as Matthew Picton and Val Britton.
The art works featuring in the exhibition will include paintings and a book. The exhibition is a curated eclectic experience of the “parallel universes” and the work is quite diverse. The paintings may be broadly categorised into:
- representational or collage-style paintings, mainly in oils on mdf or plywood board;
- reverse paintings in acrylic on clear perspex and acetate sheets;
- mixed media painted reliefs constructed in layers of lasercut plywood or acrylic sheet.
Layering is a connecting theme or approach which runs through each of these categories. Layers, whether by physical layers of lasercut materials, by layers of paint, or layers of imagery, offer a means of combining or juxtaposing different concepts. Palimpsest, obscuring and revealing, play a role in these works.
There will also be a book, entitled “The Minutes” comprising photographs of the business park/office and edgelands, coupled with text describing my perceived experience, or phenomenology, of these environments. I’ll write a separate post about the book.
The paintings incorporate everyday motifs, like air conditioning units, fluorescent light fittings, blinds, and manhole covers, drawing attention to the aesthetic qualities of these rarely noticed objects.
Stair cases and transitional spaces below bridges also feature in a number of the paintings, as do renegade spaces such as dens and trees appropriated for rope swings. These are heterotopia where different people might attribute different meanings or values to each place. The edgelands (referred to by Stephen Willats as “the lurky place”) offer a place of refuge or subversion, whether it be for walking the dog, building a den to hide and create a personal space, or for just hanging out.
A few examples of my paintings are shown below:
“Severn Under” oil on board
“This Space” oil on board
“Two Windows” oil on board
“Exit”, oil on board
“Heterotopia”, reverse acrylic on clear acetate
“Untitled I” lasercut plywood acrylic painted relief