Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Late November

David Gunnings

I enjoyed a drive in the late afternoon on Sunday through the Worcestershire countryside. The light glowed through the trees and across the land. The landscape has now turned to yellow ochre’s, burnt umber browns and earthy greens as the previously glorious autumnal colours have faded, signaling the beginning of winter. My son was dozing in the back of the car, and Midlake were on the stereo. I love the thinking space that driving allows.

I’ve been trying to process some of the very different exhibitions I’ve seen lately, and some of the work I’ve been trying to make. At Bilston Craft Gallery I really enjoyed an exhibition of etchings and etching plates by Bilston born artist, David Gunnings. The exhibition spanned thirty years of this artist’s career and his experience of depicting the disappearing manufacturing landscape of the Black Country and beyond to Ironbridge. Developed from drawings completed entirely on location, the etchings had a terrific quality of mark and line that seemed to move and unearth the scene. Although I liked the Black Country scenes, particularly the ones actually inside former factories and forge mills, I was most drawn to his etchings of the ancient standing stones sites of Britain. I love the images, but also Gunning’s obsession with traveling across Britain to discover and draw all the sites he could. The excitement of traveling to far flung corners of the UK, sketchbook in hand, never knowing what you may find must be a real thrill. For an hour there, I really wanted to be David Gunnings.

David Gunnings

Last Wednesday I attended the Private View of celebrated Magnum photographer Martin Parr’s exhibition of over 600 photographs he has taken of the Black Country in the last year at The Public, West Bromwich. Parr is very well known and respected and it has been a real coup for the region to commission him to work here, largely based in West Bromwich, and managed by Multistory, who I too have been lucky enough to work with. He also worked with the HNC photography students at Sandwell College, mentoring and helping them with their own work, a selection of which was shown alongside Parr’s in an exhibition called ‘Show Me A Secret’.

Martin Parr

The Private View was very busy, and it was great to see The Public finally drawing in large numbers of people. I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by Parr’s photographs though. The installation of over 600 was a bit much to take in, but there was an edited and more curated exhibition of some of the photos upstairs,which seemed to make more of a statement. I ended up preferring some of the works in the student show, which seemed to possess an edge that was missing in Parr’s work. He’s not a photographer that’s really known for having an ‘edge’ though in that sense, but as someone who grew up in West Brom and know the Black Country well the region does possess this: it is a tough place to live, and I would have liked to see more of this reflected in the work. Perhaps he isn’t the artist to do this.

Interestingly, the next day I visited the exhibition ‘Art and The Uncanny’ at The Waterhall Gallery in Birmingham which featured some nocturnal photographs by Black Country born Richard Billingham of the backs of houses and quiet, neglected spaces in Cradley Heath. I’d seen these reproduced before and found them a bit boring if I’m honest, but seeing them again and in the flesh (they were large pieces), and with the Parr exhibition in my mind, they seemed to have that edge and power that maybe I was looking for at The Public. They had an unsettling air and atmosphere that related more to my experience of the Black Country. Context can be everything.

Richard Billingham

I really enjoyed the rest of the exhibition, which had a great mix of photography, painting, print and sculpture from artist’s based in or associated with the West Midlands. It was a real shame it was only for a brief, blink and you’ll miss it, four days. A wasted opportunity, in my view, to showcase some of the best practice in the region.

I completed a new painting late last night. I was surprised how it turned out, and I’m not sure what I think of it. But of course, one wants to be surprised. With the act of painting it can often snatch control from your hands and tell you it might be more interesting to try this! We’ll see when I go down to the studio tonight to clear up and assess the damage…

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