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Hastings Arts Forum: Stains and traces – the figure revisited.

Jo Welsh: Five women are brutally murdered

Jo Welsh: Five women are brutally murdered

This intriguing exhibition features the work of ten artists, each with a highly individual response to the subject matter, and is by turns macabre, disturbing and amusing. The predictable response to the human figure – the drawing from life class – is largely absent; when it does appear, it’s apparent that the figure is a springboard for a different kind of exploration. HOT reporter Cathy Simpson spent some time in contemplation.

Jo Welsh’s Five women are brutally murdered refers to the victims of Jack the Ripper. The etchings are body prints, feature beautiful texture and colour, and explore the irony of the fact that their mysterious murderer has immortalised them. They are placed adjacent to a series of three collages on the theme of The Anatomist, which effectively tells a similar gruesome story of dissection – but this time with delicate collage composed of Victorian engravings. The black humour of this can be appreciated even more by looking at the individual parts of the picture and how they change from one piece to the next.

Her work is placed opposite Bruce Rae’s silver gelatin prints, whose delicate soft textures belie their incongruous subject matter. Disembodied limbs and heads from quite a large collection of dolls, plus a tiny figure of a ballerina, come together to create apparently tender images – that is, until you look closely. The titles are taken from song lyrics – intriguing, sometimes obscure and sometimes disturbingly apt – as in So that’s what happened to Baby Jane.

John Shanks’ work takes us away from reminiscence about the past with his digitally processed, delicate prints depicting scenes from everyday life. Layers of juxtaposed and overlapping images come together to create sometimes panoramic views, such as the wittily titled SeeSeeTeeVeeTwo where tender and mundane moments remind us of our surveillance society.

Anne O’Driscoll explores the expressive qualities of charcoal and graphite with her observational drawings. Though the figure is the starting point, the most significant part of the works is the line, as it dances and twirls and takes on a life of its own. She also explores the elemental quality of materials with her Figure 4, composed of unfired clay, house brick and wood – with the line from the two dimensional drawings being replaced by thread.

Lesley Barker: Absence of presence

Lesley Barker: Absence of presence

The other artist who uses observational drawing as a significant contribution to the exhibition is Lesley Barker, with a series of wonderfully expressive ink drawings. Movement, stance and mood are created with a few deft lines, where more is implied than stated and, as the viewer, you feel invited to fill in the gaps. What is not said is as important as what IS said. This is an even more interesting impression in light of the central piece, Absence of presence. Apparently bloodied footsteps lead towards and away from a font-sized overflowing chalice – leaving you to speculate as to its meaning, while a small board to one side lists the different synonyms of ‘stain’, ‘trace’ and ‘chalice’. In truth, you could spend ages pondering the message and significance of this piece and, as with the drawings, what is implied is as important as what is stated.

Andrew Ricketts’ sculptural pieces feature in both galleries. He describes his process: “I enjoy playing around with objects and materials; I have a respect for the figure within contemporary art: however I challenge some of this formal tradition with mischievous and light-hearted elements”. His work is sometimes reminiscent of the Chapman brothers, but his own vision is clearly apparent with its clever humour.

Perhaps the most intriguing works on display here are Kathleen Fox’s investigations into the possibilities of mud as a basis for texture. The technique of seeing forms or landscapes in accidental marks is a well known one, but the textures created by this dried mud are outstandingly decorative and suggestive.  Textures morph into scenes like a Rorschach test; collage, lines and marks are added to help us share the artist’s vision, and the negative space is an intrinsic part of the image – as in Portrait (of a rather self-effacing woman).

Kathleen Fox: Portrait (of a rather self-effacing woman)

Kathleen Fox: Portrait (of a rather self-effacing woman)

I can’t emphasise too strongly how rewarding it is to spend time with these pictures. The more you look, the more you realise there is to see, and at times it’s a bit like watching a photograph developing. Or spotting creatures camouflaged against a background slowly become visible.

Tiny details turn muddy and sandy configurations into small creatures, or limbs, or hands, and let them take on a life of their own. How many animals can you spot in We greeted the sun with jubilation after the long, hard winter, for example?

Paradoxically, with these works based on chance, nothing is actually left to chance. A superb achievement!

I strongly recommend this exhibition; it is challenging, disturbing and beautiful – and a tribute to the curator, Ian Welsh.

But hurry – it closes on March 11 2014!

Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0BU. Tel: 01424 201636

Opening hours: 11.00am – 5.00pm daily

http://www.hastingsartsforum.co.uk/

 

 

 

Posted 18:34 Monday, Mar 10, 2014 In: Visual Arts

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