Exhibition review: Regarding the Light

From the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian to the comforting glow of sodium lamps, David Simper visits the Grundy Art Gallery and regards the light on display in a variety of works in a new group exhibition

The new for October Grundy Art Gallery exhibition succeeds in impressing with the quality and variety of works on display. Although I paint more nowadays, I have been a monochrome photographer for decades, which teaches you that light quality is the most important factor affecting your image, closely followed by composition.

The exhibition blurb points out that light affects our emotions: “we may be fearful of the dark, or relish being in the sunlight, we talk of our dark moods and beaming with happiness; using the vocabulary associated with light to generate secondary meaning. From the earliest pictorial communications, in the form of cave paintings, to present-day technological advances, the exploration, utilisation and representation of light has been key to artists and their practice”.

Passing through the foyer and into gallery one was a deja vu experience for a ’60s/’70s kid like me, when the night-scape was bathed in the somewhat spooky yellow glow of sodium lamps, as used here by former Turner Prize winner, Mark Leckey. A simple idea, but one that nobody else had, and a worthy introduction to the rest of the show. That light has a strangely comforting quality.

Through the yellow sodium and into the more standard restrained white light into gallery two, an eclectic mix of art graced the walls, of course all dependent on the play of light within the image. There are no poor works here, the craftspersonship on display being impressive. Artists from the 17th to the 21st century are on display., including three works from contemporary artistย Louise Giovanelli.

One of three oil on panel views of Liverpool Docks, John Atkinson Grimshaw.

On entering the gallery, one finds a large and magnificent oil of Rouen Cathedral by David Roberts RA (1796-1864) painted in 1831. Then to a relatively local artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893), whose name always seems to fit his work, here three panels of Liverpool’s docks in oil. The martyrdom of Saint Sebastian always seems a popular subject, perhaps because the artist can work in an agonised though ecstatic expression on the face, and there must be hideous, flesh-piercing arrows (ouch, that ruddy hurt!). Here Francesco Furini (1603-1646) presents a large and particularly magnificent example. George Elgar Hicks’ (1824-1914) The Happy Mother also catches the eye, although it might be a somewhat male gaze happiness.

Oil on book cover, Louise Giovanelli.

I don’t really do favourites and enjoyed all the works on display here, including the small painted book that occupies a glass case plinth and the quite modernist ‘Demonstration in Dissection’ painted in 1945 by Emilio C.L. Tafani (1885-1963).

Demonstration in Dissection, Emilio C.L. Tafani and Moving Dowty Props (very dark painting), Margaret Boulton.








As this was not joy enough, the side gallery featured a further magnificent display of works by JMW Turner (1775-1851), mostly on loan from Bury Art Museum. This includes two interesting watercolours, demonstrating the artist’s commitment to landscape painting and his incredible skill. However, to me the main interest was in the Liber Studiorum (1807-1819), Turner’s most important venture into printmaking.

“Originally planned to comprise one hundred engravings, only 71 were actually issued, appearing in 14 instalments between 1807 and 1819. Each instalment different categories of landscape,” the exhibition blurb explains. “Turner was intimately involved in all phases of the plates’ production for the Liber Studiorum. Turner himself etched the outline onto the plate and then an engraver worked the composition up in mezzotint.”

The degree of detail in these prints is quite stunning. The style and obviously the subjects, are from quite another age, but somehow feel incredible real and very ‘now’. The more one peers, the more one sees and frankly I could go over them all day. Oh to be able to get anywhere near being able to draw like that.



With its quality and variety of styles, this show should be a must for all with any interest in art in Blackpool and beyond, also being an excellent mix of contemporary and earlier styles. Good to see this brought together in this way.

The exhibition continues until 17th December 2022.



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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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