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Exhibition Review: New Things and Still Life

In between shopping trips, David Simper does two laps of the Grundy’s new duo of exhibitions where he has an odd conversation with a mysterious stranger, and vows to practice drawing pears.

The need to go to the supermarket had blocked me from attending the Grundy’s new show’s opening. However, with the coast clear a few days later, I got the service 3 bus down and was stood outside the door on opening.

Foyer area.

For spring 2023, the gallery is presenting two Collection Spotlight exhibitions as part of its ongoing work to explore its collection using different themes, styles and subjects as the starting point.

Echoing the spirit of the season, New Things is a strand of the exhibition celebrating new artists, new ideas and new artworks. It featured artworks that the Grundy has acquired into during the last five years and all created within the last decade.  The 40+ artworks by 25 different artists include drawing, sculpture, video, installation and performance and demonstrate the many different ways in which contemporary artists use art to investigate and reflect upon the times in which we live.

Meanwhile, Still Life brings historical works into dialogue with contemporary examples that reference, subvert and reimagine the traditional practice of depicting inanimate objects.

Luke Stephenson – Clown Egg Register (2017).

This is an excellent double show that grabs you as soon as you walk through the door. The two shows fit together wonderfully well. The amount of colour struck me and the sheer quality and variety of the work. I recognised pieces from previous shows, including Rachel Goodyear and Garth Gratrix with his beach towel-based Shy Girl, Beside the Seaside, Campground (2021-).

Garth Gratrix – Shy Girl Beside the Seaside on Campground (2021), with Nicola Dale – Echo Chambers (2021).

Gratrix makes work that connects queer and coastal lived experiences. Often using objects, shapes and symbols synonymous to the seaside. The beach towel series titled Shy Girl…  was first developed as part of a solo installation that altered the Grundy’s Rotunda balcony on the first floor. The beach towel’s association with leisure and relaxation could be used to explore broader cultural themes, as well as a potent symbol of queer resistance and possibility.

A chap came up to me and asked what the significance of the crown in Lubaina Himid’s eponymous painting was. While I was admiring the composition, technique and graphic power of the picture, I couldn’t fully explain. Art should surely not be obvious. He asked me if I painted myself and I said I did, but not like that. With that he disappeared and I’m really not sure what it was all about.

The variety includes traditional painting (Holly Woodman) and photography (Kate Yates, Dawn Mander, Henry Iddon, Claire Griffiths). I’m picking out our home grown talent here. Then there’s video art (Nicola Dale) and concept art such as Ruth Beale’s Library of Future Societies, 2018. I just managed to stop myself from checking out one of those books – the shelf could be a handy piece of furniture in the right room.

Foreground Ruth Beale – Library of Future Societies (2018), with Tony Heaton OBE – Raspberry Ripple (2018).

That formed a marvellous foreground for Tony Heaton’s Raspberry Ripple (2018) from his excellent disability themed show. And then we had a whole gallery space given over to light-based art, including the mesmerising Chris Paul Daniels’ Northern Lights, Tom Ireland’s epic Blackpool Stands Between Us And Revolution and the gorgeous simplicity of Andrea Buttner’s ‘Neon’. That gallery starts magnificently with Chila Kurami Singh Burman’s Blackpool Light of My Life, which is incredibly striking.

From there to the Still Still Life show, self contained in its side gallery, where we find Holly Woodman’s Viewing Life through Jaundiced Eyes reflecting the Covid lockdown experience, next to John Gilbey Bowles’ (born 1929) simply titled Still Life.

John Gilbey Bowles – still life, with Holly Woodman – Viewing Life Through Jaundiced Eyes (2020).

Then we find Memento Mori from 1670 by Edwaert Collier, next to Exploring the Vanitas from 2021 by Freya Magenta. Some of the works here might be described as traditional but the variety is impressive and the technique excellent in all the selections. I’ve done very little still life, apart from my pear (they say if you can draw a pear, you can draw anything) and I think I’m going to have to change that.

I did love the Ben Cain piece in the gallery centre with locally made pieces based on the contents of selected paintings. The ceramics were beautiful and the style seemed familiar. There is so much more to talk about, but then there’s always going to the exhibition yourself.

Sated with art, I meandered through town for coffee and a chat at The Hive. After a little shopping (Metallica’s new album) I was in good time for the service 6 home. I liked the way that pieces had been brought in from partner galleries including the University of Salford Art Collection, Touchstones Rochdale and Salford Museum and Art Gallery. A morning very well spent.

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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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