We are here
10 Back Newton Grove, Leeds, LS7 4HW
Workshop Press Gallery exhibitions
Now is the time of monsters
An exhibition of new paintings
November 18th - November 20th 2016
Benedict Phillips: Photography, Sculpture, Performance
Opening 6pm 27th November 2015
Artists talk: 12.00 Saturday 28th November
Closing event 11th December
Garry Barker: In Breach of Trust
Installation and Drawings
Preview: Friday 16th October 2015 6.00 – 8.30
Exhibition open 17th – 30th October
Alan Pergusey: Upside Down at the End of the World
Figurative paintings that explore personal mythologies.
Preview: Friday 6th November 2015 6.00 – 8.30
Exhibition open 7th – 20th November
Fred Pepper: 9th to 22nd March 2013
Photographs of Fred's work by Dave Cotton
The Workshop Press Gallery exists to showcase the work of artists who
use narrative to develop their ideas. Fred Pepper has been working
with anthropomorphic representations of animals for a few years now,
using as his main resource those images that we typically receive as
children. Whether in the form of cartoons or cuddly toys we have
often developed a deep unconscious relationship with the humanised
animal. In this show, Pepper seeks to use this pre-established
relationship to help forge new narratives and open out more adult
stories for those generations fed during childhood on doe eyed images
The deep psychic link between people and animals is something we have
all at times experienced. Sometimes this connection has been spoken of
as a shamanistic type of experience and the presence of these
practices in hunter-gatherer societies across both time and cultures
and their striking similarity indicates the universality of
shamanistic practices and reflects an underlying
biologically-structured foundation for our consciousness. It could be
argued that what Fred Pepper is tapping into is an aspect of narrative
that we are all attuned to and that is why every culture and time has
used animals to not only make anthropomorphic connections but to
provide vehicles within which our own spiritual or psychic selves can
inhabit forms for dreaming. In this case Pepper’s ‘forms for dreaming’
are presented within a modern world of cartoon stories, two of which
he has edited together to form a new circular narrative, one that
intimates the grand narratives of mythic form and one which advises us
on how similar in the end all the great stories are and how we ignore
them at our peril.
Three texts were specially written for the Fred Pepper catalogue that accompanied the exhibition.
Always Already...but not quiet
A bunny; but it is not just a bunny. It is a tracing of a bunny and a tracing of a body with another tracing of that give it its clothes, traces etched together to make this bunny. Of course it is no longer a bunny.
How can we come to grips with Fred Pepper’s work?
It is what it is not. Pepper persists in bringing forth a kind of an active deconstructive practice in a world that celebrates poststructuralism.
He is indeed telling us a story, retelling lost stories within other stories. His work demands one to get absorbed into the artwork, much like the way in which they are created - every work that is absorbed into another. The viewer has to become part of the work. However, that is not as much as a requirement as it is a part of the process. Its essential to bear in mind that the images used in his work have already been viewed by people in other mediums. Inherently, the elements used within his work already have an existence.
This brings us to consider Pepper’s work as always already existing in some form, regardless of his intervention. Nonetheless, his intervention is indeed to our understanding of this deconstructive term ‘always already’ as a form of artistic practice. What it is not now becomes, what is.
Such a process begs to answer the question ‘what is the role of the artist when it comes creating works?’. Are all works always already there that an artist brings forth? Derrida’s critique of language, from which the term ‘always already’ comes to us from is ironically what he calls ‘trace’, a contingent unit of language. Much like Pepper tracing pictures from various images he finds.
Its interesting to juxtapose linguistics with visual practice which are normally held at polar ends. The contingent unit in visual practice becomes the artist himself. Pepper’s work doesn’t range from etchings, photos, pictures, sketches. It is all of these things presented together. In a world driven by modern technologies that are influencing most of the trends around us, Pepper demonstrates through his practice a novel way of techniques in response to this world. Most certainly, this is not just a response but retelling of a story - the story of his art to the story of the world in which we live.
Such a contingency at the focal center of his work is not just a retelling of his story but of History; the history of all the elements that has always already been what it is not. It reminds me not of how Walter Benjamin understood of an archive but the way in which he fashioned his own archive, in the same manner as Derrida’s always already as a latent relationship of humans with their objects. In Pepper’s case, these objects are latent images lost in our memories that are brought back as a different image.
To make things more clear, stories of these images need to be witnessed. Witnessed much like through the images in this publication or directly in the gallery, it only adds more already existing elements into the new history with a new narrative. It is not quiet new though and that’s precisely why Pepper seems to be constructing not just a new form of narrative but an archive, an archive of memories, pictures and subliminal thoughts that often escape in formal cataloguing. This publication, subsequently my text further adds another dimension to his work.
As I mentioned in the beginning of my writing, a bunny - its just a bunny but as the bunny hops and explores new places, leaving trails of tiny footprints overtaken by the winds and rains and other such natural processes, Fred Pepper’s processes overtakes narratives from one space and brings them together. Always already held in suspension, like Benjamin’s briefcase, his archive held together with no systematic form at all, like a bunny...hopping about...who knows perhaps there was a bunny in Pepper’s briefcase? But that’s an entirely different story I suppose.
1. Derrida; Jacques, Of Grammatology. John Hopkins University Press. 1974 2. Benjamin; Walter. Walter Benjamin’s Archive.
The Furry Mirror
When I come home late at night from banquets, from social gatherings, there sits waiting for me a half-trained little chimpanzee and I take comfort from her as apes do. By day I cannot bear to see her; for she has the insane look of a bewildered half-broken animal in her eye; no one else sees it, but I do and I cannot bear it.
Franz Kafka – A Report for an Academy (1917)
Tuxedo-wearing, lion-headed beasts adjust their bowties and lick their lascivious lips. A learned leporid uses a human skeleton to demonstrate her point to a classroom populated by human-hare hybrids in nurses uniforms. A hare-headed creature intimately caresses a woman with a Duchampian moustache. In most instances, their animalistic, or human, gaze holds our own. We are implicated by our presence; in the act of looking, we too are ‘being seen’ and our responses drawn into question. We peer into their world only so much as they peer into ours. Meaning fizzes without settling in Fred Pepper’s artwork – as the artist says, ‘attempts to decode the work will not necessarily result in stable, definitive answers’.
All of Pepper’s animals share a particularly rich history in ancient myth and folklore. Ingrained stories that project human facets of behaviour and experience onto an animal landscape: the hare representing the trickster, the lion personifying courage and pride, and the crow - a harbinger of doom. The artist playfully tinkers with these cultural projections, for example, in the choice of ‘Wolf’ (2012) as the title of a series of works in which no wolves are depicted. The creatures that do appear in those works become, in a sense, conceptually tainted by association with the archetypal distrustful villain – our reading of their intentions is altered. Pepper borrows these languages of childhood storybook illustrations and medieval bestiaries; he inverts and stretches them for his own enigmatic, reflective and questioning ends. The hybrids’ instant familiarity is perhaps testament to the saturation of anthropomorphic, animal images, which we receive during childhood. In adulthood, such images remain as symbols for fantasy and innocence, yet they also represent something darker – something that makes us uneasy.
Today, most of the barriers between man and animal – divisions that defined us as special – no longer hold: we are not the only tool-makers, we are not the only creatures who mourn their dead or practice charity, and we are not alone in passing the mirror test of self-awareness, or in using language. However, humanity continues to distinguish itself from the rest of the animal kingdom – excluding all other species from the upper echelons of an imagined evolutionary hierarchy. Firstly, we exclude animals by the cumbersome language we use to describe them – the term ‘animal’ can, in a swoop, define both an ape and an ant. Secondly, animals are separated from humanity by the lack of a common language. As John Berger states in his essay ‘Why Look at Animals’ (1980), humans and animals stare at each other across a narrow abyss of non-comprehension. In human-to-human interaction, that gap is bridged, albeit somewhat imperfectly, by language (or at least, the possibility of language); this allows us to reckon with each other as we would reckon with ourselves. When a human faces an animal, their lack of such a ‘bridge’ to us guarantees their distinctness from us. We recognise in their gaze the same familiar ‘abyss’ that cannot be crossed, we are alike and unlike, the same and different: the animal exists there and here.
Birds and mammals feature in Pepper’s work because, ‘these are the animals we can most identify with’. Yet, importantly perhaps, the great apes are absent – as are domesticated animals with whom, if only due to proximity, we bond most readily. Instead the artist’s hares, rabbits, lions and crows feel occupy human scenarios, their human bodies jarring with their non-anthropomorphised heads. In choosing not to ‘bambify’ the features of his creations, the artist emphasises and enhances the inherent dualism of animals and the human / animal nature of his creatures. All of which begs the question – how do we respond to the artist’s imagined theriocephalic beasts?
Interestingly, and absurdly, the rather specific question of how to respond to animal-headed beings was once a serious theological problem. Until the 15th century, a widespread, ancient belief persisted: in far-off lands, lived the “Cynocephali” – dog-headed beasts with human bodies. These were early representations of the primitive ‘Other’ – they were like us in that they practiced agriculture, law and family, yet were unpredictably fierce and cannibalistic in nature. They created a terrible conundrum for priests at the time; if they encountered the Cynocephali, should they preach to them? Did they even have souls? Medieval bestiaries were full of such fantastical creatures. In these compendiums, human-centric meanings of animals (real and imagined) were interpreted and presented to us by theologians: it was a given as they were created for us. They were a mirror for our fears and dreams; tools for explaining us.
It is almost as though Pepper is obsessively compiling his own modern-day bestiary populated with newly imagined beasts. Only here, their meaning is not interpreted on our behalf; it is necessarily ambiguous. Why should they have a prescribed meaning to us? Do we hold meaning for them? The figures offer us a new landscape of otherness and alienation. Not a human landscape projected onto animals, but a reflected one that we share, like our DNA.
1 Fred Pepper - Artist Statement (2013)
2 Inside the Mind of Animals – Time Magazine (2010) www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2008867-1,00.html
3 Jacques Derrida – ‘Jacques Derrida and the question of the Animal’ Interview (2008), see www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry49Jr0TFjk
4 John Berger - Why Look at Animals (1980)
5 Fred Pepper - Artist Statement (2013)
6 Cynocephali - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynocephaly
7 The 9th century Frankish theologian Ratharamnus concluded that the Cynocephali did indeed have souls, amusingly because they covered their genitals. By doing so, the beings displayed a sense of what is, and what is not, decent. See ‘Inside the Medieval Mind’ – Episode 1 – Knowledge, BBC (2008).
What do we want?
Reflections on the work of Fred Pepper
What do we want from animals? What sort of meaning do we seek? Are we yearning for that comforting teddy bear or wanting to play ‘My Little Pony’ forever and ever? Steve Baker has pointed to the need to undermine Western culture’s comforting humanocentric narratives and points out the loneliness and isolation of a society that has an exclusively human perspective. Perhaps modern society was the first one to totally divorce itself from a close relationship with animals; indeed it has been argued that the categorical boundary that existed between humans and animals was fiercely defended as a tenet of Modernity. However contemporary dialogues now accept the animal as an equal. This shift in sensibility is nowhere as profound as in the attitude of the Catholic Church. In 1990 Pope John Paul II affirmed that animals, like men were given the ‘breath of life’ by God. He went on to state that animals had souls and that Biblical texts state that animals have ‘the breath of life’ and were given it by God. Mimmo Pacifici’s understanding of this is that ‘in this respect man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures, and so in reading Psalm 104 it could be argued that when it comes to an acknowledgement of God’s power over us there is no distinction between man and beasts:
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
‘They’ refers to both humans and animals, both of which are creations of the Lord; in this respect man is therefore identical with all other living creatures.
Although we want things from animals, perhaps the reality is that we can’t demand anything from them; all we can do is take. This situation does not so much set itself against meaning, it operates independently of it and this is where Fred Pepper as a human confronting us with our animal avatars sets out his stall.
If you are looking for meaning in these images perhaps you will be disappointed. The rough line of a mono-print perhaps suggests a Tracy Emin like naivety or Expressionist angst, the implied sexual narrative of rabbits and breeding providing indicators of animal like lust or the freeing of human inhibitions. But these stories are too easy; they trip off the tongue of Peter Rabbit’s children as easily as Brer Rabbit’s so, so clever responses to the ‘cunning’ fox. Like the fox we think too much, our very self-awareness is our downfall, mired and tarred and feathered in the need for understanding. As Breton would say about Surrealism, it is about ‘a desire to deepen the foundations of the real’, however our present sensibilities point to a world where nature would seem hostile and unfortunate. Unfortunate in that as humans we have treated nature as if it is a constant threat rather than as a friend and supporter.
Caught between reality and meaning, these images of Fred Pepper’s flicker in and out of focus, cutting between cartoons and illustrations, eventually finding their way into our minds as the hidden architecture of the psyche.
©Garry Barker 2013
1Baker, S (2000) The Postmodern Animal London: Reaktion Books
2Blyton, E (1963) Brer Rabbit Again London: Dean
3Breton, A (1990) What is Surrealism: Selected writings New York: Monad
4Franklin, A (1999) Animals and Modern Cultures: A Sociology of Human-Animal Relations in Modernity London: Sage2
5Pacifici, M (1990) The Pope Has Said: "Animals Too Have Souls, Just Like Men" Genre Magazine, January www.dreamshore.net/rococo/pope.html
Accessed on 4. 2. 1
All three essays are available in the Fred Pepper catalogue
DWF Workshop Press Exhibition
An Art in Fiction spin off March 8th to 23rd 2013
A Touring Exhibition organised by the Workshop Press Gallery
64 Wellington Street: Leeds
January 21st – March 4th 2012
Exhibition Poster with image by Nick Marcello
This is an exhibition curated by Ivan Kovlovsky, designed to both illuminate and extend notions of normality. Predicated on the concept of exchange value, Kovlovsky presents an exhibition designed to engage our senses and our intellect, these ‘moments of epiphany’ are selected as fulcrums for change; each work presented as a turning point in British art history, artists selected not just for the quality of her or his work, but for the significance of their relationship with a particular historical moment within contemporary art practice. Above all this important exhibition seeks to engage new audiences in the search for meaning within art practice and by gifting interpretive power to these audiences, extends the artwork out into the very minds of all who engage with Kovlovsky’s vision. A vision many of us have been excited to see returning to the centre stage of what has been called the cleft stick of Post-Post-Modernism.
The artist Tullio d’Attore in a newly discovered work from 1929 foreshadows the moment when later in that year Picasso would paint ‘Woman in a Red Armchair’ a painting that would appear in a mobile phone video in 2012 of a graffiti artist protesting about the continuation of bullfighting in Spain; d’Attore’s stencilled image of a bull in pain, exactly corresponding to the central image of the 2012 protest that took place in Houston, Texas. Sarah Tandy, in her ‘Relief Structure No.2’ of 1965, intimates the geometric environment of mathematics and topology that would underpin the rise of dynamic systems based on multiple axes. These would of course influence the development of ‘modernist’ housing developments in the Midlands and Northern England and would later become the source material for Keith Coventry’s ‘East Street Estate’ paintings. When looked at in the light of what we now see as relationist interventions Chad Green’s performance work of the 1950s are clearly revolutionary, their concern with labour and light not only pre-dating Barker’s window cleaning performances of the 1970s but paralleling Hennessy Youngman’s ART THOUGHTZ that he currently publishes on YouTube.
Youngman has stated that audiences for relational aesthetics could be described as “strangers in some kind of convivial happening in the antiseptic confines of an art institution,” and that their experience of this art form is just like “getting drunk in a bar, having a one night stand and contracting herpes.” Green wrote in his diary back in 1957 that, “visiting an exhibition of the Kitchen Sink School was like playing cards with gravediggers.” His awareness of Huizinga’s game theories being one of the reasons his work is still so vital and essential to our grasp of contemporary performance.
Martin Miller has often been described as the last of the Abstract Expressionists. His large hand smeared canvases in various black paints seemingly encapsulating all the expressive gestures of the format, whilst prefiguring the formalist thinking of Ad Reinhart’s ultimate paintings. Unfortunately he was born on the wrong side of the Atlantic, by the time his work had come to critical attention all things abstract and expressive were seen as part of an American conspiracy, this being compounded at the time by rumours of CIA involvement in the awarding of Venice Biennale prizes. However seen from the perspective of the 21st century it’s now possible to re-engage with Miller’s paintings, on the one hand his work with household gloss paint pre-figuring the work of painters like Gary Hume and on the other his awareness of light and texture can be seen as a working model for the work of Michael Raedecker and Gillian Carnegie. Ranulph Byatt was a key figure in the first wave of conceptualism to hit Britain in the late 1960s. At one time he was loosely affiliated to the Art and Language group, but was never to accept their reliance on analytical philosophy as an aesthetic tool. The work selected for this exhibition is however unusual, as it is the only documented piece of Byatt’s from the 1960s whereby he presented text in such a deliberately provocative manner. The use of elephant tusks, confrontational as it was 45 years ago, now becoming even more pertinent in an age of heightened awareness of the environment and the need to achieve some form of global sustainability.
If ever there was an artist that made a name for himself simply on his cheek it was Nick Marcello. Nick was a second generation Italian who grew up in Edinburgh but who moved to London on his sixteenth birthday. Within a year he was sleeping with Frances Bacon, had had a notorious affair with Lieutenant Colonel Robert ‘Riley’ Workman and was seen as one of the gay muscle boys of Knightsbridge. Using his insider knowledge and as was rumoured at the time, tactics indistinguishable from blackmail, he persuaded Robert Fraser to put on an exhibition of his ‘Definitions’, a series of text portraits of people that he had met, each ‘portrait’ an attempt to ‘define’ someone in relation to himself. As he famously stated, “Only I can define who I am” and it could be surmised, “who my friends are”. In Marcello’s text portrait of Mick Jagger he famously summed up the pop star’s ambivalence by stating, “Jagger is the conforming rebel, he defies his parents only to copy his friends”.
Kovlovsky re-presents these artists in a small exhibition designed to challenge our pre-conceptions of British art. He proposes that far from being a backwater when it comes to developments within fine art practices, Britain, in particular London, has always been a hot bed of invention and innovation. A close relationship with Europe, (Tullio d’Attore) ensured that when attitudes became form, England was not left behind and indeed as with the new-constructionist movement of the 1960s, in many ways it was ahead of the game. The English attitudes towards sex are in Kovlovsky’s hands seen as stimulants for the development of radical practices, (Marcello) and by re-presenting the work of Miller in particular he illustrates that far from being second hand copyists, artists in London during the 1940s were easily able to hold their own when compared to the so called ‘giants’ of Abstract Expressionism. He makes us aware that sustainability is not just a contemporary concern (Byatt) and that without the films of Green’s 1960s performances the whole trajectory of European if not worldwide performance art would have been different.
The Workshop Press Gallery wishes to acknowledge not only Ivan Kovlovsky’s insightful curation and illumination of the powerful work of mainly forgotten artists but also the wonderful support of lenders and Mr Terry Hammill, who was largely instrumental in persuading Ivan Kovlovsky to undertake what must have been an exhausting and difficult task.
Garry Barker January 2013
Chapeltown Stories August 13th to 24th 2012
2 Garnet Dore portraits with a Ken Brown painting
Artists exhibiting: Alan Persusey, Oluseyi Ogunjobi, Marcia Brown, Garry Barker, Carol Sorhaindo, Sandra Whyles, Sheila Gaffny, Garnet Dore and Ken Brown.
Notes from the catalogue:
The artists in this exhibition are all living in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. A place of many cultures, it hosts a carnival every year and has an undeserved reputation for violence and drugs. It is in fact a place of many poets, musicians and artists and is one of those locations of culture often lost within the urban sprawl of many inner cities.
These artists have many and diverse approaches to their work and bring with them a rich variety of cultural influences. The contribution that their own life stories make to the art they make is sometimes clearly evident and sometimes hidden under the complexities of the work, but in all cases what is fascinating is how the stories that associate themselves with these artists and their work open out within the context of living in a particular place.
Alan Pergusey is an artist usually associated with being a ‘public artist’ he relishes the roles of engineer, educator, designer, builder, marketing person, and community worker which are all involved when working in community settings. However he also produces images that are about his personal experience, and the work on exhibition is a procession of people and people like things that populate his and our imagination. Alan’s narrative in relation to his work ‘Procession’ a complex photo-collage is this;
"They took to the byways of the country - a rare collection of folk. They started off as a small group and as they travelled he spoke of a new way of living, which drew many others to them who saw sense in his words. They came from all walks of life and they brought their animals and their instruments and formed a clattery band of individuals and beasts."
In some ways this work, ‘Procession’ sums up what this exhibition is about, a diverse collection of artists and their artefacts coming together, going somewhere, saying things that might perhaps mean something and maybe even somehow shaping an idea, an idea of what it is to make art in a world of hard edged monetarist thinking.
Alan Pergusey: Procession
Oluseyi Ogunjobi is a storyteller, musician, painter, textile artist and translator. He was born in Nigeria and educated in West Africa and the UK. Seyi’s works reflect another journey, a philosophical journey striving to capture the universal essence of spirituality and its relevance to the needs our contemporary commodity driven society has and how some answers can be found within the traditional life and stories found in Yoruba culture.
Seyi has two images in the exhibition, ‘Legions’ and ‘The Dance of the Moody Breeze’. The creation of Legions was inspired by his thoughts about the nature of the universe we inhabit; one that is super intelligent, compassionate, multidimensional and mystical in essence. The multi-headed creature is a metaphor for some of the unknown entities of the sea, who contribute their own quarter to the progress of the watery domain. The texture of the background and the words inscribed respectively represent the domain and the feelings and expressions of the residing entities. As legions, they demand for the right to exist and contribute their own part to the cosmic scheme of life; they insist, there are many of us and we have feelings too; we know about joy, pain, harmony and war and we are aware of the rising to the setting of the sun, day and night, consciousness and sub-consciousness.
The Dance of the Moody Breeze (above) is a figurative image of a dancing masquerade which was created because of Seyi’s interest in the philosophies that govern the evocations of mask performances from different parts of Africa. Depending on the origin of the masquerade and the philosophies associated with his appearance, the costume a man wears may cover his whole body or part of his body. For instance, it is an abomination for the body of the Yoruba Egungun masquerades from Nigeria to be seen, hence, the type of costumes they wear must cover their whole body as inhabitants of heaven, visiting the community of their living relatives. But this particular image represents another type of mask performance from the South Eastern part of Nigeria, where the costume does not cover all the body. In executing the work, Seyi’s visualisation of their transformational qualities is reflected through the mark making effects, the colours used and the entity created. The wavelike mark making strokes surrounding the masked figure and the atmosphere depicts the mood of the occasion and the reverence associated with the transformation and the ritual in progress.
Marcia Brown is an artist who has grown up and still lives in Chapeltown. Her paintings have at times been heartfelt reflections on the importance of the Rasta tradition to many people in the area. Paintings such as ‘Meditations of Zion’ developing a rich fusion of painterly colour with the images and symbols of a belief that stresses the equality between all people, and the fact that the Holy Spirit within all people makes them essentially one and the same.
Marcia is interested in the reworking of abstract and concrete images and symbols from the two worlds of music and art. In doing this her work attempts to tell the story of the creative process involved in the visual transformation of ideas inspired by roots Rasta music and cultural historical symbols from the Black Diaspora.
Garry Barker’s drawings are stories of which he finds himself a part. In some ways, his drawings are simply documentary, but he also mentally re-plays, pen-to-paper, the things he sees people doing and the stories he is told: these become the stories of the place. He re-enacts and enlivens in much the way that children do when they draw. Each of the figures in his drawings is really a self-portrait, he lives in his drawings, taking on various roles within the stories he finds as he draws. Perhaps he is also Everyman, someone easy to identify with; someone who helps the viewer enter the story. His imagination is local but the territory that these drawings cover is open to everyone.
One of Garry Barkers images in this exhibition started with drawings done from the riots watched at home on the TV last year, on the same evening as he walked through the streets of Chapeltown workers were digging up the main Chapeltown road. Piles of earth were rising in the twilight of an evening sun, the dark earth at times starting to glow as something immanent. Local women marched through our streets and there was no trouble in Chapeltown, but the dividing line between the everyday and the sudden hell of street violence was something everyone was talking about. The implications of what was happening on the streets of London, was resonating in the hearts and heads of the people in Leeds.
Carol Sorhaindo was born in Bradford, and spent most of her childhood years in the Caribean island of Dominica. Her inspiration is drawn from a strong connection and recognition of the healing powers of Natural and Feminine Energy, which are rooted in African and Caribbean history and culture. In a modern age, Carol’s work aims to inspire a sense of calm reflection and reverence for a Natural Spirit. Her images reflect a spiritual understanding of art as a therapeutic vehicle for healing, her love of texture and colour extending out into the audience for her work, as they immerse themselves in her calming world.
This is how Carol describes the poetry that lies at the core of her art; "Blue Sky trickles through our veins and green essences nourish deep and twisted roots. Our human experience is a fusion and process of creation and constant transformation. We are made of many fragments...genetic memories, cultural roots, experiences of people, places, emotions. Sometimes we feel broken and fragmented...sometimes strong and grounded ...but all experience is part of our life journey, making us connected, unique, powerful and whole". Carol’s work reflects a deep sense of art’s historic roots and her aspiration for an art that has a spiritual relevance to our present society.
Sandra Whyles is a ceramicist, an artist working with a tradition that has thousands of years of history. At one point in her work she was using English and Chinese ceramic blue and white traditions, and by using transferred images was bringing into view the forgotten, the familiar and the hidden imagery and pictograms of African and Caribbean traditions, culture and life. Sandra’s own story interweaves through her work and her approach to it, she has this to say about herself and her practice:
“I am a Black woman... no let me correct that (there is no such place as Blackland!), I am a woman of African Caribbean heritage (there is some white European and Chinese thrown in there somewhere too)
Born in England some years ago, groomed to believe that I/we are a minority, inferior, only fit to be ruled, to clean up, to wipe up, shut up....you get the picture. It has taken a long time to remove those shackles and emancipate myself from mental slavery (thanks Bob). Leaving school was the start of my real education which never stops.
So today I find myself to be a no-nonsense, well travelled, assertive, re-educated, creative, self believing, life loving African Caribbean woman who has borne two children.
Choosing to be an artist was easy; choosing to work with politically charged issues such as gender, slavery, the marginalising effects of popular culture etc. was easy. What is not so easy is knowing what is hidden or lost in my subject. What would my art have been if my environment and my reaction to it were different? What would my art have reflected?
That’s another story.
My most used mediums are ceramics, printing and photography. Whilst reaching for a resolve in depicting a visual meaning, narrative or function, experimenting with the processes revolving in my mind is in itself as revealing as the outcome. Developing happy accidents in the studio, being inspired by life, other artists and makers all come into play”.
Her recent ceramic work, ‘Experiments with Cobalt’ is a continuing part of this process.
Sandra's work being looked at very carefully during the opening
Sheila Gaffney’ s central theme is a reflection upon what it is to be human. The body, humble substances, space and place are the tools she uses to mediate this. Her projects draw on the concept of subjectivation. That is, she focuses on how we go through the process of ‘becoming’ who we are, rather than equating the notion of identity with being. Personal and intimate objects form the subject matter of her work and the notion of embodiment is central to Gaffney’s studio processes. She feels working in the artist’s studio aligns with the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas description of embodiment in ‘The Mystery Of Things’
‘Putting the self into the real through play, children are engaged in a kind of embodied dreaming that brings elements of inner life into the world. The quiet, continuous embodiments of dream mark the passing of time with signs of the child’s idiom’
When Sheila Gaffney works in her studio which is situated in her LS7 home, she is ‘playing’ with materials to embody a childhood moment where she recalls becoming aware of knowing and wondering – knowing that she is the child of immigrants and therefore not knowing where she comes from, how she fits in; knowing she is going to change in life, and will have a body when she grows up that has little relation to the body she inhabits; wondering about fitting in, socially, politically and culturally, wondering about how it all fits together and noting that knowing does not automatically mean she knows how.
The works exhibited in ‘Chapeltown Stories’ are selected from a series called ‘These at least were things she might believe in’ which comprises of works derived from family photographs and clothing. Gaffney intends that the objects and images are exhibited to flutter against each other for the viewers attention and that through the embodiment of each element own this notion of wonder.
Garnet Dore is another born and bred Chapeltown man, who paints portraits, but not just portraits. Their images are often embedded into the world they inhabit, the surfaces of the everyday, doors and other fragments of the built environment are peopled with what we might think of as reflections of the people who inhabit this world.
Garnet uses paint beautifully; he is sensitive to its peculiar qualities of ebb and flow, its morphic ability to suggest one thing through its liquidity and another through its ability to freeze the moment. His portraits capture that edge between the solidity of flesh and bone that is sensed in the presence of a real lived moment and the fragility of time and its briefness as we attempt to hold in memory those fleeting perceptions of others and the world around us.
Ken Brown was born in Jamaica, he has lived and worked as an artist in Chapeltown for over 30 years and his work is peopled with characters and events welded together into a sort of mythic history of a remembered past and a newly lived present. A poet and craftsman, Ken also carves wood and shapes it into his own forms; chess sets, furniture and walking sticks, have all been crafted with his unique touch and vision.
Images of music and its rhythms permeate through Ken’s paintings, the fact that he is also a poet and poetic orator underpinning the sense that his paintings are part of a greater whole, a bigger picture where the fabric of life weaves together different art forms and connects them to a deeper hidden vibration.
Ken is an astute critic of art and those who produce it. He would say that what he looks for in both is ‘soul’. By this he means that an artist should have a deep commitment to life and its deeper mysteries, and that artists have a duty to maintain the careful tuning of their inner self with the ebb and flow of more worldly concerns. These artists have life stories that are framed within a wide range of cultures, the context of living in Chapeltown by chance brings them together. The fact that they have chosen to live in the heart of a community that is rich and diverse in its humanity is perhaps indicative of the fact that as artists one thing they all have in common, is their search for those images and sensations that for one reason or another make sense of what it is to still make meaningful things when living within the margins of a modern city driven by and measured by capitalist concerns of money and success.