Having started as Bookshop Assistant in February, I have now experienced working at the gallery for all nine Federation of British Artists exhibitions for a full annual circuit. It has been really enjoyable to get to know the different feels and focuses of each society, so I thought I would compile some highlights.
My favourite work from this show was 'Deep Valley Pines' by Cheryl Culver, President of the Society at the time. Not only is the work mellow and comforting, but Cheryl is based in the same area of the South East as where I grew up. In a strange twist of fate her niece used to childmind me, and my parents have had a wonderful pastel seascape by Cheryl in our living room for years. For this reason, and the nostalgia of Autumnal remote countryside walks created by the scene, the piece stood out for me.
As an art historian, and a fan of the melancholy of Nordic Noir, Barbara Richardson’s 'Still Life with Hammershoi' excited me by how referential and intertextual the painting is. Although painted in a different style to Hammershoi’s hyperrealism, the artist captures the light, mood and enigma of his work and reflects it outwards, into a more contemporary setting.
To paint anything with so much precision in watercolour as Varsha Bhatia has in 'Door, Cordoba' really baffles me (in a good way. I can’t paint). Cordoba is on my list of places to visit, and this small picture of a door just summarises for me the unique beauty of Cordoba’s moorish architecture. How can something as simple as a door make you want to travel?!
I have a couple of favourites from this one. The first one goes without saying...'Agniezska at Mall Galleries Cafe' by Bob Last. As a Courtauld alumna, any reference to ‘Bar at the Folies Bergere’ (in the Courtauld Gallery’s permanent collection) is appreciated. Agniezska left the Mall cafe recently, and I miss her and wish her all the best. Bob Last has endearingly immortalised her, as a good portrait should. My other favourite was a small work called 'Stephen with Bill' by Lyn Gray. It shows a splodgy black and white cat sat on a man’s lap on an armchair. This is exactly how my own splodgy black and white cat sits on my dad, the portrait accurately capturing the relationship dynamic between man and feline pal.
'Crosby Beach, Liverpool' by Hoisun Yung was included in the exhibition as part of the Haworth Prize, awarded to young landscape artists based in the North of England. The use of negative space and the detail of the characters used to depict the sea make the image really striking. It is an original and moving response to the landscape genre.
Alex Menzies’ large painting ‘Puppetry’ was certainly outstanding in my opinion. It was surprising to see in a life drawing-themed show, alongside all of these beautiful nudes in muted colours, because of its large scale, dark and disturbing palette and bizarre interaction with the canonical genre. Despite its turbulence as an image, for me it has inspired an internal debate over what life drawing can be defined as.
Something about Naomi Tydeman’s use of monochrome and texture in 'Outflow' perfectly communicates the bleak beauty of a receding tide. The central part of the image is a single vertical silver streak, focusing the image around a pearly moon or a weak winter sun reflecting across the water, making the image tranquil, pensive and introspective.
From this exhibition I have chosen the Wallasea Island Project as my highlight. Throughout the show, unframed works by six artists who were on residency on the island reserve were hung in the North Gallery. The body of work was both stunning in its raw immediacy, and important as it is an urgent artistic response to flooding, raising awareness of the dangers of climate change and the effect it is having on coastal habitats in Britain.
Recently I have jumped on the cacti bandwagon, hence ‘California Still Life
’ by Rosalie Watkins appealed to me instantly. I think this is because her loose technique with oils has allowed her to create a peaceful and still image, but one that is vibrant and bright - a portrait of summer. It is simple but compelling, and I am very glad that the artist was selected to win the Phyllis Roberts Award.
While there were so many highlights throughout the year in terms of FBA exhibitions, there were so many other exhibitions which also felt special. It is hard to pick a favourite, but I feel I ought to mention Merge Visible, which was a small show of digital collage in contemporary fine art photography by six artists from 6 to 10 September 2016. I knew nothing about this media, or how complex its process, or how thought-provoking and gorgeous the outcome could be before the show. The way the six pieces were curated worked so well in the Threadneedle Space, and the whimsical works of Ellie Davies and Suzanne Moxhay in particular will always stick in my mind.
I look forward to the exciting jam-packed programme of exhibitions and events Mall Galleries will have in the New Year!