Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Man Gave Names To All The Animals...

Tessa Farmer, 'Swarm' 

‘The Nature  of the Beast’ is an exhibition well worth a visit at the New Art Gallery, Walsall. I found myself there last week attracted by it’s theme of animals in art, which is something I’m really interested in. There is something about the mystery, power and appearance of animals and creatures that I find really fascinating, so it was great to visit this exciting exhibition that was all about some of these issues and featured a range of contemporary artists working in painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. 
Olly and Suzi, 'Spider', aquarelle pencil on paper
I was greeted up the stairs by a really large aquarelle coloured pencil drawing of a rather menacing spider blown up to gigantic proportions by artistic collaborators, Olly and Suzi, who work on location together on expeditions across the continents, and even under the sea, attempting to get close to their, often very dangerous, subjects in their natural habitat.  Elsewhere they were represented by some other lovely drawings of swarms of scurrying ants, beetles and cockroaches across large sheets of paper, rendered very directly using inks in an almost calligraphic way. I loved those. 
 Olly and Suzi, 'Ants', ink on paper
Olly and Suzi, 'Dungbeetles', ink on paper
There were also some very large and beautiful photographs by Matt Collishaw of squashed butterflies captured at the moment of death as they are pressed between two glass slides. They were suitably simultaneously beautiful and incredibly melancholy. These photos surrounded the surreal taxidermy sculptures of Polly Vernon, where dead foxes and a large deer were being seemingly attacked or occupied by other creatures such as birds, and even an octopus, whose tentacles were being pulled out of various orifices of the poor fox. The deer, however was displayed on its side with its stomach slit open which was now host to a nest of hanging bats. It was incredible. The installation by artist Tessa Farmer (top image) was even better with an army of ants and crabs marching across the floor, which I feared I would squash with my big feet and then be set upon in an insect frenzy, similar to the fate of the  adjacent python overwhelmed by vicious, biting creatures. Above and around you were hundreds of flies, bees and other insects and weird things that were wonderful to observe ‘eyeball to eyeball’, as it were. 
Polly Morgan, 'Hide and Fight', taxidermy and mixed media

Polly Morgan, 'Harbour' (detail), taxidermy, rubber and mixed media
The six life size paintings of prize bulls by Mark Fairington were also impressive, looking photographic in their detail from a distance, but much more painterly up close, but my favourite exhibit was the ‘Sphinx’ by artist Patricia Piccinini, a sculpture representing ideas imagining a future world of cloning and laboratory created hybrid creatures. It was made from fiberglass and so life-like with it’s veiny skin covered in tiny hairs, and genitalia like mouth I found it genuinely disturbing and nightmarish. I've since looked into her website and it's full of equally thought-provoking and disturbing work.
Mark Fairnington, 'Wroxall Tracer', oil on canvas,  235 x 367cms
 Patricia Piccinini, 'Sphinx', fibreglass, resin, human hair

Well, if I haven’t sold that show to you in this post there is definitely something wrong…!

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